It's no small challenge, describing a woman who spent her life inventing categories.
To the world, Sally Merchant (née Maria Margharita Smith) was incredibly accomplished - a politician, a television pioneer, a United Nations
She grew up in Saskatchewan, fell in love while attending Dalhousie University in Halifax and married Evatt Merchant in 1941. Within four years she would become a mother to daughter Adrian and son Anthony, mourn the loss of Anthony's twin brother Michael, and be widowed.
Sally broke ground time and again. For me, my six siblings and our three cousins, she was simply Ganr - my eldest sister's early and failed attempt to master "Gran." Yielding without being soft. Quick to see a joke and slow to anger. (Although that anger, once provoked, was quiet but formidable.) To us she was a second mother. "Grand-Mother" I used to call her, emphasis on grand.
She could be demanding, and even tough. But for us she was quite simply love. A presence, she waved off gratitude for kindness, asking only that we "pass it on."
Sally was the life of the party but she rarely took a drink. She liked the company of men but was never a flirt, and buried her heart with her young husband.
She was a master seamstress, from upholstery to evening wear, despite an impatient brain. She hosted one of Canada's first daytime talk shows, Sally Time, for 10 years starting in 1955.
As children, it seemed natural to us that a grandmother would also be a politician - a Saskatchewan MLA from 1964 to 1967 - or a member of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations in 1967. Or run a department for the federal government, Consumer and Corporate Affairs, from 1969 to 1983. And then be a commissioner for the CRTC from 1983 to 1988.
Which was more important - her unfailing kindness to strangers or her perfect gravy? Her love of laughter or that she remembered more history than anyone else?
Sally was a lady in the truest sense of the word. While her own pedigree was impressive, she put little stock in such measures. A partisan Liberal to her toenails, she even managed to find a few Tories she could like. She was wise in a way that few are, able to bring perspective to her own life and to ours. In the bitter and too brief end, we knew we should soak up Ganr's wisdom.
For each one of us there was an indelible bond. The world lost Sally Merchant, friend, wit, crossword-puzzle devotee and so much more. We lost a grand ... mother.
Amanda Lang is Sally's granddaughter.