A little of everything has happened to me since I left the parliamentary fish bowl in April 1968. It seems to almost everyone that I was one of the first bits of flotsam cast adrift by the incurling tide of Trudeaumania. It has not done much good to protest that I had long before planned to leave politics. I was bored with the stale snail’s pace of parliamentary business, the frustration of the system and above all the loss of privacy. Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s ascendency had little to do with it, although my departure from the federal scene scarcely caused a ripple in a sea of people mesmerized by a new leader and exhilarated at the expectation of the soon-to-be Just Society.
I closed my Ottawa apartment, put my furniture in storage and returned home in the flowering Niagara Falls spring. For weeks I found myself in a kind of torpor, simply going through the motions of daily life with no clear goal ahead. I had divorced myself from politics but like many another new divorcée I had no clear idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Before leaving Ottawa I had toyed with the idea of writing a book on my political experience and had tentatively approached Jack McClelland of McClelland and Stewart, the Canadian publishers. So now I renewed my query: was he interested in publishing such a book? Inevitably, our negotiations became known and soon other publishers approached me. McClelland moved in with a fat cheque as an advance and a contract and I was committed.
Now, how to write a book? It is said I wrote the book for money and I suppose I did, at least partly. But the main reason was that I simply had to write it to purge myself of politics once and for all.
I called Walter Gordon — after all, he had written a book — and as always he gave me eminently sensible advice: just sit down and begin. But even before doing that, I had to find a friendly bank manager to keep me afloat while I was writing and someone to employ me parttime. Luckily, I found one of each.
I was beset by one other problem. For eight years I had not actually lived in my house in Niagara Falls; just visited it briefly on weekends. Now I saw that the poor thing sagged with my neglect. By the time I signed the contract for the book I had decided that somehow I was going to have to fix the place up. I found two university students doing odd jobs for the summer and they became my rod and my staff. And they comforted me along with Rita, the girl who kept my house spotless for years. We
dug out and dumped tons of accumulated junk. I sent out my mother’s furniture for refinishing. Out, too, went curtains and rugs, all my Ottawa papers and many mementos. 1 was determined to start afresh. As a consequence, that summer I received all my visitors on two garden chairs in an echoing shell of a house.
I wrote my book on pads of soft yellow paper, using a portable typewriter set up in my bedroom. I was utterly disorganized. Some days I would jump from bed in the morning with sentences already forming in my head and rush to get it all down. Sitting undressed and disheveled, I would write all day in the blast of an air-conditioner, oblivious to the sounds of painters and carpenters and plumbers, forgetting to eat and resentful of every interruption.
But most days my head was utterly empty. I hated the typewriter and fled from it to dig in the garden, move cartons, chase the contractor or decorator or simply bother the tradesmen.
It was chaos — and worse when the plumbers had the water disconnected for days. I moved to a motel and there, among the honeymooners, hid myself away to hammer at that typewriter. By the beginning of August I had several chapters done and McClelland, his editor, John Robert Colombo, and Paul Rush, representing Weekend magazine, which had bought the serial rights on the basis of a 10-line outline, came to Niagara to inspect their purchase. When I handed over my manuscript for their inspection, I felt naked. But when the reading was over they handed me the second advance cheque. Apparently it would do — but I had only six weeks to finish it.
August was terrible. I wrote and wrote and wrote — but it was never finished. I had a crick in my neck. My shoulders ached. My fingers were stiff. The alterations in the house were going slowly and gobbling money faster than I could make it. The typing of the manuscript was going badly. When it was finished, I found I had written about 150,000 words in those two months. Each chapter had taken me about seven hours of steady typing, and now I was to find the revision of the rough work would take even longer.
I don’t remember the latter part of that August and early September too clearly. I saw no one and scarcely left my desk. I hired typists to do the final manuscript — and then, disaster: they could not read my penciled revisions. Again I closeted myself, this time to read all the latter half of the book into a tape recorder. I read all day, every day until it was done. Thankfully, my voice held out. By the end of September,
JUDY LAMARSH continued only two weeks past deadline, the revision was completed.
But they didn’t like my working title, Twenty-Five To One. They wanted something more commercial. Finally they decided upon Judy LaMarsh: A Personal Memoir. Ugh. That title left me very, very cold, so I made a dozen suggestions until, ultimately, they agreed to subtitle it The Memoirs Of A Bird In A Gilded Cage. I thought it was funny and that it suited Duncan Macpherson’s bleary cartoon drawn for the book jacket. But even now I wasn’t finished.
By early December I was required to finish checking and revising the page proofs. My own words were alien, set out in cold print. When I finished I vowed never to read the cursed thing again. Nor have I.
Somehow, parts of the book leaked (from the CBC, it’s said) and a rash of publicity developed before publication date. I dutifully appeared for radio, TV and newspaper interviews arranged by the publishers and then took off for a two-week swing across central Canada, the west and later to Halifax for personal appearances to promote the book. Those weeks remain a blur of interviews and cold and snow and of the faces of hundreds of people pressing books on me to autograph. By domestic standards, the book was a best seller and the royalties helped greatly to reduce my political debts. It was selected by a book club, is now used as a text in some high schools and at least two Canadian universities, and is in paperback.
That summer of 1968 immediately after I left Ottawa was, then, mainly given over to struggling with the house, and the writing. Both endeavors were speckled with visits from people who sought me out with business proposals and, undecided about the future, I listened to every suggestion.
By the end of September 1968, having finished my book, I began seriously to look around for interesting and rewarding work-—preferably something I could do while living in Niagara Falls. A number of suggestions were made: a local radio show, a syndicated radio show, a series of films, a weekly newspaper column and syndicated ombudsman, the presidency of a cosmetics firm, political office on the municipal and later on the regional levels, a partnership in a local law firm, a full-time job as a Canadian director of a German manufacturing concern, the presidency of a Canadian university, a weekly TV talk show (two different proposals for this), a full-time job writing a thrice-weekly newspaper column while doing a TV show of some kind not then determined, and, finally, a part - performer, part - executive post
with a broadcasting network.
Some friends urged me to open a law office in Ottawa to represent clients before the Canadian Film Development Corporation and the Canadian Radio and Television Commission. Others urged me to open a business-law firm in Toronto. I was reluctant to appear before government boards I had myself appointed until at least a year had elapsed. The TV or radio work involved tying myself to one boss, and the syndicated offers were ill-conceived. I had made my nest in Niagara Falls and there I wanted to stay.
In October 1968 I walked into a local office as the president of a cosmetics firm. It seemed a natural field for a woman executive. I still think so, although this particular position was not a sensible choice for me: after 10 days I got out fast.
The proprietor of the local radio station, an engaging, energetic young man, had several times approached me about doing a morning talk show. The money for two hours a day was enough to keep me afloat temporarily, so I found myself one day a company president and the next a radio broadcaster. I was one of a team — my teammate being the local Anglican priest, a Conservative who had lost to Joe Greene in the fight for my old seat in the House of Commons. We made an interesting contrast for our listeners. Our program was developed on one topic per day and we worked hard to give our audience something to chew on mentally. It was great fun. The show ran three months, until I had to leave on the promotional tour for The Bird.
I had earlier entertained a proposal from Stuart Griffiths of Ottawa’s CJOH to appear in a television series as a kind of nongovernmental ombudsman. His was an exciting concept to use television in a new way in interplay between the audience and performer by interviewing real people with real grievances against government and industry or society in general and to help them find a solution. My role would be to play a little of the lawyer, a little of the judge and a lot of God. Griffiths put together an effervescent group of young activists and together we resolved to correct some of the nagging small ills of the world.
The program was not scripted or rehearsed, and was surprisingly effective: the public airing of grievances often brought swift results. We developed several different formats before settling on the one that went on-air as a local show in Ottawa early in 1969. The critics were kind and the public even kinder. The first ratings indicated The LaMarsh Show was the most-watched locally produced Sunday show in Ottawa.
Td written a book—now, they said be a columnist, a broadcaster, a legal adviser, a TV ombudsman. What I wanted most—whichever I chose—was to stay in Niagara Falls’
JUDY LAMARSH continued
In the first six months I flew up to Ottawa for taping sessions about every three weeks. By the spring it was a weekly trip. This constant traveling was as bad as the politician’s life I had given up. I needed to settle in one spot. I had long since made my decision against living in Ottawa and had opted for Niagara Falls. I reaffirmed my decision and the ombudsman died at the end of one season.
At the invitation of a foreign company, I went to Germany for a few days to attend their directors’ meeting. In the spring I visited Bogota, Colombia. Next May I am off to Hawaii, Japan and Hong Kong with a tour sponsored by Niagara travel agencies to see Expo 70 and the Orient.
By April 1969, with the ombudsman TV show and the book launched, I had been unemployed for a year, although I was shocked to find that my income in that time had exceeded that of a minister of the Crown. It was time to settle on my future, and, I suppose inevitably, I went back to my first love, the practice of law. I joined a Niagara Falls firm and again involved myself in choosing paints, furniture, equipment, books, sculpture and paintings for the opening of an office in the next-door city of St. Catharines, Ont.
I proudly hung out my shingle on May 1, 1969. Today, after less than a year back in the courts, I know that this time my choice was the right one. I live in Niagara Falls and commute daily to St. Catharines. This is where I grew up and where the people know me and like me. I have come home. The women of the area, six months after my return, threw a touching public reception for me and Niagara has underlined its “welcome back” with an award for helping to promote the progress of the area.
I sense a new rapport with women, many of whom write to me about their problems, and less hostility from men. I have a renewed interest in the young and the underprivileged. I seldom see my former political colleagues — but then, why should I? All we ever had in common was politics. I am still very much interested in government but have abandoned partisan politics.
There is time now to cook for friends and family, and for ideas and books and conversation beyond politics. Driving home from work these winter evenings of early dusk I find myself aware of a feeling of contentment. That’s a rare state for anyone. I am happy. I know I am fortunate. If they ever ask you “What ever happened to Judy LaMarsh'/”, tell them, “Why, the cage is open and the bird flies free.” □
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