A couple of weeks back, I waged a frustrating and losing battle with my decrepit computer, a piece of fossilized junk the CBC figured it had nothing to lose by including it in my severance pot, another bargaining chip (very, very minor, I admit) in negotiations aimed at encouraging me to throw in the retirement towel about seven years ago. (The Big C, though, was the defining element, having prompted me to conclude that if I was going to croak in the near future, which appeared highly likely, I didn’t want it to occur while I was still behind one of Mother Corp’s desks.)
As I say, the computer was a throw-in, but has been nothing but trouble ever since (part of the reason, I must confess, is that I’m a technological ignoramus and have barely mastered the very basic of cellphones). In any case, it reached its Waterloo the week before last and was dispatched to Robin Hood Bay, providing a new hostel for rats, with their very own screen to use as a mirror as they slick their tails in old margarine containers for night patrol.
Thankfully, one of those youthful ubiquitous computer whizzes, looking the part with a cooly worn baseball cap, a few earrings here and there, a couple of tattoos, and speaking a language that was totally foreign to my 60-plus years, installed a new laptop and I was off to the handicapped word-processor races.
And that’s my overly long explanation for the fact that my battle royale with the cursed computer caused me to miss a deadline that particular week and prevented me from paying timely tribute to two women who made Newfoundland a much better place in which to live.
And I’m talking about Shannie Duff and Dorothy Inglis.
Duff caught her fellow city councillors off guard (not all that difficult a chore in the case of most of them) and delighted a few, I’m sure — especially those who believe the retention of downtown heritage is some sort of anachronistic foolishness — by announcing she was vacating city hall after about 35 years of service. In the estimation of many, including me, that amounted to three decades of almost singlehandedly ensuring that Jed Clampett money did not permit St. John’s to mushroom totally into the kind of hideous-looking city our grandparents would never have recognized.
And in that same week, we heard of the death of Dorothy Inglis, a woman the generation on skateboards with trousers down around their undies would not remember, but someone the middle aged and greybeards of Newfoundland would recall as a class act, a relentless feminist who never used a dogmatic preachy sledgehammer to spread her gospel, but instead, exploited her considerable oratory skills and intellect to convince even the odd Neanderthal that women in Newfoundland had been getting a raw deal on so many levels forever and a day.
I was won over by Inglis the first day I moved into a small apartment on Circular Road in the mid ’70s when she showed up at my front door, a virtual stranger, with a six-pack of Dominion Ale and declared: “Welcome to the neighbourhood.”
But it was obviously more than a half a dozen beer that caused me over the years to recognize the sincerity and determination that Inglis used in trying to improve the lot of Newfoundland women. We didn’t become close acquaintances, but I saw her quite a bit since we had several mutual friends, and that meant I had a fair number of opportunities to enjoy her delightful and invariably edifying company.
More so, I got to know Inglis in my role as a journalist and found she was incredibly adept at
handling the media, knowing instinctively that the most productive approach with a sceptical, even cynical, journalist was to be succinct and straightforward. It also helped immensely that she was anything but one of those so-called
professional do-gooders. Inglis was the real deal. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that she was warm and decent and absolutely impossible to dislike.
Inglis also entered active politics at a time when most women were lucky enough to have a chance at taking a few phone calls at campaign headquarters, or making tea for “the boys,” and she did quite well, giving a Tory incumbent a real run for his money at one point.
A woman of profound integrity, Dorothy Inglis was willing to take on the rich and powerful and speak up for the less fortunate, the down and out.
Now I have no idea how well Shannie Duff and Dorothy Inglis knew each other, although it’s hard to imagine they didn’t bump into each other on occasion, given the intimacy of St. John’s and the fact that some of their causes had to have overlapped.
We do know that at one point, they followed different political ideologies: Duff sat in the legislature briefly as a Tory, and Inglis was a diehard NDPer. Shannie was a townie, of course, while Dorothy was a CFA.
But I’m sure they respected each other, even from afar, and one could imagine that Inglis would have admired Duff for her ongoing battles with developers and the way in which she handled with great aplomb her very public spats with Andy Wells, the biggest mouth in St. John’s for quite a while. By the same token, Duff had to have had a great deal of respect for the passion Inglis exhibited time and again in the many causes she pursued while living in St. John’s.
Like Inglis, Duff also had a solid relationship with reporters, simply because she gave straight up answers to both tough and inane questions. Duff always gave good clip, as reporters were fond of saying about the rare politician who fulfilled that need (her arch-enemy Wells gave good clip as well).
And I know Inglis was willing to talk to the press about even the most awkward of situations that might have befallen a cause or campaign in which she was involved. (Our highest-profiled female politician at the moment could learn a lesson or two from Duff and Inglis, although I doubt any sort of advice would get her out of the huge hole she’s dug for herself.)
When all is said and done, and my computer manages to do the right thing and allows me to say the right thing, Shannie Duff will be sorely missed in municipal politics.
And Dorothy Inglis? Well, Dorothy will be missed — period — by a great many Newfoundlanders in her adopted home.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador.
He can be reached by email at email@example.com.