Wake Up and Write Writer's Retreat Workshop
Brenda Rooney worked at the Stratford Festival in PR/Marketing, and we met when her boss asked her to take me to the green room for coffee. I’d written a research paper for law school on the three Stratfords, and continued to visit with some of the folks I’d met during the process. Brenda’s husband, Robert, was an actor as well as a directing intern at the Festival, they had two daughters, and Robert’s brother Andrew lived with them as the girls’ caretaker.
When Brenda invited me to their house to visit, I had no idea it was to open the door to one of the most significant relationships of my life – not only my friendship with Brenda, but also my relationship with every member of the family. I arrived, that first time, to find that Brenda wasn’t even there. Instead, Andrew let me in and assured me she’d show up eventually. He gave me a cup of tea, and I met Rebecca and Caitlin. Sure enough, Brenda did appear sometime in the next half hour, and it was chaotic as both girls wanted to share things with their mother, and Andrew had news of his own to pass on.
I never did meet Robert that day, though I met Tottenham Hotspurs, their cat. The chaos meant that I blended into the woodwork, something that appealed to me at that point in my life. I enjoyed it, and eventually did get some time to talk with Brenda. Over the years, when I stayed with them for several days, I would sometimes go to bed down in the basement (in Oakville) and wake in the morning to find one or more additional guests sleeping on the sofas in the living room. Their generosity made everyone feel welcome - it was open house for many of us, and I felt incredibly lucky.
From Stratford, to Oakville, to Quebec, I went wherever the Rooneys lived, and from the start, developed an individual relationship with each member of the family. At one point in Oakville, Andrew was working, and Brenda and Robert were putting together a CD launch to support voter education in South Africa, so they were working non-stop. I took a week’s vacation and went up to drive the kids to school stuff, cook the meals, and even do the laundry, so they could focus completely on their work.
Brenda and Robert were the most politically active people I’d ever met. I did a few things in high school and college, but they opened my eyes to the world and what one or two people could do to make a difference. They were involved in the Arts Against Apartheid movement in Canada. Robert directed the big benefit/fundraiser concerts in Toronto, and Brenda did the PR for them. I happened to be with Brenda when we saw the film of Nelson Mandela walking out of prison. She wept, and I wanted to, but felt I hadn’t earned that right. The CD I mentioned earlier raised more than million dollars for voter education for the first election in South Africa in which the black population could vote.
Robert, sadly, died in January 2016. Brenda continues with her work and her family. Their impact continues in me, and through me to all of you who read this. None of us knows what impact our lives and our writing will have on the world. We can only live and write and love and breathe, and know that everything we do matters. Thanks to all of you for what you give in your lives and in your writing.