Heart Matters, by Adrienne Clarkson

Heart MattersMaybe she shouldn’t have written it now – maybe never – you will hear both criticisms – but I find Adrienne Clarkson’s “Memoirs” complete readable, as frank and self-promoting as she is herself.
It is full of startling information on her family’s life in China and on their early days in Canada. Her description of their suffering under the Japanese in Hong Kong, subsequent flight by ship to the new world, and then return visits to her father’s village in China, go a long way toward explaining the courage with which this immigrant family dealt with their new life in Ottawa. Her father was a gambling, horse-back rider with an unquenchable belief in his family’s ability to live a dream of success. This dream sustained his daughter in a way that I, at least, find convincing.
In Ottawa the lived in a small house opposite the Mint on Sussex Street, the same street as Rideau Hall, where she would live to have a grander address. Mme. Clarkson explains how she came to learn French so expertly and with such affection. She tells of years at Trinity College in Toronto, of her attachment to the Anglican Church, of her first marriage, the loss of a child, the sadness she lived through while estranged from her two daughters and subsequent relief and happiness in a reunited family. I find the personal writing candid and convincing.
For her career, as you might expect, she writes with verve about her first experience in television on TAKE THIRTY and later the FIFTH ESTATE. She has been called an actress and sure enough, she plays it up and why not? As for being Chinese, she wonders if it helped and acknowledges that it made her different and perhaps easier forthe CBC to accept her. There are interesting accounts of stories she covered.
Her first serious encounter with politicians came when she became Agent-General for Ontario in Paris. She learned early to distinguish them from all other professions and treat them accordingly. And this of course was useful in her final big job as Governor General.
She examined the responsibilities of being GAG very carefully and shares herviews. She and John Ralston Saul traveled widely, to meet and bring the government’s presence and caring to hundreds of people across this country. They watched and traveled to military action, bringing encouragement to the troops. They put time and thought into making Rideau Hall a beautiful place to visit, full of Canadian paintings and, when possible, down-to-earth hospitality. They redeemed the grounds and gardens, opening them to public visits, games, etc.
She does address her disappointment at the last, widely-publicized trip abroad when the expenses for a distinguished retinue were denied and the trip fell apart. Most of us knew about this, although not the details which made the trip perfectly legal. It might have been better if someone, other than the ex-Governor General, had taken this matter in hand. But nothing in Adrienne Clarkson’s life has stopped her from doing what she felt appropriate, so here it is.
“Heart Matters” is a good book. You feel what you might have felt all along, that we were lucky to have had such a Governor General. I also feel the people coming to this country in the future will be lucky if Adrienne Clarkson goes ahead with what she plans next : work with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.
Thanks to Anne for the review!