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Re: Maureen Forrester


A quick search of the net gives me some info that the (Canadian) National
Post ran a story last year that confirms the Opera News story (or vice
versa) that Ms. Forrester suffers from dementia and is living in a nursing
home. The article points out that she has days of lucidity and can perform
at times. I post this info b/c it is relevent to Gould discussion insofar
as they did some important work together and certain fans have expressed
to me their appreciation in knowing.  I know nothing about what type of
paper the National Post is. Transcription follows.

Mary Jo,
listowner, f_minor


September 1, 2001
Maureen Forrester's life out of the spotlight
Contralto lives in a plain, small room, and wonders why

Christie Blatchford National Post; Glenn Lowson, National Post, Gary
Hershorn, The Canadian Press

Despite being for decades one of the world's greatest contraltos, Maureen
Forrester cannot afford Ontario's base rent for nursing homes.

To take liberties with the question most famously asked by the Talking
Heads in their song, Once in a Lifetime, "Well, how did she get here?"

At first blush, it appears a dreadful mistake that Maureen Forrester
should have ended up in this plain, small room at the Chester Village
nursing home in central Toronto, that she should share a utilitarian
bathroom with the woman next door, that she must punch in a four-digit
code to summon the elevator and another to open the front doors and allow
her to leave the building, and that each night, she should lay that great
head, the hair a lovely soft silver, upon those pillows on that
child-sized, standard-issue cot.

"Why did you decide to move here?" she was asked last week.

She smiled as she considered the question.

"Why did I?" she asked Richard Boon, the lanky Dutchman, a landscaper by
trade, who is probably her best friend and in whose living room a rotation
of Ms. Forrester's blouses, duly laundered and pressed, now regularly
hangs over the doorway.

"You didn't!" he snapped.

Ms. Forrester smiled again.

"Oh," she said mildly, "that's right."

"She doesn't belong here!" Mr. Boon whispered in a hiss. "They're all

In some measure, he is quite on the mark: Ms. Forrester was for decades
one of the world's leading contraltos, internationally known and beloved,
properly showered with honours at home, with a monstrous reputation as a
singer and actor. She travelled the Earth and transported her audiences to
the moon every time she opened her mouth to "pull the sound toward" her,
as she always describes it. She sang in every major language at every
major opera house on the planet, gave master classes in China, slipped
like a seal into the most glamorous waters, had the clothes and a life
every bit as big as some of the houses her children remember.

What happened?

The answer is complicated, shaded in the greys that comprise most
significant and thus most ordinary ethical dilemmas, found in the many
people who love her in their different ways and in the 71-year-old diva

It might be illustrated this way: The day Mr. Boon took me to Chester
Village, Ms. Forrester was not expecting visitors. She was wearing a pair
of those white, pointy-toed $10 sneakers that are de rigueur among oldster
women and also, on a silky blouse, her tiny Companion of the Order of
Canada pin and the delicate ribbon-cum-trillium award that is the Order of
Ontario. Thus attired did she attend the Pet Fair in the basement before
Mr. Boon and I arrived that morning and, later, go out with him for a nice
lunch after I left.

She is, in other words, both of her fellow residents and apart from them:
first among equals.

Off the top, there is the fact that Ms. Forrester is impecunious. Like
journalists who live like kings on their newspapers' money, she only ever
borrowed the lavish trappings. They were on loan as long as she was a
reigning operatic superstar. Whatever she earned, she spent or gave away,
and then some. As Eugene Kash, her 89-year-old husband (they split up 30
years ago but remain friendly) used to rue, "She lived on the gross and
never considered the net."

Her pension, such as it is, doesn't even cover the $1,353.73 base rent,
set by the Ontario government for all nursing homes in the province, for
her care at Chester Village; her five grown children make up the

It is precisely because so many Canadian actors, dancers and playwrights
retire to poverty that "The PAL," as the Performing Arts Lodge in the
cultural heart of downtown Toronto is called, was first conceived almost
two decades ago. It was there, with the balcony of her seventh-floor suite
overlooking the building's inner courtyard, that Ms. Forrester lived so
happily the past two years.

That she loved The PAL is not in dispute, and it was not unrequited.

Indeed, for the latter part of her stay there, the so-called "supporting
cast" that is the pride of the place had swung into action. As Gina
Dineen, at 43 Ms. Forrester's second-oldest daughter, said a few days ago,
"There were about 15 lovely people, some volunteers and some home-care
people from Dixon Hall, looking after her," with, in the end, someone
checking on Ms. Forrester every two hours. And according to Patty Gail,
PAL co-founder and first vice-president, they were in the process of
figuring out how to do even more, particularly in the long nights, when
Ms. Forrester was moved to Chester Village on Aug. 13.

"The disappointment in the fact that we've lost her to an institution is
immense," Ms. Gail said. "I can't tell you how bad the hurt is. She was so
happy here, and we miss her so much."

Some of Ms. Forrester's friends, chief among them Mr. Boon, are furious
that they and The PAL weren't consulted or given the chance to find the
ways and means to keep her in her apartment, and believe she was cruelly
whisked from the lodge abruptly and under false pretenses. "They said they
were taking her out to lunch!" Mr. Boon cried last week.

But things were not as rosy as they may have seemed, or as those like Mr.
Boon may have wished.

For all that Ms. Forrester on good days is lucid, for all that she is
unfailingly modest about her stellar accomplishments and always charming,
despite the fact that as recently as last June she sang in a handful of
languages at a concert at an uptown Toronto church and can still almost
invariably turn it on come showtime - the "great ship Forrester," as her
long-time accompanist David Warrack fondly describes her - everyone was
aware there were times when she struggled and that those times were
becoming more frequent.

Ms. Gail speaks discreetly of the troubling episodes of wandering,
especially at night, when, keys in hand, Ms. Forrester would not know
where she was and would walk the downtown streets, at risk of "being
robbed or raped and everything in between"; of a few occasions when the
Toronto Police were called and would bring her home; of a fall or two; of
the late-night, early-morning phone calls to one or another of her kids.

Her growing difficulties were so apparent that not so long ago, Mr.
Warrack says he applied to the Canada Council for a grant for "a tour
manager" - essentially, for someone to babysit Ms. Forrester while she
was performing.

It was during some of her prime earning years - a five-year stint ending
in 1988 - that she served instead as the volunteer chairwoman of the
council, but the application was nonetheless turned down. "That was so
mean," Mr. Warrack said. He took it upon himself, then, to prepare Ms.
Forrester properly, make sure she was always at ease enough with her
surroundings that she would find her comfort zone on stage and be able to
"perform like the old pro she is."

Ms. Forrester's daughter is straightforward about what was at the root of
it and her family's attendant frustration.

"There were years of deterioration," said Mrs. Dineen, who produces comedy
shows and a local short film and video festival. "It's been going on for
years. We had all these interventions - Mom's been at Betty Ford,
Renascent Centre, the Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, all treatment
centres for alcohol and drug addicts - and we'd say 'Mom, you have a

"But she's famous, and charming, and she'd go into these places and we'd
meet with the directors later and they'd say, 'Oh, your mother's such a
wonderful person!' She'd just wow them, and we'd say, 'No no, this person
really has a problem. She does have dementia, she is an alcoholic.' "

For years, when Ms. Forrester was touring, her handlers routinely would
slip a few bucks to hotel doormen and bellmen to keep an eye on her. "She
can deliver on cue," one of her watchers told the Post a few days ago.
"It's the getting her out there that's the problem."

And fame is a poor companion. Ms. Forrester was a regular at the morning
coffee klatch at The Pal, had friends and outings galore, saw Mr. Boon
almost daily, but she also spent, Mrs. Dineen said, far too much time in
her apartment, "alone in bed, watching TV."

Mrs. Dineen described a recent day that was a turning point for her. She
arrived at her mother's with a stack of frozen dinners that Ms. Forrester
could pop in the microwave (though in fact, it was usually a personal-care
worker who did this). She was preparing one for her mother and happened to
look in the fridge for something to drink with it.

There was only cranberry juice. Mrs. Dineen poured a big glass and her
mother took a sip.

"Mom said, 'Oh it's so strong!'" then explained that she always mixed it
50-50 with vodka. "She had never before openly admitted how much she was
drinking," Mrs. Dineen said. "I thought, 'That's the equivalent of three
or four drinks; she doesn't even realize what she's saying.'"

The family had put her name on the nursing home waiting list years ago -
for the good ones in Toronto, this process can take as long as two or
three years - and when Chester Village had an opening last month, they
grabbed it.

Ultimately, as Ms. Gail said in her even way, "This is a family decision,
and The PAL wasn't consulted, and it's out of our hands. All we can do now
is support the family, and help her live, visit her and take her out. It's
a real heartbreak," she said, her voice cracking. "And it [Chester
Village] is not a bad place," Ms. Gail added in a rush, "They're
short-staffed, like all these places, but it's clean and nice and it's a
wonderful neighbourhood, and Maureen is a people person."

Mrs. Dineen, who is not without some of Ms. Forrester's stern stuff and
pride, liked the idea of her Mom remaining at The PAL too, living

"But at a certain point," she said, "you go OK, if 15 people are not able
to keep her safe.... There were several situations that really pushed it
to the point where the family had to make the terrible decision we were
all putting off. I didn't want to keep her there, or put my Mom's safety
at risk so I could feel better about myself. I wasn't willing, for the
sake of her saving face, to keep her there."

Ms. Forrester, Mrs. Dineen said with a grin, "was P.O.ed about the thing
at first."

But the great ship Forrester is a formidable, resilient force.

When I met her last week, she was living on the fifth floor (though she
has since moved to a room on the sixth, where the residents are said to be
more cogent). No. 508 was neat and bright, filled with plants and flowers,
and on the long windowsill was an array of the vast number of prizes and
awards she has won. Pictures of her children, and her 14 grandchildren
(another is on the way for son Daniel Kash and his actor wife, Hayley
Tyson), were everywhere - the "whole famn damily," as she said with one
of her gentle smiles.

She was impeccably dressed and made up; as Mrs. Dineen said last week, Ms.
Forrester is of that generation of women who would tell their husbands and
kids, "I've got to go and put my face on." Her face was on and she looked

At Mr. Boon's suggestion, I didn't tell her why a Post photographer was
taking endless pictures of her, but she was pleased to oblige him, and
hummed throughout our visit; perhaps, after 30 years of being
photographed, this was nothing out of the ordinary.

When we headed downstairs, she and Mr. Boon to go to lunch, we passed Ms.
Forrester's fellow residents, lined up in their wheelchairs in the hall by
the elevator, waiting to be taken down to the dining room and their
waiting terry bibs. Ms. Forrester smiled at them, and admired Jethro, the
visiting beagle cross who was at that moment licking every available hand.
She murmured quietly that she found the sight of her neighbours a little
sad, but did not appear distressed, and held her fine head, which would
not look out of place carved in wood on the prow of a boat, high.

As the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote with trademark wrenching honesty
in "Passer Mortuus Est", "presently, every bed is narrow." The show goes
on, until it doesn't.

On Tue, 21 May 2002, f h wrote:

> I had a chance to hear the lady herself a couple days
> ago, on the radio.  Seems as though the City of
> Toronto has awarded her a small prize for being a
> great artist, something like $1500 or around that
> amount in C$.  Anyway, I heard a quick sound bite of
> her talking and she was expressing her thanks and
> gratitude for being recognized and she stressed that
> the money was nice to have at this time of her life.
> The point of me writing this is to underline that she
> did not sound like a person who had lost her marbles
> to dementia.  Not to my ears.  So, not having read the
> news article that appeared in the States and that was
> reported here, I don't know what to make of her mental
> state.  Hard up for money she might be, but then
> aren't we all?
> Regards,
> Fred
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