The death of an ordinary woman — justly celebrated

One of my close friends works at The Toronto Star, and tipped me off to this extraordinary piece of journalism, about a single, childless, non-celebrity 55-year-old Toronto woman named Shelagh Gordon.

The story came about the way the very best stories often do, when a reporter’s curiosity was piqued by an obituary privately submitted to the newspaper.

Shelagh was quirky, generous, fun, clumsy. She was not rich or well-known or politically powerful. Her husband and children — she had neither — had not carved out fame and fortune in the world.

Yet The Star decided to devote some of its most experienced career writers to chronicle this woman’s life.

She was, like many of us, simply a private citizen whose love for, and devotion to, the people in her private world brightened many lives for decades.

I’ve included a short excerpt here from this exceptional story.

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The Star dedicated unprecedented coverage to the funeral of 55-year-old Shelagh Gordon – interviewing more than 100 of her friends and family – to show how a modest life can have a huge impact.


By Catherine Porter Columnist

I met Shelagh Gordon at her funeral.

She was soap-and-water beautiful, vital, unassuming and funny without trying to be. I could feel her spirit tripping over a purse in the funeral hall and then laughing from the floor.

She was both alone and crowded by love. In another era, she’d have been considered a spinster — no husband, no kids. But her home teemed with dogs, sisters, nieces, nephews and her “life partner” —a gay man — who would pass summer nights reading books in bed beside her wearing matching reading glasses.

Her relationships were as rich as the chocolate pudding pies she’d whip together.

She raced through ravines, airports and wine glasses (breaking them, that is). She dashed off dozens of text messages and emails and Facebook postings a day, usually mistyping words in her rush to connect.

Then, every afternoon, she’d soak for an hour in the bath while eating cut-up oranges and carrots and flipping the damp pages of a novel.

She called herself a “freak,” at first self-consciously and, later, proudly.

But my sharpest impression of Shelagh that day, as mourners in black pressed around me, was of her breathtaking kindness. Shelagh was freshly-in-love thoughtful.

I love this article and the rare journalistic commitment — in an era of celebrity fawning and faux fame — to celebrating an ordinary woman. I love its depth, detail, intimacy and humanity.

I hope you’ll make the time to read it in full, and share it through your own blogs and other social media.

Even better, please email or write to The Star, (whose editor in chief I’ve worked with twice before), to let him know how great this is. His name is Michael Cooke, 1 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1E5,Canada.

16 thoughts on “The death of an ordinary woman — justly celebrated

  1. It was indeed a beautiful story – I bawled my eyes out when I read it this weekend. I wish I’d known Shelagh. It was an opportunity to reflect on what we would want people to say about us after we pass so that we frame our way of living around that. And it also reinformces the notion that – with respect to the way we choose to live our lives – the only people who really matter are the ones we love – look at the impact Shelagh made on her loved ones’ lives. Astounding. The Star received an overflow of feedback to the story; it definitely gave a lot of people cause for pause. So glad you shared it on your blog!

  2. Thanks for making time to read it and to comment.

    I haven’t dared click on the video/audio links to what her friends said because I suspect I’d be bawling, too.

    What I love most about this story is how it reminds us of the fact we are surrounded by people like Shelagh — and especially women who are not married and do not have kids (and often derided for that) — who brim with love and generosity. Those qualities (not material wealth or corporate or political power) are what we need to focus on much more, and publicly like this.

  3. Eidyia

    Thank you so, so much for sharing this. I imagine I will return to this many times (although I’m glad I didn’t first read it on the tram as I am currently a blubbering mess, ha!)

  4. Pingback: An ordinary, extraordinary life « Andi Marquette

  5. marylhooper

    Thank you for sharing this story. By the time you reach the end, you feel that Shelagh has become a part of your life too! How wonderful to have lived a life of love and vitality that has been so positive for all the people she encountered. Fantastic.

  6. Great journalism about a wonderful person. But what impresses me is this post. Because it does what blogging does best: broadcasting what’s moved us personally. I’ll be reading the full article, and sharing it as much as I can, but first I wanted to thank you for getting this even further out into the public domain.

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