My friend Susan Hutchinson died. Her funeral is tomorrow and I am too ill to attend. Though I might not have in any event because I do not like funerals, even of friends.
Susan was a friend from college. Model Parliament in fact. And the Liberal Party.
Even then she was a round peg in a series of square holes.
Susan had a huge problem. She was a social justice warrior, a third wave feminist, a burr under the saddles of the ambitious from a very young age. Long before any of that was “a thing”.
She’d grown up on military bases. Her father, William “Bill” Hutchinson, in the Princess Patricia Regiment – which he eventually commanded – and which, I suspect gave her her middle name, Patricia. A year here, two years there. Her mother could run up a set of curtains for every style of military accommodation. She had two younger siblings, Bill Hutchinson who once said of my middle son as he, at ten, tackled a kid who rather obviously shaved on the rugby field, “That was courageous”, and her sister, Barbara, who writes songs for children and is filled with grace.
From the go, when I knew her, she kept a perfectly domestic sense of the feminine with a deep sense of what men (or boys as I was then) needed at two in the morning when their night had not gone well. A glass or two of whiskey and a shortbread cookie and intelligent conversation. She read Vogue, sewed clever patterns and lived for Dorothy Sayers, the Royal Family, the Regiment and a deeply intelligent grasp of politics at the macro scale and a disastrous inability to hold her tongue at the micro-scale.
Her contemporaries and friends, people like Colin Hansen (ex-Finance Minister of British Columbia) or Pamela MacDonald (ex-BC desk, PMO, Jean Chretien) played the microgame far better but, so far as I could tell, remained friends even as Susan dove deeper into the feminist depths which, while they are paid lip service to now, were never a route to political success. Or, should I say, appointment.
We lost touch over the years as we lived on different coasts. Through the grapevine, I heard that she had been ordained in the Anglican Church. Which made a certain sort of sense within the Dorothy Sayers’ world of cultural Anglicanism. Off she went to the Gaspe Bay in Quebec to minister to flocks of dying grey headed Anglos. (Interestingly, we are pretty sure she held the benefice (if that is what it is called these days) of a church my great grandfather endowed.) She blasted down the roads of the Gaspe Peninsula (I think) at her usual breakneck speed to deliver Communion to a dozen parishioners here and then another Church twenty five miles of icy road away. Chatting about it years later the driving was the hard part, the liturgy a Gift from God.
She moved on from the Diocese of Quebec and moved on back to BC where she ended up in Prince George. Along with getting T-boned at an intersection she found herself at odds with her congregation and, once again, moved on. Once again, a round peg in a square hole.
At this point she came into Victoria and we reconnected.
The same Colonel’s daughter, the same sense of humour and wide reading – often of the brilliant second rank women like Joanna Trollope and Mary Wesley which England seems to produce so effortlessly – and the same sense of engagement. Susan introduced my younger boys to “Top Gear” and British television lying on a couch in our house. She sewed curtains having taken my Susan and the boys on a high-speed race to Fabric Land.
And then she was gone. Places to go, things to do. But, in fact, she was, essentially, living in her car. Ever the Colonel’s daughter she didn’t want to overstay her welcome. But she did and we lost contact again.
From there, ten years back, I heard nothing from Susan. I wrote a couple of times but, nothing.
The conceited ass that I am I suspect Susan was a little in love with me decades ago, and, honestly, I was a little in love with her. We’d moved on.
In a funny way, Susan reminds me of Sarah Leighton in “The Jewel in the Crown”. Completely competent to chastise Prime Ministers, kick disorderly Bishops about and revere the Queen as she should be revered. In another, more serious, way she reminded me of Barbie Batchelor in that same sequence. While Sarah was the Colonel’s daughter, Barbie simply did not fit. A round peg in a square hole.
I’ve been missing Susan since Pamela sent me the news. Her politics were whackadoo, her theology and liturgy annoying, her heart and head sound and loving.
Susan Hutchinson touched many lives, some deeply, and I am lucky to have been one of the deeply touched.
Go in Peace, Dear Lady. I don’t need to commend you to God…he knows.