by Paula Wolfson, Bruce McGregor, Susan Goddard
Murray Ellis was an avid theatre-goer and supporter with multiple subscriptions to various Toronto theatres. I got to know him when he accompanied his beloved wife Fran to our weekly Singing With Parkinson’s sessions and we became the best of friends. He was very, very proud to be a member of Canadian Actors Equity. ~ PW
Murray and I were friends for over 35 years and had worked closely together in the musical theatre community in Toronto - mainly with Scarborough Music Theatre and Etobicoke Musical Productions where Murray directed many smash hit musical productions. I was honoured to work with him as Musical Director on many of those shows - including 42nd Street, Applause, Damn Yankees and Mack and Mabel. Murray was just an amazing source of information & knowledge regarding Broadway shows - Plays & Musicals - and a tremendous person who loved life. ~ BM
I remember him so fondly from our theatre days, both as a great Director and for the many stories he could recount about plays, musicals in particular, and personalities. It was always a delight to see him at various cast parties, when the years would melt away and we would get to catch up and hear more stories. He was witty, kind and charming. ~ SG
Patricia Joan Ludwick | 1945-2021
by Jane Heyman, Nicola Lipman and Judith Penner
~ actress, poet, teacher, librarian, sister, aunt, friend, inveterate bubble blower ~
Patsy died peacefully on Gabriola Island in what she called the “home that friends built’ because so many had helped to raise a roof, paint a wall, or hang a door.
Patsy was born in Vancouver, grew up on Vancouver Island, attended UBC, then LAMDA, before returning to Canada in the late 60s to begin her acting career. In 1969, an offer from Neptune Theatre took her to Halifax, where she fell in love with the East Coast and Jerry Franken. For several years their rustic Dead Man’s Island home became the heart of much social and creative foment.
Neptune‘s 2nd Stage was a hotbed of new and/or experimental work. Two of Patsy‘s many standout performances were as Carmen in Forever Yours Mary Lou, and Pirate Jenny in Threepenny Opera. A visit from playwright James Reaney with his briefcase full of the incubating Donnelly Trilogy resulted in the initial workshops which included Patsy. Eventually NDWT produced and toured the trilogy across Canada. No one will forget the force of nature Patsy became as Mrs. Donnelly.
In 1978 she inched her way back to BC, and in 1989 settled on Gabriola Island where she found her real home. Friends had long cherished Patsy’s poems and letters. Now she emerged as a poet, playwright, screenwriter as well as script editor, teacher, and librarian. She gave herself wholeheartedly to island life. Visiting friends found her a generous host and island friends came to know her as a passionate lover of nature in all its forms, keen swimmer, beachcomber, committed Sangha member, and Dharma practitioner. She sent unique handmade cards to friends, fostered many cats, volunteered at the local hospice, was active in Amnesty, and instrumental in creating the Gabriola Tool Library.
When diagnosed with ALS in 2018, Patsy responded in her usual brave, informed, passionate way. Despite Covid, friends and neighbours gathered around her in those last months and weeks. With Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) she chose to die as fearlessly and gracefully as she had lived—in her own bed looking out at her beloved garden.
Patsy was the eldest of seven siblings, all of whom are grateful to have had her in their lives and so proud of her achievements. Her family thanks the wonderful committed caregivers, healthcare team, and amazing circle of friends who supported her.
In lieu of flowers or donations, Patsy asked that people plant a tree in her memory, one native to the place in which it grows.
In July a gathering of her friends and family came together over Zoom to share memories, sip wine, and blow bubbles in Patsy’s honour. Patsy asked that people plant a tree in her memory, one native to the place in which it grows.
Marguerite "Dee Dee" McNeil | 1935-2021
by Bryden MacDonald
Marguerite McNeil—DeeDee to family and friends—was a remarkable woman, invaluable to the arts community here in Atlantic Canada and beyond. Like so many, I loved and admired her. She became my mentor and muse. I wrote for her specifically—BETINA in The Weekend Healer, and directed her many times, most memorably as BIG MAMA in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
I first encountered DeeDee as a closeted 14 year old kid, languishing dramatically on Cape Breton Island. DeeDee was 42 and had just returned to Glace Bay from New York City where she had been a working actress, and secretary extraordinaire, since she left home at 17. She was offering acting classes. I took the bus from Sydney, unaware that my young mind was about to be blown by a flamboyant, chain-smoking free spirit.
DeeDee introduced me to books and music that expanded my mind. I began to see things in a clearer, sharper light. I confided in DeeDee that I thought I was gay. She said, of course you are dear and that’s just fine.
Years later we reconnected in Toronto. We were a strange duo, often mistaken for mother and son. In many ways she was another mother. DeeDee lived across from the Rondun Tavern on Roncesvalles, a spot we frequented for boozy lunches and her endless stories: a yet to be discovered Robert Redford painted her first New York apartment; James Earl Jones ate everything on the buffet table at a lunch she hosted; she never thought anything would come of the sweet kid with the scratchy voice who busked in the village — the kid was Bob Dylan. We compiled these stories to create her successful one woman show, An Island Woman.
I can’t quite believe DeeDee is gone. And though her passing was sad, it was not tragic — she lived a full life, and made many other lives better. Her wisdom will continue to inspire.
I’ll say goodbye with one of her much quoted lines: “More wine for the Contessa!”
You are missed.
by Deb Allen
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Jenny, although we only met in the mid-80s. We have had numerous adventures...many of which involved house-swapping. On various occasions I would need actors’ digs in Sackville or Guysborough...coincidentally she needed a spot in Halifax. There was complicity in the arrangement and sometimes we found a chance to be working and sharing the same space.
We played the same roles in several shows and had great discussions about our approaches. My most cherished memory is getting to play Shirley in the world premiere of her play The Americans are Coming at Theatre New Brunswick. It also marked my 50th birthday. Jenny arrived at our Saint John show with a box for me...it contained a bizarre array of 50 items she had thoughtfully collected over the past year.
This type of kindness and caring were a big part of the Jenny we all knew. She marked our birthdays and milestones. While clearing out her desk drawers I found an eclectic collection of cards, ready to go, and many she had received from theatre colleagues and acquaintances.
At this bittersweet time I think back on all the extraordinary dinners; road trips and lively debates. I will miss it all - most especially, being rewarded with that wonderful laugh! Be at rest my friend and thank you for all you gave us.
by Jan Alexandra Smith
I grew up watching my Mum on the small but mighty stage of St. Timothy’s Anglican Church auditorium. My wee brain couldn’t yet comprehend the level of talent she possessed, whether starring in amateur Gilbert & Sullivan productions, or leading the choir with her powerful and unapologetic soprano. What I did understand at that age, though, was that my Mum was a woman of taste and culture. We two went on so many dates to the National Ballet and to the Stratford Festival. It was her singular influence that inspired my dream of becoming an actor, and it was her unequivocal support that brought that dream to fruition. More, it was her selflessness as a mother that encouraged my artistic goals while her own lay unrealized for decades.
Once her children were grown and her husband had passed, however, Mum dusted off her dreams and with typical courage, entered the profession to become an award winning actor. I can remember sitting in the audience of Philadelphia, Here I Come!, eyes popping and jaw agape, watching her steal every scene with a talent bigger than the theatre could possibly hold. After decades in the business myself, I finally understood that my dear Mum, Isobel Smith, was not only an astonishing talent, she was the best actress I’ve ever known. It’s a sad task to write her Memoriam, but damn I’m proud to do it.
Please consider donating to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada in her name.
John Keith Gilbert | 1934-2021
by Kathleen Gallagher
My remarkable friend John died on Apr. 22, 2021.
He did not die, directly at least, of COVID-19, though he was undoubtedly a casualty of its conditions. At the age of 86, and newly living in a retirement home, the loneliness of no visitors for a man who thrived on intellectual stimulation was a very heavy load to bear. His glaucoma had advanced to such a point that his passion for reading had been replaced by the frustration of failing eyesight and the loss of beloved books.
A fall landed John in Bridgepoint for several months prior to his death and though it is a wonderful place for rehabilitation, it could not provide what John really desired: the company of friends, a visit from his beloved children and grandchildren, a glass of red, the mental challenge of a good debate, collective exasperation at the political state of the world, or simply a conversation about a great work of dramatic literature.
Even live theatre had disappeared from view in his final months.
To say John was a man of extraordinary accomplishments is an understatement. Born into a working-class London family, he earned a full scholarship to Oxford University. From Oxford, he earned a scholarship to complete his doctoral studies at Harvard University in French Literature.
Read more here.