Goodbye, dear June

By on April 1, 2010

JUNE FAULKNER In addition to her charm and intelligence, June was blessed with a superb sense of humour and an uncanny ability to tell any story really, really well.

I met June Faulkner at a summer party in the backyard of the house attached to hers. It was 2001. She was on her own (Calvin was in Jamaica and I wouldn’t meet him until several weeks later). I remember how June looked so cool and elegant in her off-white linen, gold jewellry and shoulder-grazing bob.

She was tiny but radiant. Her smile conveyed not just self-confidence but self-respect. And there was energy. Older than everyone else by at least 25 years, June was regaling an enthralled circle with a story.

I couldn’t hear what she was saying but I caught bits of a husky-sexy voice underneath a buttery British accent (I later learned June was Welsh). The luscious sound was drowned out every time her audience burst into laughter, which was frequently. I decided to join.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that got kick-started over the care of Charlie, my Cockapoo puppy. He too was in attendance that day, scrambling around on the fringes of the garden party, happy to be free. I was going to a wedding, I told June, who proclaimed her love of puppies, especially Charlie, and insisted on caring for him. It made such sense, she pointed out. She lived right next door!

The fact that Charlie was not yet house-broken didn’t seem to faze her in the slightest. And indeed, if he ever did anything untoward in June’s gorgeous Victorian home, I never heard about it. When, with some trepidation, I called from the wedding reception to inquire how things were going, June responded breezily, “Oh, we’re having a lovely time, watching the tennis on telly.” It was Wimbledon, and Charlie was cuddled next to June on the white slipcovered couch.

When I returned, June told me that on one of their walks, a young couple had stopped to inquire what breed Charlie was. “I told them, ‘I believe he’s a King Chawls,’ ” she admitted. I looked down at my black puppy. June always spoke highly of her friends, even the four-legged ones. June and Charlie formed an ever-lasting bond. Every time Calvin, June’s companion of 40 years, opened the door to Charlie, the dog would race past, wanting only his beloved June.

As time went by, I came to understand that June had had an unconventional life, maybe even a famous life, although she never said so herself. In her big, sunny study on the second floor, the room that Canadian music icon Carole Pope rented for several years (I would occasionally see Pope standing on June’s front step, coming back for a visit) the walls were lined with photos of June with all sorts of public figures: actors, politicians, the stars of the day. She had friends like Hollywood screen legend Claudette Colbert.

By the time I entered her orbit, June had been retired for almost 10 years from a brilliant career in theatre management. A genius at fund-raising, June’s passion and commitment to the arts blazed new trails for Toronto Workshop Productions, the Shaw Festival and the Young People’s Theatre. When media tried to interview her, she always insisted: “Don’t write about me, dahling, write about the theatuh!”

As production manager for a television series called “Cities” she worked with Glenn Gould to tell the story of Toronto through the eyes of the internationally acclaimed concert pianist. She flew to Italy to work with actor and director Anthony Burgess to tell the story of Rome. While there, she visited the Vatican and lunched with Italian movie director Federico Fellini.

June’s powers of persuasion were legendary. In the 80s, she was hired by Sergei Sawchyn, executive producer of Circus Tivoli, to go to China and convince the Chinese government to let their legendary circus come to Canada. The troupe had never before performed outside the country.

June made her pitch to Li Ka Shing, one of China’s wealthiest businessmen, during a day spent sailing aboard his yacht. Not long after, the circus performed in a tent pitched in front of Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. “You helped us make the 1982 tour of the Great Circus of China a success unparalleled in the history of our country,” wrote Sawchyn in a thank-you letter to June, framed and hanging in her home. Thank you.”

During the Vietnam war, June helped a tremendous number of U.S. draft dodgers get landed immigration status by giving them a letter of employment. She also advocated on behalf of many refugee claimants, her force and passion convincing authorities to let them stay. One of the highlights of her life was meeting Fidel Castro.

To me, she was just June, my delightful neighbour and Charlie’s godmother. She was the mother of four children and her grandson, Tyler, was a “dead ringer for Brad Pitt.”

She and Calvin would come to my place and I would go to theirs, for no particular reason except to hang out and visit. I drank gallons of tea in their spacious, gracious livingroom. I stored my bike in their garage. We chatted on the shared front porch.

One New Year’s Eve, we sipped champagne and watched the ball drop in Times Square. June came to my 50th birthday bash; I went to her 80th. June met my friends and family and I met hers. “You are always welcome,” June and Calvin told me. “We are family.” And so, we were.

In August of 2003, when the power went down along the eastern seaboard, Charlie and I joined June and Calvin on their back porch overlooking the garden. A bottle of red wine was uncorked and we talked and laughed while the semi-frozen President’s Choice lasagne heated up on the gas barbecue. We decided we really didn’t care if the power ever came back on.

Wherever June went, she left an indelible impression of goodness, kindness and happinesss. Even in her darkest moments, she remained essentially optimistic. Her tremendous life force, her unadulterated joie de vivre made her magnetic. In addition to her charm and intelligence, she was blessed with a superb sense of humour and an uncanny ability to tell any story really, really well.

One of my favourites was the time that June applied for a job in an accounting firm. She had a head for figures and since all the able-bodied men were fighting World War II, she decided this was her chance. In the interview, she was asked what interested her most about the work. “Your firm is close to the docks and I just adore sailors,” she told the astonished chief accountant. She got the job.

I said goodbye to June last week, the day before she died. She had just celebrated her 84th birthday. Calvin told me June opened her eyes just once and looked at her family gathered all around her. They had been keeping vigil night and day, sleeping in chairs and pull-out cots. “Her eyes were as bright and full of life as I’ve ever seen them” Calvin told me. “That room was filled with love.”

And with that, June took a final breath and closed her eyes. Ω

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