Morrin Center Receives Nancy Ouei

Nancy 71

This article is divided into two sections: a) In Conversation with Nancy Ouei and b) The Activity

In Conversation with Nancy Ouei at the Morrin Center on February 3, 2015


Nancy was born in China in 1943. Both her parents were children of Chinese diplomats. Nancy’s father returned to China a few years after finishing his engineering degree in Glasgow, Scotland and married Carmen . He found a job in a mining town that was run by a British firm. When the Communist took over China, Gordon & Carmen Ouei decided to flee with their two children, Nancy & Ian, to Peru. They were able to find passage on a Danish boat.

In Peru Nancy and her family lived in the mountains where Gordon worked as an engineer in a small mining town run by a Belgian firm. Nancy and Ian attended an American school in Lima before moving to the mining town and then a local school run by the firm in the Andes. They already knew Chinese and English, but would quickly learn Spanish as well. When Nancy finished grade school, she moved back to Lima to complete high school. While there she lived with her paternal grandparents. Once her high school was over, she left Peru to attend a university in the USA on a scholarship. While studying at the university, she fell in love with a young biochemistry student from France and after they finished their studies, they went to live in France. At one point her husband decided to go to do an internship in Israel for a year. Nancy accompanied him and during her year there she learned Hebrew. Later on, Nancy’s husband accepted a position at the University of Sherbrooke and thus, Nancy, her husband and family moved to Canada. Nancy over the years has worked as an ESL teacher, EFL teacher, and also taught Spanish.

In the early 1980s Nancy and her second husband and their children moved to Quebec City where Nancy continued to teach. She eventually became the coordinator for ESL courses at Laval University’s École de Langues. She would hold this position for over 15 years until her retirement nine years ago.

Nancy is presently working on history of the Ouei family which she can trace back to more than two thousand years! She and her husband, a recognized research scientist, enjoy traveling, social dance, visiting their children and grandchildren, entertaining & being entertained.

The Activity

The goal of the activity is to meet with and learn about an active member of the Morrin Centre who has led a very rich life, and to do so in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. During the activity on Tuesday, February 3 at the centre the animator for the evening will choose certain subjects and will ask questions to Nancy based on these. The themes will be chosen from among the following: family background, education, career, language learning, travels, hobbies, life lessons, inspiring encounters, and favorite books. The audience will be invited and highly encouraged to ask Nancy questions in the language of their choice after the initial interview. Those who choose to attend will encounter a warm, generous and inspiring woman with a subtle sense of humor whose ongoing life story will pique the audiences’ interest.

In order to reserve your place, google Morrin Centre Upcoming Events and reserve your place. The activity is on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 and begins at 7 pm.

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The Barefoot Professor

 

February 2014

The Barefoot Professor…Aiden Roberts

I am presently reading very closely The Barefoot Professor by Dr. William B. Buck. He prefers to be called Bill. Bill and I met last October when he attended a meeting of the book club held at the Morrin Center . We were discussing Life of Pi that evening. Bill had not actually read the book, but had rather listened to it on cassettes as his eyesight is very poor. He explained that he had been living with diabetes for over sixty years. During the evening, Bill informed us that he had written his autobiography, and I suggested that he present his book at the Center. Bill liked the idea and I contacted the Morrin Center and on Thursday, February 20 from 6 to 8 pm, people are invited to come to hear Bill talk about the story of his life.

Bill’s autobiography is a very honest account of the first 80 years of his life. He was born in Missouri in 1933 into a family who lived modestly on a farm. Bill and his older brother went barefoot during the summer while tending to their chores in order to keep their shoes in good condition so they could attend school in the fall and winter. This young hardworking boy from a modest background would go on to become a successful professor at Iowa State University (ISU) and the University of Illinois (U of I) and a world-renowned veterinary toxicologist before retiring in 1996. He and his wife now live in St- Sylvester, Quebec and Vermont.

In his autobiography, Bill shares many aspects of his life with the reader who gets to discover a person rich in experience, both personally and professionally. We encounter a man who writes about his many accomplishments, but yet does not refrain from recounting his weaknesses and his failures. In his book, Bill talks about some of the turning points of his life, thanks those who have helped him along the way, tells of the joys and trials of raising six children, writes about the pain of divorce, speaks glowingly of the bliss of finding true love in midlife, relates the struggle of living with a life threatening disease, tells of his many hobbies, explains the results of his entrepreneurial spirit, recounts his many narrow escapes, communicates his pleasure in traveling, takes time to explain his philosophy of life and his religious beliefs, expresses his hope for the future, touches on the loss of love ones…

I am busy preparing questions to ask Bill about certain aspects of his life as related in his book. You are invited to come on February 20th and hear Bill’s answers and then to ask some of your own questions. You may even be tempted to buy a copy of The Barefoot Professor and have Bill sign it. I am convinced you will be delighted to meet and to chat with this down-to-earth, soft-spoken gentleman with his southern accent who is looking forward to sharing his insights into life and love with both younger and older generations. Perhaps he will inspire you to write your autobiography, or to help your parents or grandparents write theirs.

(Picture of Dr. Buck presenting a copy of his autobiography to librarian Cheryl Anne Moore)

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Picture by Aiden Roberts)

 

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Simone Bussières Shares

DSC03081 Simone interviewing Piaf in the 50s

                                  Simone Bussières Shares ( Aiden Roberts)

 

This writer had the opportunity recently to engage in a conversation with Simone Bussière, a long-time resident of the district of St. Sacrement here in Quebec City. In chatting with Mme Bussière one quickly realizes that we are in the presence of a person who has led a rich and varied life.

She was born Simone Gagnon on June 8, 1918 and grew up under very modest circumstances in St. Roch. Her father who worked as a barber died when she was five and this left her mother, Simone and her younger sister in a very precarious situation. However, despite her humble beginnings this dynamic lady has gone on to lead a very rich and exciting life.

When she was in her young 20s she left Quebec City to teach in Val d’Espoir in the Gaspe region. In addition to her teaching duties, the young teacher worked part-time at a radio station in New Carisle.

In 1945 she returned to Quebec City, and married before settling in Montreal. After the premature death of her husband Simone returned to Quebec City and resumed teaching. She would go to on to have a very successful career in this field. She wrote a series of manuals that were used to teach and instill in children the joy of reading, Simone would eventually become Directory of Elementary Education with the Catholic School Board. In this era it was rare that a lay person especially a female would rise to such a high position in the educational hierarchy.

While fulfilling her duties as a teacher and later administrator she also worked at a popular radio station, CHRC, where she created and sometimes performed in educational programming. For five years she was the popular Tante Colette and delighted children by her story telling abilities. She also wrote the texts for different variety shows such as Chansons vécues et Comment parlons-nous.

It was while working for CHRC in the early fifties that Simone had the opportunity to interview the great French singing sensation, Edith Piaf, while the much-loved songstress was staying at an apartment on Rue Murray. Simone has shared one of the pictures taken of Piaf while being interviewed by her for listeners of CHRC. It was one of Mme Bussière’s rare celebrity interviews. When her boss suggested that she do other such interviews she declined as she felt that in order to interview people of such caliber one needed to be very prepared and was not something to be done on the spur of the moment. However, later on in her life she did get the opportunity to visit and interview one of her favorite authors, Marguerite Yourcenar, the first female member of the French Academy.

Simone also had the opportunity to work on TV. From 1956 to 1960 this dynamic personality also found time to write, host, and direct educational game shows for CFCM-TV such as Les Jeunes Talents.   While being involved in teaching and broadcasting, Simone found time to write her first novel, L’Héritier in 1951. Much later she would publish other personal works of fiction, but not before setting up her own publishing house, Les Presses laurentiennes in 1963 which she ran from her magnificient residence in Notre Dame des Laurentide. It was where she also entertained some of the writing celebrities of the day including Gabrielle Roy who she often socialized with as they shared the same circle of friends.

Mme Bussières retired from teaching in 1968 but continued on managing her publishing house until 1988. In 1981 she established a literary prize for the short story, the Adrienne Choquette award, in honor of her best friend a prominent Quebec writer. The prize goes to the writer of a short story collection written in French and published in Canada. She remained very active in the Quebec City literary world even after selling her publishing house. In 1999 her second novel La Pyramide des morts was published, and in 2000 L’Enfant d’Aube came out. For her 95th birthday she completed yet another novel which she entitled La Coupe broyée which she had printed herself in a limited edition and generously presented to her family and friends.

For her next big project she is planning on writing her memoirs. Judging by her collection of memorbilia including a large selection of photos she has accumulated over the years, her multitude of experiences as teacher, administrator, radio and TV host, writer, editor, and her many interesting encounters, her memoirs promise to be of interest to a large reading public.

( Note: I met Mme Bussières during my many visits to Claire Martin. Simone was a neighbor of Claire’s for many years. They lived in the same apartment building. Simone kept an eye out for Claire’s well-being especially in the last years of Claire’s life. When I would phone Claire and could not get an answer, I could always count on Mme Bussières to go and check to see what the problem was. She was always there for her friend.)

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Claire Martin: The Writer with the Enduring Smile Celebrates her 100th Birthday

April 18, 2014

 

Claire Martin: The Lady with the Enduring Smile Celebrates her 100th Birthday Today

( Aiden Roberts)

 

Claire Martin, a wonderful lady, is about to turn 100. She deserves to be celebrated and appreciated for the warm person she is and all her accomplishments throughout the century.

 

When Claire was young, her paternal grandfather and a man she dearly loved, François-Jérôme de Chavigny de la Chevrotière, a well-known druggist in Quebec City, would take her to one of the several photography shops on St. Jean Street to have her picture taken. Claire was a natural. One of the pictures that Claire still has in her possession shows a curly haired, smiling, beautiful, delightful child. Patricia Smart in her critical edition of Claire’s 1965 award winning memoir, Dans Un Gant de Fer (In an Iron Glove) published in 2005, chose to place this photo of this charming five-year old little girl on the front cover.

 

Likewise when the Ottawa Press decided to re-edit Philip Stratford’s 1968 translation of Claire’s memoir in 2006, it was decided to place on the cover a glowing picture of Claire at the age of 20, the age at which her memoirs end.

 

Moreover, when Claire returned to writing in her 80s, the cover of her first book, Toute la vie, published by L’Instant Même, a Quebec City publishing house, written after an extended break from publishing, shows a smiling, pretty, distinguished-looking older lady. Even today as Claire’s 100th birthday draws near, Claire still finds it easy to smile for the camera and for her family and friends. Recently in Le Soleil, one of the two major francophone daily newspapers in Quebec City, we can read a story about Claire accompanied by a picture of this lady with her winning smile.

 

However, life has not always been easy for this admirable lady. Her early life as described with brio in

In an Iron Glove was of nightmarish proportion. This book which is often said to be the first explicitly feminist work in Quebec literature went on to become a best seller and won many prizes including the Governor General’s award. The book is hard hitting, yet sometimes humours attack on the male-dominated society of the day, the poor education offered to women, and the hypocrisy of the Church. These were subjects that were very controversial, if not taboo, for the era. Her father. a colossal brute and religious fanatic, terrorized the whole family which consisted of a devoted mother and eight children, including one from a previous marriage. In order to exercise more control over his charges, the father decided to move the entire family to the outskirts of the city, thus ensuring that they were far from external influences. The mother died in her early 40s while the father who was well-placed engineer would go on to remarry twice and live to be 91.

 

Claire would eventually leave her father’s house and move to downtown Quebec City. She found a job working as an announcer for a local radio station, CKCV, and later got an offer to work for Radio Canada (CBC). She was the first female announcer to work at this station. She was soon offered a position at the Montreal station. By happy circumstance, it was she who got to read over the air the announcement proclaiming the end of World War II to francophones throughout the country. In her photo album, there is a picture of her smiling at the control board of the station in Montreal.

 

It was in 1945 also that she and her long-time fiancé and love of her life, Roland Faucher, decided to get married and move to Ottawa where Roland worked as a chemist for the Ministry of Defense. This decision to marry, although it was something that Claire never regretted, cost her her job at Radio Canada. It was a policy at that time that only single women could work for the national broadcasting company.

 

They lived in Ottawa from 1945 to1972. Claire at first did some free lancing for Radio Canada and then later on tried her hand at writing short stories. Roland always encouraged her. In 1958 Avec ou Sans Amour, a collection of 27 short stories, was published and won the Prix du Cercle de France. This collection was finally translated into English by David Lobdell in 1987 under the title, Love Me, Love Me Not. Other works of fiction followed including the novels, Doux-Amer (Best Man) in 1960, Quand j’aurai payé ton visage (The Legacy) in 1962, and Des Morts (1971), but it is her memoirs, Dans un gant de fer (1965) for which she is most remembered.

 

After Roland retired, Claire and Roland moved to France. While there Claire translated some major English-Canadian works into French including Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel and Robertson Davies’ The Manticore.

 

 

They moved back to Canada and settled in Quebec City in 1982 and after Roland’s death in 1986 many of Claire’s literary friends encouraged her to write again. She wrote some texts for literary magazines and then in 1999 she published Toute la vie, a short collection of short stories. She would go on to write several short novels that were published by the same publishing house. Her last work, Le Feu purificateur, was published in 2008 when Claire was 94.

 

Claire will turn 100 on April 18. She no longer writes; her memory has faded. She lived on her own until January of this year. She had fought fiercely for a long time to keep her independence. However, she could no longer cope on her own. Now she lives in a home. Her room has a bookcase filled with books of some of her favorite authors, copies of her own works and on the window sill are placed some of her favourite pictures. When Claire takes the picture of Roland in her hands, she never fails to bestow on it a loving kiss.

 

Claire has forgotten a lot of her many life experiences, the titles of her works, the numerous awards, including the Order of Canada, she has received over the years. However, she should not be forgotten as she has contributed much to Quebec society in particular and to Canadian culture in general. Over the years she has inspired many of her readers and those who have listened to her while been interviewed on radio and TV and those that have met her at the annual Quebec City book fair. There is a wonderful documentary, Quand je serai vieille, je rangerai mon stylo (When I am old, I’ll put away my pen) (2009) directed by Jean-Pierre Dussault and Jean Fontaine in which the viewer is able to get a good appreciation of her fascinating and charming personality.

 

Claire, despite life’s challenges, finds it easy to smile, laugh, make puns, give and receive affection, and sing her favorite songs especially when she recieves visits from her family and friends. May she keep smiling as often as possible to the very end of her rich and varied life.

 

 

(See photo below)

(A playful Claire Martin striking a Greta Garbo pose ) Photo: Denis Lortie (2012)

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