$100,000 Goal Achieved!

Eulogy for Laurine Harrison
June 26, 2007

Part I
by Robert Clift

Ten days ago, it was inconceivable to me that I would be here today to celebrate Laurine's life in this way. Truth be told, I had selfishly thought that, when the day came, it would be she who would speak at my memorial. But this was not to be.

I met Laurine in 1985 when I became involved in the Student Society. We got somewhat chummy when I started hanging out at Cinema Simon Fraser on Thursday nights as a diversion from student politics and my studies. It wasn't until May of 1987 — 20 years ago — that our friendship fully bloomed.

Laurine and I were chatting one Thursday evening about the upcoming Canadian Federation of Students conference in Newfoundland. I said that I might stick around for a few days after the conference to do some touristy stuff. Out of the blue, she suggested that since she was thinking of doing the same thing, we could share expenses by renting a car and taking a road trip together. I was a little surprised by the suggestion, but agreed on the spot.

There are a number of stories that came out of that trip that both she and I have told and retold over the years. But it was the shared experience of the trip, rather than any particular incident, that worked its magic.

One story that does come to mind, and seems like such a "Laurine moment" to me, was our attempt to get a room at a bed and breakfast in Cornerbrook. We had been sharing a room without any problems since leaving St. John's. So, Laurine blithely went into the B&B to secure our room for the night while I fiddled with a car problem.

She came back with that stony expression on her face I had learned meant she was seriously ticked off. Apparently, after much humming and hawing, the lady of the house explained that she couldn't possibly rent a room to an unmarried man and woman.

Ever curious, Laurine asked the proprietor if she would rent a room to two unrelated women? "Of course," she gushed, "that's completely different!"

After we secured alternate accommodation for the night, Laurine turned this matter around in her head for a time. She then declared that the only possible remedy to this incident was to take out an ad in Kinesis, the Vancouver Status of Women's newsletter, to advise potential visitors from Vancouver of this "women-friendly" accommodation in Cornerbrook.

It was May of 1988, during a CFS conference in Victoria, when Laurine came out to me. She was surprised that I wasn't that surprised by her revelation. She thought she had let something slip out over the years — she hadn't. The fact was that she was a lovely person whom I respected and had grown to love. That's all that was important; despite my upbringing as a straight white boy from the Valley.

I knew it then, and I have always cherished the fact, that Laurine was allowing me into a very well-guarded and intensely personal part of her life.

For those of you who got to know Laurine in more recent years, you may be surprised to learn that she was a very reserved person in those days. She had a shell around her that was exceedingly difficult to crack. Only when she had the full measure of your character would she risk opening herself to you.

What happened between then and now? Certainly, our society changed. This made it much easier for Laurine to be who she was. Far more important, however, was the arrival of Sue into Laurine's life.

Laurine and I hung out a fair bit in those days. She had recently had a relationship end badly and I was doing my best to support her through that — as did others here today.

On the phone one evening, she said she was "sort of" seeing someone. She explained that she had worked with this woman on the Graduate Issues Committee, and that they had had coffee together a few times. She said that one night this woman showed up on her door step, soaking wet from the rain and obviously upset, and that she was "kind of" living at Laurine's place now.

This was my introduction to Sue.

I was somewhat worried by this turn of events, because it was out of character for the Laurine I knew. Moreover, I was concerned that she was still rather vulnerable from the break up of a few months earlier.

I met Sue in the flesh, not long after, when the three of us went to a movie together one soggy Sunday afternoon. I was somewhat guarded at first. I needed to know the full measure of this person who had seemingly penetrated Laurine's shell so quickly.

It wasn't long, however, before I too was won over by Sue's charm, intellect and compassion. It was easy to see what Laurine saw in her. More importantly, it was plain to see that they made each other very happy.

In talking about this time in Laurine's life with her sister Linda, she too remarked on how quickly Sue and Laurine's relationship blossomed. She had an explanation for it though — it was simply meant to be. Laurine deserved someone worthy of her kind, thoughtful and giving nature. Sue was and is that person.

Sue understood, respected and shared Laurine's desire to see those people close to her live happy, fulfilled lives. This, in many ways, was the essence of Laurine's being.

When her brother Brad was 9 or 10, he desperately wanted to play hockey. But their single-parent mom couldn't take time off work to go through the registration process. So instead, his big sister lined up at five o'clock in the morning to ensure Brad would get one of the very limited number of spaces in the league.

If it wasn't for his "secret superhero," Brad wouldn't have played hockey throughout his teen years. A sport whose structure and discipline helped to keep him on track and to become the brother, husband and father he is today.

Linda told me of the first or second Christmas after their dad had left. Laurine was out on her own by then, but intent on making sure her mom and siblings got the Christmas they deserved. She spent what must have amounted to three months pay from her minimum wage job to get everyone the presents they wished for, but would have been impossible on a single mom's income. Brad got the skateboard he always wanted and Linda received the Polaroid camera at the top of her wish list.

Later, Linda learned that Laurine invested a significant amount of time and her now legendary product research skills to weigh the pros and cons of the various camera models to make sure she chose the one that would be "just right" for her little sister.

That her mother, sister and brother were happy that Christmas Day was the only gift Laurine wanted or needed.

As lifemates, Laurine and Sue were much greater than the sum of their parts. Their love overflowed their partnership to embrace each other's friends and family. I was so incredibly lucky to be a recipient of that love and to have them equally embrace Helena when she came into my life.

Laurine agreed without any hesitation to be my "Best Person" when Helena and I married in 2001. But I really had two "Best People." Laurine and Sue equally shouldered the tasks we assigned them with their usual efficiency and good nature. I don't know what we would have done without their love and support.

Laurine, you are my best friend. I'm a better person for having known you. I love you and I miss you more than I can say.

My only solace is that I know you will always be in my heart and in the hearts of your family, of your friends and of the all people whose lives you touched from the groves of Academe to the shops of Burnaby Heights.

Your love of life's simple pleasures, your integrity, your sense of humour, your generosity of spirit and your love for Sue is the legacy that lives on in each of us. We will not squander that legacy.

Goodbye my friend.

Read Part II of the Eulogy