When I was a girl of 19, I met Canadian author and environmental advocate, Farley Mowat and his wife Claire, to whom he was married from 1965 until his death May 7 at 92.
I was a humble office clerk at Classic’s Books in Montreal and had the mixed blessing of meeting a few luminaries of the literary world as they passed amongst us lesser beings in the course of normal business.
Chief amongst those experiences was a lunchtime encounter with Mordecai Richler, who caught me minding the phones alone at my desk and demanded entry to my boss’s office. When I inquired as to his business, Mr. Richler drew himself to his full height and asked indignantly,
“Don’t you even know who I am?”
I admitted that I did not; and when he told me and I was still no further enlightened, was subjected to a tongue lashing that drew my boss from his office to sweep Mr. Richler into his room with great apology and recriminations toward the peon.
I was an American kid who had read “Catcher in the Rye” in high school, rather than “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz;” and furthermore, I was just obeying orders.
That was the single most humiliating experience among many humiliating experiences at that miserable job.
The year was 1969.
One of my happier experiences that same year was the visit by Mr. Mowat and his supremely kind and patient wife. They were promoting a minor book in his prolific career, “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float,” but he was already well-known to me for “Never Cry Wolf.”
As I recall, Mr. Mowat was loud and colorful in his red kilt, but pretty jovial. We were quietly told, by the shop manager, that he was extremely shy and required a bottle of rum (?) to be supplied at every book signing to bolster him for the press of public attention. Mrs. Mowat was friendly and appreciative of everyone’s efforts to make Mr. Mowat feel comfortable and relaxed, gently admonishing him when she felt he might be getting carried away. He took it well.
Sympathetic to wolves, mostly nice to people and a booming voice of concern for the environment while the majority of us were still cutting teeth, Farley Mowat was a complex character who lived and died according to his own terms.
The fact that Claire remained with him, through thick and thin for fifty years, is the best testimonial any man could wish for.
Thank you, Farley Mowat, for your lifetime of service to the environment.