The one person that really encouraged and supported me every step of the way was no stranger to the microphone herself. Her name was Peggy Delaney. She was a singer, actress, pianist, event producer and radio announcer. She was really so much more. She was also my mother. As a Mother’s Day tribute I would like to share just some of what she meant to me.
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James Joyce wrote:
Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age –
To merely fade away would never have been an option for Peggy Delaney, for that would imply that she ran out of steam and anyone who knew her realized energy was something she didn’t lack. In fact, her passion, determination and drive to carry out any task or endeavor were legendary.
It was part of her essence. Something that kept admirers constantly in awe. A boundless energy that would put a nuclear reactor to shame. And she channeled that energy into three things: what was necessary, what was important, or what was fun.
Work, of course, was necessary. And her resume was impressive in and of itself. From her early 20s in Dublin as one of the first female news presenters on Radio Eireann or as head flight hostess for Aer Lingus Irish Airlines; to her days in Canada as Consulting Art Curator for the Timothy Eaton Company or Executive Consultant with an esthetics company, a position she held until 2008.
Her work was a means to an end in which she’d always immerse herself regardless of what that particular career path might have been at the time. As long as it facilitated what was important to her.
What was important to her fell into three categories. The first was her family made up of four children – Maria and Patrick, who were born in Ireland, and Colm and me, the first-generation Canadians.
She has 7 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, plus her sister, Kay, our beloved Auntie Kay or aka Sister Elizabeth who’s here with us today from Ireland.
Spending time with any of her clan was always a joy. She loved to participate and interact, never took a back seat and was rarely a mere observer. As with anything in her life. “Nana Peggy” would always show up with a treat or present, never empty-handed for that was never her style. It was her generous, thoughtful and loving spirit. The matriarch of Toronto’s Irish community was first and foremost the beloved matriarch of our family and she was adored.
The second category of importance for Peggy: the causes she held dear. Not surprisingly, most events, charities, causes or foundations were Irish-themed, for what dwelled within her was the spirit of her homeland that made mum Irish to the core.
Even though she never tried to impress, the list was indeed impressive, being involved with:
- The Irish Immigrant Aid Society
- Chosen as Mayor of the Shannon pavilion for the Toronto Caravan Cultural Festival. (2nd from left)
- Founding member and first director of The Ireland Fund of Canada
- The Toronto Rose of Tralee
- The Toronto Irish Community Awards
- Coordinated the visit of the Irish Special Olympics team to Toronto and Collingwood
- Organized fundraisers for the Toronto Irish Players theatre group and continued to produce the sold-out galas right up until a few months ago.
- On the board of directors for Ireland Park Foundation
- Other causes outside the Irish community included the ‘Miles for Millions Walkathon’ to raise money for the impoverished of Africa and South Asia;
- She helped fundraising efforts to build a new school in Madagascar.
- Raised funds for Toronto’s inner city kids with the Inner City Angels
- and she loved sponsoring foster children through World Vision Canada.
Everyone having fun!….
…That was the third category of importance for mum. What was fun, again, included being with family and friends plus engaging in a social life that left many, I’m sure, surmising that this animated and charming woman was a vivacious socialite and didn’t do anything else except bring her unique brand of life to any party or event. If only they knew. As mentioned before, up until two years ago she still worked steadily Monday to Friday 9-5.
She worked hard and played hard but always knew her priorities. For many years in her life, while raising four children virtually on her own, she would work her regular job and then work an overnight job once the children were sleeping. We never really knew when she actually slept. A third part-time job could actually wedge its way into her schedule if it meant paying the rent and looking after us. And she never complained.
So, to balance this work ethic she also nurtured strong social connections. She loved to entertain. Her parties were somewhat epic in nature but she’d be mortified to hear them called “parties”. She preferred the term “get-together”.
So there were these “get-togethers” in our 2-bedroom apartment of 60 to 80 people with 20 guests on the balcony. Yet the crowd wasn’t comprised purely of her Irish friends and acquaintances – there were people from all cultures, backgrounds, faiths and socio-economic classes.
There would be food and drink, laughter and music with Peggy singing in that gorgeous voice that would stir the soul. When she broke into Danny Boy or Galway Bay you could hear the proverbial pin drop. And those nights could go quite late. I remember one time mum escorted her last guest Gerry Crowe to the elevator at 4:30 am, came back and washed all the dishes and tidied before sleeping for a couple of hours and rising to head off to her job. She never complained.
She was this marvelous, beautiful, caring, talented, compassionate, fun, opinionated, tenacious, inspiring and loving human being. Purely in a class all her own.
And Class was a word so often used as a single description for her that she wore so well and so effortlessly. She was never pretentious, aloof or condescending – void of those tendencies, while possessing such class is what christened her with an indomitable grace.
Well into her 80s, walking along the street, always put together smartly, with that age-defying skin and possibly wearing one of her trademark hats, she would often garner unsolicited reactions from complete strangers who felt compelled to approach her and comment on how striking she was.
She would get a kick out of that and would say; “They probably think I’m some ol’ rich bitch.” Well, she was the furthest thing from wealthy in a financial sense but the richest person I knew in terms of love.
She was adventurous and fearless – from riding on horseback, at age 72, as Grand Marshal for the St. Paddy’s Day parade; to riding on the back of my motorcycle, she loved living large.
But while she was larger than life it was the little things she did that made such an impact on people and touched so many. Her legendary hand-written notes you’d receive in the mail to say thank you, Merry Christmas, or Happy Anniversary. She remembered more peoples’ anniversaries than some of the spouses in those relationships!
And she would often travel for hours by TTC in any given week just to visit sick friends in hospital, a home or just to keep someone company. Friends were always drawn to her genuine, selfless and beautiful way.
Probably the worst thing you could ever say about Peggy was that she could be somewhat self righteous…with a side order of stubborn. But she’d be the first to tell you that. In fact, she would say, “I’m not always right, but I’m very seldom wrong”. Yet she would say it with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The stubborn trait would often be part of her resolute nature to not bend on a decision, belief or instinct that she felt firmly about – which just added to her strength of character and wisdom.
While she was selected as Grand Marshal and Irish Person of the Year in the 1990s; an honour Peggy was truly humbled by and excited about was the request by Toronto’s Irish Chamber of Commerce to raise the Irish flag at Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall last month. Mum was actually in hospital for the previous 10 days undergoing tests. But nothing was going to prevent her commitment to see her beloved tri-colour go up that pole – and she was just the person to do it.
She was given a 24-hour pass from St. Michael’s Hospital. My sister took her to get her hair done late Saturday – and early Sunday, on March 6th, she arrived looking radiant and sent that flag to the top of the staff so fast that the folks from Guinness could very well have clocked a record.
She then attended the ‘Irish Person of the Year’ luncheon for the Irish Ambassador but had to return to hospital immediately afterward. We’re indeed honoured to have his Excellency, Declan Kelly, and wife, Anne, with us this morning.
This was the second time in as many years that mum was in hospital over the St. Paddy’s Day celebrations. You knew she was disappointed, even frustrated. But she never complained.
In fact her spirit and sense of humour were as sharp as ever when a young Irish doctor at St. Mike’s, Pádraig O’Malley, had poked his head into Peggy’s room to inquire about all the Irish decorations in the room. I mentioned the Irish Ambassador had just been in to visit mum. Doctor O’Malley exclaimed, “Wow, I didn’t see him.” To which Peggy replied: “He came to see me, not you!” She was never subtle or subdued. A firecracker of the highest order as a friend described her.
Peggy was in hospital for 6 weeks, always surrounded by the love and care of family and friends, with cards, flowers, photos and music that she loved. One nurse who worked in the hospital for years commented that she had never witnessed so much love in a room.
You get what you give – and it was a true testament to the patient that lay in that bed. Although it had become too familiar a sight over the past couple of years it was so not her style. She felt stifled and grew weaker.
But she never complained. She simply wanted to go out on the saddle.
Even as she was being wheeled away to surgery she looked up at me from the stretcher and said “Never a dull moment.” She was told her beautiful nail polish would have to come off before the operation, but on the side the doctor said, “Just hide your nails.” From the 16th floor right down into the operating theatre Peggy had her hands white-knuckled all the way to hide those lovely nails. She wasn’t letting that polish come off!
After such a challenging and painful 18 months in which she suffered 3 falls, 2 hip surgeries and one heart attack, 2010 was supposed to be her year. She deserved a breather. I suppose she got the ultimate redemption.
For someone whose faith was so strong, it was only fitting she left us on Easter Monday. The holiest date on the calendar was her favourite mass to celebrate… and historically, it was also the most significant period for the Irish to rise up. So maybe she had it planned all along. I’m picturing St. Peter at the Pearly Gates being joined by St. Patrick…with both saying “Cead mile failte.”
You were the best mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, mother-in-law and a surrogate mother that has left more people feeling orphaned than you could imagine. You were a sister, friend, confidante and trailblazer.
Lady, you were elegance personified –
…you will never fade away – but you do leave us all with a massive energy shortage in our lives… however, you also leave a legacy of love.
On behalf of Honora Patricia Delaney, known and loved as Peggy, thank you for joining us at her final get- together.
God bless and protect you. We love you and miss you already.
(Eulogy as delivered by Rory O’Shea on Friday, April 9, 2010)
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Immediately following mum’s passing the community that she was such an integral part of and adored started tributes. The Ireland Fund of Canada established the Peggy Delaney Irish Arts Bursary to be awarded annually to a worthy Canadian or Irish student.
The Irish Canadian Cultural Society established the Peggy Delaney Golden Rose Award – a $1,000.00 cash gift presented annually to the winning contestant for the Toronto Rose of Tralee competition.
The Toronto Irish Players are planning a special tribute in the fall.
A foal that was born at Clarehaven Farm the same day that mum passed was named ‘Delaney’ in her honour. As a lover of horses mum would have been humbled by the recognition from owners Michelle and Sean Bradley. The young horse has an impressive racing lineage with its grandfather being none other than Kentucky Derby & Belmont winner, ‘Seattle Slew’.