I have never been mentored but I have certainly been influenced. And I’m not talking about the starry-eyed craziness prompted by movie stars or popular musicians. There have been people whom I have met or known who have shaped my behaviour. All of these people have been men. With the making of “The Iron Lady” (modelled on Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain) the possibility of precedent being set by a woman became a reality equally compelling for both men and women. My formation however predates such modern legends as Margaret Thatcher and Hilary Rodham Clinton, former US Secretary of State. My malleable years had long ago passed by and in those days I was subject to the example of men only.
My earliest recollection of a singular influence by another is a Grade VIII school teacher named Hal Lebrecht. That was so long ago I am surprised I remember his name. What is even more astonishing is that I can only recall his appearance and his mannerisms, not anything he said or did in particular. He was what I imagine would have passed for a pleasant looking chap, tall, sylph-like and well dressed. I remember in particular that he sported French cuffs and cuff links. I never saw him dressed other than in a suit or sport jacket and tie. His business-like appearance was matched by his demeanour which was always polite, never wry, and he had a sparkle in his eye which betrayed a perpetual sense of humour. How these attributes affected me is impossible to say. I can only assume that having been alive to those traits (in a favourable way) instilled in me the desire to be somewhat the same.
Several years later when I was attending a debating competition at Trinity College School (“TCS”) in Port Hope, Ontario I was (sort of) introduced to Mr. Dalton Kingsley Camp, PC, OC then President of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Mr. Camp was an adjudicator of our debates; his son David attended TCS at the time and also faced off against our school (St. Andrew’s College) during the debates. When Mr. Camp delivered his views on the respective debaters I was overwhelmingly impressed by him (even though he found against our team). I remember to this day that he wore a dark blue pin-striped suit, a blue and white striped shirt with white cuffs and white collar. He cut a dashing figure. He added to sartorial delight an obvious command of the English language, a talent he skilfully projected by standing tall and erect with his hands by his sides. Mr. Camp’s sway upon me is more recognizable. For years I harboured the view that Mr. Camp was a lawyer, but apparently not so:
“Camp soon enrolled in undergraduate studies at Acadia University; however, his time there was interrupted by enlistment in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. Following the war, Camp finished his undergraduate studies in the liberal arts at the University of New Brunswick, followed by graduate studies in journalism at Columbia University and political science at the London School of Economics.“
About the same time (1964) I had the pleasure of getting to know Mr. James Carmen Mainprize. Mr. Mainprize came closer to being a tutor than any of the other personages because he was in fact one of my high school instructors (History) and he had a pivotal role in the school’s theatrical society of which I was also a part. Nonetheless it was Mr. Mainprize’s very unique bearing and indisputable presence not his teaching skills which provided the signification. Once again it was the manner in which he distinguished his appearance that spoke volumes to me. It was the fodder of idle student chatter that Mr. Mainprize came from a well-to-do family and that all his clothes were tailor-made (which I have no doubt they were). He also aligned himself very properly with the exact usage of language, always characterized by the epitome of precision and elevation, never mundane or coarse. He was polite to a fault. Mr. Mainprize spoke sophistication and shamefully out-distanced his colleagues. Even his gait was Aristocratic and he gave himself naturally to a red-faced blush when anyone encroached too greedily his sphere of influence.
During my undergraduate studies at Glendon Hall I fell victim to the persuasion of Mr. Michael Gregory who was our renowned English literature professor. Mr. Gregory’s impact on me was decidedly in the nature of the Bohemian. He was lanky, carefree, known to drink alcohol liberally and he smoked cigarettes like a fiend. He was also a “Lady’s Man” who in spite of not being at all athletic gave even the younger men on campus a run for their money when competing for the attention of the more attractive female students. Mr. Gregory frequently joined the students at parties where he demonstrated the most utterly preposterous manner of dancing I have ever seen! It was as though he were a puppet and his stringy legs jerked about aimlessly below him, sometimes mocking the strutting of a large bird. Oddly this did nothing but contribute to his novelty and the patent weakness further endeared him to us all. If there is anyone in whose footsteps I have least followed it is Michael Gregory though certainly not from dislike, just incompatibility. I would welcome a luncheon with him (as indeed I did on one poignant occasion) but otherwise our company was disparate.
At law school there were unquestionably many, many characters. Some of them were friends, others professors, yet others mere acquaintances from other disciplines and unconnected orbits. Their idiosyncrasies did not however make them any kind of role model. Perhaps by the time I reached law school the cement of my personality was beginning to set. The suspicion would however have been premature.
During my articles and first year of law practice, through a series of comic events too tedious to repeat, I was introduced to Louis de la Chesnaye Audette, QC, OC. His credentials bear repeating:
“Louis de la Chesnaye Audette, OC (April 7, 1907 – April 2, 1995) was a Canadian lawyer, soldier, and civil servant.
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, the son of Louis-Arthur Audette and Mary-Grace Stuart, the tenth child of Andrew Stuart, he was educated as a lawyer and practiced in Montreal during the 1930s. During World War II, he served with the Royal Canadian Navy and commanded several ships (HMCS Pictou, Amherst, Coaticook, and St. Catharines) in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. He was mentioned in dispatches and left the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant commander. As a reserve officer, he was later promoted to commander.
After the war, from 1947 to 1959, he a member of the Canadian Maritime Commission. He was also chairman from 1954 to 1959. from 1959 to 1972, he was Chairman of the Tariff Board of Canada.
In 1974, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.“
Like the other men who influenced me, Louis Audette (who is the only one I called a friend – we socialized regularly at his home, my home and his club on nights when his steward Jeffrey was “off”) painted a very colourful picture in matters both sartorial and linguistic. He sported bow ties (the real ones, not the clip-ons) and was extremely well-read, both voracious and wide-ranging. Additionally he was perfectly bilingual in French and English. His command of both languages would easily have qualified as esoteric. He not only spoke beautifully; he was a ready etymologist (no doubt the product of his classic Greek and Latin studies). His knowledge of social propriety and etiquette was extremely entertaining, such customs as passing the Porto to the left (never allowing the decanter to touch the mahogany whilst doing so), knowing full well that the guest who is late for dinner is an insult to his host and an outrage to the chef, explaining that tying a bow tie is merely like tying a shoe lace and so on. When I told him I was writing my autobiography he said, “I’ll believe it when you’ve written the last word!” He was not a man with whom to trifle and his commentary on others was not for the pusillanimous. Louis drank more than he ate though he professed that he enjoyed drinking but not being drunk. His small portions of whiskey and soda on ice were renowned so much so that the after-dinner long drinks were called “Audettes”. He was the only person I have ever known who, when we were discussing fast cars one evening and asked him if he knew what a Corvette was, said, “Yes, I had one but it sank!” Louis did not tolerate fools. He never said anything approaching criticism to their face but it was undeniable whom he disliked.