Everyone remembers the comedian, most remember the broadcaster, many remember the thespian and some remember the scholar. But I will always remember and treasure Don Harron, the champion of female equality.
Don – my grandfather – was fully and truly a feminist, in the most joyful sense of the word.
As his alter ego Valerie Rosedale, the upper-class pearl-necklaced wealthy cousin of Charlie Farquharson, put it: “Equality for women was a terrible step down.”
There were countless ways in which he celebrated the virtues of the female mind. He loved seeing women triumph in all things, from politics to the arts.
You do not need to have known Don personally to see this. His artistic creations render his convictions obvious. With his musical adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, a book penned by a woman about a girl, he brought to life the story of a penniless but brilliant young heroine.
That a song titled Gee I’m Glad I’m No One Else But Me, sung by a destitute girl could be crafted by a man in the 1950s – an era hardly renowned for progressive politics – is noteworthy. Moreover, Don was keen to represent Lucy Maud Montgomery’s text as faithfully as possible. He wished to do justice to the author’s intentions because he respected her as an exceptional thinker.
Another celebration of female talent, his musical The Wonder Of It All, gave Catherine McKinnon (his wife for 35 years, longtime creative partner and friend till the day of his death) an ideal platform for her incredible voice.
The subject of the musical was Emily Carr, a uniquely Canadian genius whom Don wanted to honour.
Don did everything he could as a man of influence (and as a husband, father and grandfather) to let girls know they could do anything a boy can, and probably do it better. I know I might never have become a writer had he not wagged his finger at me when I said I wanted to study biology.
“Just don’t you ever forget: You are a writer.” It was clear that whatever his children and grandchildren (male or female) wanted to do, he would support us wholeheartedly and he believed in us.
I have encountered many men who claim to consider women as equals. Some worshipfully, some academically, and many resentfully. But Don believed in gender equality with a sincere warmth that I will always remember.