Farewell, Dear Friend

Source: cornwallpaper

Dear Joan,

You’ve left us and I never said goodbye. Farewell, dear friend that I never met in person, although our paths crossed in so many ways over the years. I used to read your pieces in the Catholic press, back in the days when we had one.  And then, in 2005 you arrived in my office at Novalis in the form of a manuscript that eventually became your 2006 book: Jack’s Farm.

I was delighted when my friend and publisher, Gail Baird, decided to take it on because I knew that readers would get to know about you, your life-long kindnesses and your deep and abiding respect for others.

When in 2018, I interviewed you for the igNation blog we reconnected once more. You told me about the 16-year-old you who once wrote a letter a Canadian poet, Wallace Havelock Robb. You said, “When I was 16, I wrote him a letter. I’d never read anything he had written but I saw an article about him in 1960 in The Toronto Star Weekly. It included snippets from his poems and I just loved them. I wrote to him, sent him two poems, and said: ‘Someday, I am going to let the world know who you are.’ Somehow, we became friends. I now have I all of his poetry and recital books and for 16 years he was my greatest mentor.”

And how you kept that promise, Joan! Digging through archives and file folders you assembled a fascinating portrait of a complicated individual who was known as the Abbé of Abbey Dawn, aka: Wallace Havelock Robb (1888-1976). Sadly that work remains unfinished, but I also know how thoughtfully you approached publishers across the country to consider your book about the journey of a young writer.

You tell Robb’s story as you unfurl the story of your own direction-changing life as a writer, artist, wife, widow, and woman of deep faith. Throughout, you celebrate the gift of kindness. You certainly followed through on your promise to Robb with your unstinting gift of always saying thank you through the words you wrote and through the example of your own life.

On my shelf behind me is the copy of the David Brooks book, The Second Mountain – The Quest for a Moral Life, which you sent me this summer in response to our conversations about your Robb manuscript. You wrote in it: “Blessings on your work. God is so good! I am back on track with enthusiasm now, Joan.”

Well, dear Joan, you are now on another track altogether. I cherish our at-a-distance relationship. And I will always remember your spirit of kindness and how you nudged me gently toward its light.

Go well, dear friend.

Ottawa-based author and editor, Kevin Burns is a frequent contributor to igNation. His latest book, Impressively Free – Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood and co-authored with Michael W. Higgins, has just been released by Paulist Press in the United States and by Novalis in Canada.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 02:10h, 04 December Reply

    Thank you Kevin!

  • Peggy Spencer
    Posted at 04:12h, 04 December Reply

    Thank you for your beautiful tribute to dear Joan. Joan and I became very good ‘online’ friends after I received an email from her just over twelve months ago. Our common interest initially was our love of writing for igNation. Through the ensuing months, we kept in frequent content sharing our life stories with each other. I admired her so much over all that she achieved in her lifetime. Her generosity was enormous. Joan shared with me how much she was hoping to come to Australia next year so that we could meet. It was not meant to be. I received many little treasures from Joan which I often turn to. Farewell Joan and rest in peace. Your ‘online’ friend, Peggy

  • Monica S.
    Posted at 09:21h, 04 December Reply

    What a thoughtful and beautifully written tribute.

    I saw David Brooks interviewed about his book « The Second Mountain – The Quest for a Moral Life ». He shared the story of his moral conversion from a life centred on himself to a life lived for others.

    It seems your friend Joan understood that message and lived it well.

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