Long-time Register freelancer Lorraine Williams passed away on July 4, 2014.

Lorraine Williams lived a life with purpose

  • July 7, 2014

Lorraine Williams was never just passing through during her 81 years on the planet. She knew life had a purpose and she was ever-ready to work, fight and pray for it.

Author, social worker, psychotherapist, activist, organizer, mother, wife, trusted advisor and mentor, Mrs. Williams slipped peacefully from this life in the palliative care unit of the Markham-Stouffville Hospital on July 4.

“She was just a wise, wise woman,” recalled Fertility Care Toronto executive director Karen Hemingway.

Mrs. Williams was a mentor to Hemingway when she began working at Fertility Care Toronto in 2002. Back then it was the Marguerite Bourgeoys Family Centre. It was Mrs. Williams who lead the centre to change its name and dedicate itself to a more professional health care agenda in service of couples trying to conceive.

This was just one of a long list of concrete accomplishments as Mrs. Williams worked for half-a-century against abortion-as-health-care and for a culture of life.

She was a founding member of the Human Life Research Institute, which later became the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research. She was a founding member of the original Coalition for Life, back when it included sitting members of Parliament and policy experts from all three federal political parties. She helped found The Uncertified Human, a pro-life magazine that tackled abortion, human rights and feminism from 1973 to 1983. 

Her volunteer work also included years on the board of the North York Public Library Board with a stint as chair of the board. That commitment blossomed into a book about the relationship between library trustees and library CEOs, as well as a handbook for Ontario library trustees. 

She was a long-time volunteer and former chair of the social action committee of the YWCA. She was executive secretary for the Indian-Eskimo Association of Canada, member of the Metro Toronto Reference Library board of trustees, past-president of both the Ontario and Canadian Library Trustees Association, part of the committee that founded St. Timothy’s parish in Willowdale, former president of the St. Timothy’s Catholic Women’s League parish council, a one-time president of the North York Regional CWL and an enthusiastic volunteer for Discovery Theatre — a group that holds events and forums for older adults who want to explore the issues of the day.

From childhood Mrs. Williams had nursed two separate vocations that often came together in unexpected ways. 

In 1953, as she was about to graduate from the University of Toronto and then begin a Master of Social Work degree at the University of Ottawa, her English professor told her she might have a career as a writer. The English professor was Marshall McLuhan.

“I felt a jolt,” Mrs. Williams told The Catholic Register in 2010. “Here, for the first time, was affirmation that I could write — that someone saw me as a writer — a vocation I had secretly desired since I began to read.”

Williams didn’t abandon her social work plans in favour of literary dreams. She went to the U of O and threw herself into important tasks as a social worker. She helped set up the first forensic psychiatric clinic in Canada and worked with female inmates at the Andrew Mercer Ontario Reformatory from 1955 to 1958. She published in the academic journals of social work and psychiatry.

Through the 1960s Mrs. Williams withdrew from paid work to bring up her five children. Those were also the years when her husband John Reesor Williams began to build his political career with the Progressive Conservative Party. As her husband graduated from municipal to provincial politics in the 1970s, Mrs. Williams went into private practice in psychotherapy — a practice that included marriage and addictions counselling.

It was then she more fully embraced her talents as a writer. After years of editing and advising other writers, she took up membership in the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Society of American Travel Writers, the Word Guild and the Catholic Press Association of America. She became a contributing editor of The Catholic Register and published travel pieces, book reviews and features in this newspaper.

“The Register was privileged to publish Lorraine’s articles over the years,” said publisher and editor Jim O’Leary. “She was a kind, generous, contagiously happy woman and those attributes were hallmarks of her writing. She would call me up and pitch her story ideas with such enthusiasm.”

She wanted much more than bylines or the pocket money that comes with writing for a Catholic newspaper.

“Most of all, her writing demonstrated her faith. She loved to share the stories of her pilgrimages to shrines and cathedrals around the world,” O’Leary said. “She helped make The Register a better newspaper and she will be greatly missed.”

Williams managed another book in her seventh decade — Memories of the Beach: Reflections on a Toronto Childhood. There was more to it than a local history of the Toronto neighbourhood where she grew up. It was also a reflection on how Canadians moved from the certainties of the Great Depression and the war years into the uncertainty and anxiety young people face today.

deVeber Institute board member Martha Creen remembers the lessons Mrs. Williams taught about genuine pro-life activism.

“She didn’t want life to be divided into camps,” Creen said. “She didn’t want it to be us versus them. She wasn’t angry or bitter. She wasn’t derogatory… She was very, very dignified, respectful, civilized.”

Williams’ funeral Mass was scheduled for July 10, 11 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Markham.

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