The quality that allows most federal politicians to survive their grimy trade is a profound sense of detachment. Issues and principles dissolve into cynical responses to the call of each passing hour; private lives are relegated to a form of distraction.
Eventually, their souls leak out of them, mixing with the comatose decor of the Commons’ walls. They become figments of their own imaginations.
Judy was different.
Julia Verlyn LaMarsh, who died in Toronto last week at 55, had that rare and terrible gift of natural rudeness. Loyal to her friends, merciless to her enemies, generous with herself (and her budget), above all she was gloriously gutsy. Unlike John Diefenbaker (who seemed to think with his heart) or Pierre Trudeau (who gives the impression that he feels with his brain), Judy LaMarsh was governed by the unvarnished dictates of her feelings.
She never tried to hide anything, least of all her emotions, existing within the tumult of her own making, as vulnerable as an open wound. She elevated honesty to a profound moral option of our times.
While some of her fellow lady politicians insisted their formal photographs be taken through so many layers of cheesecloth that they were made to appear as young as Ronald Reagan, Judy just stuck out her chins and told them to click away. When she landed at Eskimo Point in the Northwest Territories during the centennial celebrations, she introduced herself to a group of Inuit by patting her ampie hips and exclaiming: “See, I brought my own supply of blubber!” On a later occasion, after her helicopter landed on Steele Glacier in the Yu-
kon, she just stood there and yodelled,
She lost her temper easily, once
threw an ashtray at Senator Keith Davey, even though he was one of her most ardent supporters, and resigned (for two days at a time) on at least a dozen occasions from the Pearson cabinet. Her legislative achievements were considerable, but her behavior in office often shocked the fastidious and discomfited the established. “She was very democratic,” recalls George Loranger, one of her former aides. “She treated the office boy and the deputy minister exactly alike—she constantly gave them hell.”
The novels were her final passion, but she just couldn’t get the sex scenes right. “When you’re engaged in a sexual act,” she would explain, “no one’s there getting a bird’s eye view,
When 1 was trying to describe it, I kept giggling.” It was typical of her that when she was granted the Order of Canada on her sickbed, as a kind of farewell gesture by a nation that had rewarded her public contributions with remarkable stinginess, Judy’s main reaction was to bitch about some of the people she thought were fools who had been similarly decorated,
She died with the raw courage and primitive dignity that exemplified her life, deciding late on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 24: “Okay, no more medication. That’s it.” The reason Judy’s death touched so many Canadians is that so few celebrities manage to preserve their real selves inside their public masks. Judy LaMarsh endowed each of her many careers with energy, intellect and commitment. But, to the end, she never gave up her essential, gutsy humanity. Peter C. Newman
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.