BRADLEY: Remembering Wilma McNeill

Mayor Mike Bradley

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My cynical friend, who wishes to remain anonymous (Julie), lives in one of the two centres of the universe called Toronto. Of course everyone knows the other one is the “Hub” Plympton-Wyoming. For entertainment when riding the Metro subway she takes a seat and stares straight ahead. When a stranger sits beside her she continues to stare ahead and then says, “Did you bring the money?”

Was out on Valentine’s Day at a local bar. The couple beside me were fighting when I arrived. Hate it when a couple argues in public and I miss the beginning and don’t know whose side I’m on.

Advice from Dr. Love: One thing I have learned about being alone on Valentine’s Day is you don’t have to be sad. Just keep reminding yourself you are alone all of the other days of the year, too.

Uncle Clary in Northern Ireland took his wife Roberta to her high school reunion. Clary met some of her former school mates and ended up sitting at a table where he was yawning and overly bored. The band cranked it up and people started to dance.

There is a guy on the dance floor living it large, doing every type of dance style possible, and buying drinks for the crowd watching. Roberta, turning to Clary, says, “See that guy? Twenty-five years ago he proposed to me and I turned him down.”

Clary says “Looks like he is still celebrating.”

Uncle Festus in Moose Jaw has up till now listed his occupation as permanently unemployed. He likes the hours and takes regular vacations. In fact he was so good he was hired to work at the unemployment office. He ended up getting fired there on a Friday afternoon with the boss saying, “Clean out your desk, we will see you Monday.”

Finally, desperate for cash, Festus applied for a challenging position to be a pet food taster. An Albertan applied for the same job and since both applicants had similar qualifications they were asked to take a test. They were led to a quiet room by the Human Resources person to do the test.

When the results were in both had scored 19 out of 20.

The HR person went to Clary and said, “Thanks for coming in for the interview, but we’ve decided to give the job to the Albertan.”

Festus replied, “And why should you be doing that? We both got 19 questions correct. This being Moose Jaw and I am from here surely (don’t call me Shirley) I should get the job.”

The HR person responded, “We made our decision not on the correct answers, but on the question you got wrong.”

Festus said, “And just how can one wrong answer be better than another?”

That’s simple said the HR person. On Question 7 the Albertan wrote down ‘I don’t know.’ You put down ‘neither do I.’”

Sharing all-time favourite Irish story in honour of St. Patrick’s Day. Long-time readers have seen it before but it’s too good not to share again. Surprisingly for an Irish story, it takes place in a pub and involves drinking.

“Deputy Mayor” Janis did visit Ireland on a bus tour years ago. As a redhead with fair skin people thought she was a local till she spoke Canadian and didn’t know the difference between football and rugby.

To celebrate the end of the trip she went down to Uncle Clary’s favourite pub, The Downs and Ups, to have a good bye drink.

Full disclosure: Clary has a good bye drink to celebrate every occasion. When the newspaper boy drops off the paper he salutes him with a toast. When the garbage is picked up Clary raises a glass. Every April he has a toast on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic which was built in Belfast. The Irish claim it was okay when it left. And just like the Toronto Maple Leaf’s, both are fine till they hit the ice. (Writer has just fulfilled his contractual obligation to have one Leaf joke per column).

Janis sat at the bar with Clary, who has a First-in-Line American Express card for the bar stools. She and Clary watched a man come in named Tommy and sit at the bar beside another man named Liam. Tommy asked, “Where are you from?” “I’m from Northern Ireland,” replied Liam. Tommy responded, “You don’t say. I’m from Northern Ireland. Let’s have a round to Northern Ireland.” “Of course”, said Liam.

Janis heard Tommy go on. “Where in Northern Ireland are you from?” “Bangor” came the reply from Liam. “I can’t believe it.” said Tommy. “I’m from Bangor too. Let’s have another round to Bangor.” “Of course” said Liam. “What school did you go too?” asked Tommy. “St. Comgall’s,” replied Liam. “I graduated in 1988”. “This is unbelievable” said Tommy. “I did too”.

Just then, as Janis and Uncle Clary continued to listen to the two men, one of the regulars, Joe, came in (there must be one Joe in every Irish story) and sat down between them, Tommy and Liam. Joe asked the bartender “What’s been going on tonight”? “Oh not much,” replied Jerry the Bartender. “Just the Bradley twins are drunk again.”

“Good night Wilma”, “Good night Michael”.

That was the sign-off to end the evening phone calls for the last several years between Wilma McNeill and myself.

Wilma died recently at age 88. She was a noble warrior for many causes. The most well known one nationally was returning Remembrance Day to being a statutory holiday. She loved the colour pink. When she was asked, “Wilma, how are you?”, it was always the same answer, “I am in the pink”.

Wilma served three years on local councils and was always a skillful politician in her community work, building alliances and support. A constant persistent advocate on community issues, she defined the expression “an iron fist inside a velvet pink glove”.

Wilma was a one-person political machine. She wrote more letters to the editor than the City of Sarnia writes parking tickets. She sent out more thank-you cards than the Welcome Wagon. Sent out more Church Mass Memory cards than the average Catholic bishop. Her home could have been a sub-post office with its own postal code.

As Wilma’s world got smaller because of health issues the evening phone calls became our main way of communicating. Knew a call would never come between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. That was a sacred hour for Wilma because Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy were on TV.

She was engaged to the end, talking about her family, faith, local issues and “what was right and what was wrong with the world”. Wilma was the type of citizen who believed in “community before self” and recognized she was part of something much bigger than herself. She gave fully to her adopted community through advocacy, politics, family, charity and church work.

Mitch Albom wrote, “Death ends a life, but not a relationship”. Wilma’s memory will live on every time the colour pink pops up, the phone rings right after Jeopardy, and on Remembrance Day. She will be greatly missed.

Good Night Wilma.

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