A memorial service, delivered by Rev. Diane Rollert, was held for Campbell Laing on April 26, 2010
I first met Campbell when he was in the hospital nearly four years ago as his illness was just beginning to take its toll. We spent a delightful hour together, as he told me of his love for his sister and his frustration that he was no longer able to drive himself to visit her on the West Island. He shared stories of his having left his law practice to run his father’s textile business.
He spoke proudly of his nephew Fred, and expressed his gratitude that he was always there for him.
Campbell was a very private man. He grew up in anglophone Montreal, and had a great love for all things British throughout his life. Perhaps that included keeping a stiff upper lip, since he never complained, even to his last days. When asked how he was, he’d always answer, “Everything is fine!”
He could make his friends laugh with his comment that “Growing old is not for sissies.” Campbell was a very social man. When he moved to Nuns Island, it wasn’t long before he had made quite a splash. He’d go to restaurants and cafés to hold court. May Kersten told me that she was always amazed at the number of people that would stop by to greet him and chat.
Campbell loved to travel. He also found great joy later in life as he attended several retreats at Unirondak and Ferry Beach. He was amazed that such vibrant and caring communities could exist, and fellow participants went out of their way to tend to him as an older gentleman in their midst. People often did that for Campbell. He inspired courtesy.
Campbell loved music, and he appreciated and collected fine art. He loved to cook, and to entertain. Ruth DiGiovanni told me that Campbell was a subscriber to the Ladies Morning Music Club (chamber music). He often drove Joan Watt and Ruth home – right to the door, as became a true gentleman. They'd sometimes go to Murray's Restaurant for lunch after church or to another of his favourites, Chez Nick on Greene Avenue.
Ray Drennan, former minister of this church, recently shared these memories with me:
“When I think of Campbell Laing the first word that comes to my mind is a "gentleman."
Campbell was first and foremost a gentleman, a gentleman with fine taste and a keen sense for detail. Everything had to be just right. Good enough was not good enough for Campbell.
I remember once having supper with Campbell and he was not satisfied with the look of his plate. The food was acceptable but the look bothered him. He called the waiter over and said that the dish needed something green to balance it all off. Other chefs may have taken offense, but Campbell made his critique in such a pleasant manner that the chef jumped to attention and cooked up something special just for Campbell. That was Campbell. Everyone seemed to want to do their best and show their best for him. He brought out the best, when some of us settled for good enough.”
Campbell in retirement was very active around the congregation. Not only did he serve on the search committee that selected Ray, he also was one of the principle movers and shakers in the Cordner House and the Cordner Fund. “Campbell was devoted to the ladies of the Cornder House. He dedicated hundreds of hours as interior decorator, cook, chauffeur (in a Mercedes no less) and confidant,” wrote Ray.
Laura Greggain, who served with Campbell on the ministerial search committee that selected Ray, told me that, “It was Campbell who said to us we will know when we have the right person because we will all be in love.....” His words gave her much comfort, coming from a man who could be so exacting.
So, let me end with these words from Pierre Binette, that most eloquently express Campbell’s spirit:
“The idea of the monthly lunch was first proposed to the board who then referred me to the hospitality committee. Honestly, at first the idea was not received with enthusiasm but I was given the OK for a scaled down trial version...
I was very surprised when Campbell came forward and offered to help because he thought it was a grand idea. HOWEVER, there would have to be a few parameters [per Campbell]:
“I had to swear on the Universalist Saints, which I hold dearly, never even think about offering poutine. -C'est dur ça.
“Any wine used in the recipes would be split in three equal parts- one part in the dish, one part in Campbell's glass while cooking and the other in the glass before his plate. I never drink alcohol so I thought Campbell did a very Christian thing by not tempting me.
“We could never run a deficit so by an unspoken agreement we lost a few receipts here and there.
“So that is how in the first year of operation there were always flowers on the table and a glass of wine for everyone who cared to. BUT, we did have a major disagreement: he insisted on boiling salmon. Everyone knows salmon is best when cooked in a roulade with cheese, herbs and a white sauce to balance the tanginess of the salmon...must be an English thing.
“He cared and strove for excellence, he was cultured but not a snob, in short, he was a gentle man, with a mean twinkle in his eyes.”
Avec respect, Pierre Binette