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An Ordinary, Magical Life

A team of 14 Toronto Star reporters assisted columnist Catherine Porter by interviewing more than 130 friends and relatives of the late and previously unheralded Shelagh Gordon "to show how a modest life can have a huge impact."

Shelagh Gordon (Toronto Star)

Shelagh Gordon (Toronto Star)

Gordon, whose last job was selling real estate ads, whose avocation was brightening the lives of everyone she knew and who died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm at age 55, "was soap-and-water beautiful, vital, unassuming and funny without trying to be," wrote Porter, who said it was like she met Gordon at her funeral.

But my sharpest impression of Shelagh that day, as mourners in black pressed around me, was of her breathtaking kindness. Shelagh was freshly-in-love thoughtful.

If she noticed your boots had holes, she'd press her new ones into your arms. When you casually admired her coffeemaker, you'd wake up to one of your own. A bag of chocolates hanging from your doorknob would greet you each Valentine's Day, along with some clippings from the newspaper she thought you'd find interesting.

Porter had been attracted to Gordon by the obituary her family had placed in the Star.

"Our world is a smaller place today without our Shelagh, who left us suddenly on Monday, February 13, 2012," the obit said. "Our rock, our good deed doer, our tradition keeper, our moral compass."

In her column, Porter wrote:

Funerals are as much collective meditations as tearful goodbyes to one person. We use the departed life as a lens to assess our own. In that way, Shelagh Gordon is the perfect choice of an allegedly ordinary local woman whose life was actually huge in scope and as worthy of scrutiny as any big-life celebrity. She is you. She is us.

The column, which served as a news obituary and commentary, is more than 4,000 words long – twice as long as most celebrity obits that are printed in Canadian papers. It holds too many loving remembrances to condense into this piece.

You'll have to read the entire column for details about Gordon's love of animals, her klutziness, her quirkiness and her role as an aunt...

- Not a regular, see-you-at-Christmas and Thanksgiving aunt. Rather a come-to-my-house-in-your-pyjamas-on-Saturday-morning-and-drink-fireman's-tea-with-me aunt. (Fireman's tea translated to much milk, little caffeine.)

Porter ended her column with this:

Some of Shelagh's friends feel terrible they didn't get a chance to say goodbye and tell her how much she meant to them. There is a lesson there.

For, as I see it, Shelagh herself didn't need to say how much they meant to her. Her daily life was a kiss of love.


This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer. She is the director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.

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