Most readers of this magazine are familiar with the name and work of Lionel Shapiro. For nearly twenty years, until his recent death, he was the chief foreign correspondent of Maclean's. In that capacity he wrote almost a hundred articles from the battlefields of the last war and from many parts of the strewn world it left behind. He increased his reputation, which was an international one, through his novels, plays, motion pictures and personal appearances as a speaker and broadcaster. He was among the most successful of all Canadian writers. He was also among the best informed, the most gifted and the most perceptive. He was a passionate Canadian who. for all the fame and rewards he won in other parts of the world, never considered giving up his Canadian citizenship, his Canadian residence or his Canadian identity.
Lionel Shapiro’s public record speaks so well for him that the conventional testimonials to his personal quality seem anti-climactic. Indeed, as he himself would have been the first to point out, they may not even be in order. Shapiro was not, in the ordinary sense, the Sterling Character or the' Grand Chap who usually appears as the hero of obituary notices. He was egotistical, neurotic, melancholy, obstinate and generally difficult. One of his friends had a favorite and no doubt made-up story about him that he used to tell in Lionel’s presence. “But John," Shapiro would say, “here I’ve been talking about myself for two hours. How about you talking about me for a while?”
Shapiro was first, throughout and at the end Lionel Shapiro. Everything he did proclaimed his individuality; he wrote in his own way, he lived in his own way. he died in his own way; there was no conceivable chance of mistaking him for anyone but himself.
I can remember him saying; “I'm going to take a week off and write a play for NBC.” He wrote it and NBC bought it and produced it. I can remember him saying: “I’m going to take two weeks off and write a short story for the Saturday Evening Post.” This, by the way. was before he had ever written a short story for anybody, but the Saturday Evening Post bought and published it. He phoned me when the Literary Guild offered to buy his last novel. “I don't think 1 11 accept.” he said. “If we wait another few weeks the Book of the Month Club will probably take it for August.” That’s what happened.
In the time 1 have been at Maclean’s, working with him not as a friend and frequent companion of our days as war correspondents but in the impersonal and sometimes tough relationship between a
writer and an editor, it is my assessment that his batting average was well over .950.
For the last two months of his life Shapiro knew that he was certain to die in a very short time. He had had one operation for cancer. Because he was, in every circumstance, the kind of reporter who had to know the truth, he discovered from his doctors that there might be a recurrence and that a recurrence, so far as these things can be foretold by mortals, would be fatal. When the recurrence came he knew exactly what it meant. No one tried to deceive him about it. He did not try to be deceived.
He was in a position that many others have faced with tranquility and courage. In his case there was one circumstance that called for extra courage. The person to whom he had been closest throughout his life, the person whose sympathy and comfort would have meant the most to him in his last weeks, was the one person he felt he must not confide in. His mother, with whom he had shared a great and tender devotion throughout his life, was seriously ill too under the care of nurses in the Montreal apartment which was their home. Shapiro was convinced that if he told her of his own condition she might find the shock too difficult to bear. So when he left their apartment for the last time to take the short, absurdly convenient taxi journey to the hospital, he simply told her that he was having trouble with his new novel, that his New York publishers wanted him to go down and discuss it and work on it there. He had taken his mother’s resident nurse into his confidence and so he was able to telephone several times a week, ostensibly from the St. Moritz Hotel in New York but really from the Montreal General Hospital, and wish his mother good night.
It was in the same spirit that he talked with and heard from some of the people who knew about his sickness. He received and very much valued messages from people as eminent as Lord Alexander, Lord Montgomery and the Canadian generals Crerar, McNaughton and Simonds. And although he was not able to see more than a half-dozen visitors and although he could not use a typewriter or a pen or pencil, he still managed to write two or three letters on the dictaphone that had been placed at the side of his bed. And into the dictaphone he put a short and much-interrupted account of his last experiences and thoughts. As a good reporter he had known for some time that many promising new drugs and chemicals were being developed in the fight against cancer. He asked his doctors to use as many of them as they could on him, no matter how hopeless and painful they might be. And during the two months when he stood almost at every single hour at the threshold between life and death he found the strength and resolution to pick up the mouthpiece of the dictaphone and get into it some of his observations of what it was like. Once he said: “This is the most exhilarating thing that has happened to me personally since the war. Happy ending or not, I am excited by the chance to view this struggle between the scientists and the doctors and the disease inside of me.”
In the end the disease got the better of his body, but it never came close to conquering his spirit. 1 was one of the few visitors he was allowed to have and I went from Toronto to Montreal several times in those last weeks to talk with him. In his years of good health and prosperity he was one of the most notorious and chronic worriers who ever set foot on earth. A hangnail, a cold in the head, a lukewarm letter from an editor, or a drop of fifty cents in the stock of Imperial Oil or Royal Bank could set him off on a lament of several days and positively Biblical gloom. But he was much too proud to let himself be frightened by anything really dangerous. The last time I said good-by to him he said simply and calmly: “This is okay. Nothing is hurting much. I can handle it.” And so he did—handled his life well and handled his death well and left them both with DIGNITY.-RALPH ALLEN
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