A champion of common sense

Barbara Kay, National Post · Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010

This is a tribute column to one of the National Post's most loyal fans, Lois Hashimoto, who died last January, aged 81. I saved my remarks about Lois to coincide with this Saturday's fundraiser for one of her favourite causes, AGAPE, the only anglophone social service agency in Laval, Que., renamed in her honour as "The Lois Hashimoto Memorial Walk."

From her eulogy, I learned that Lois, born Yuriko Nakashima in New Westminster, B.C., led a rich and traditional life as a fulfilled wife, mother and grandmother, who never sought a career outside the home. She enjoyed a wide circle of friendships, old and new (I was new), played bridge, followed baseball, had a passion for literature, was unbeatable at ping-pong and could and did sew everything from grad dresses to bathing suits.

In our correspondence, I mostly saw another side of this dear lady. For me, she was the model of the enlightened, engaged citizen, demonstrating in any given utterance more insight, intelligence and common sense than the combined outpourings of the entire chattering class.

I believe hers is a name that editors of the Letters section in many Canadian newspapers (including this one) will recognize with a smile. Lois had strong opinions, and from her 70th birthday, when she received her first computer, she was not shy about expressing them in the media via e-mail. Political correctness and multiculturalism run amok were the most frequent targets of her cant-busting missives.

I never actually met Lois Hashimoto, but for three years we exchanged emails. They began in the usual way, a reader writing to a columnist affirming like-mindedness on this or that issue, but gradually entered that peculiar post-modern realm of electronic friendship, casually and intermittently reinforced, that evades definition and assessment, but enormously enriches one's life. She knew much about me from my personal columns. I came to know her grandchildren's names, her travel plans, her favourite (and despised) Canadian writers and, most fascinatingly, her memories of life as a teenager in the Slocan, B.C., internment camp during the Second World War.

More important, I came to know a great deal about her values and principles, which were grounded in love for democracy and devotion to her Christian faith and its traditional institutional models. Lois was a lifelong member of the United Church of Canada (UCC), and gradually, as ideology and fashionably leftist political activism replaced its spiritual mandate, its conscience.

I kept Lois's emails. One bemoaned the fact that the UCC had $10,000 to spend on ads featuring two men atop a wedding cake in support of gay marriage, but didn't have the money to keep their own archives secure and accessible at the University of Toronto's Victoria College. In a 2007 email dialogue with the UCC Moderator that she forwarded to me, Lois excoriated him for blog entries on his trip to the Middle East in which he compared the current Palestinian plight with that of the Jews in the Holocaust. Lois was revolted by such fatuous moral equivalencies.

She was also a stern critic of Canada's self-flagellation over the past treatment of cultural minorities. When two native children were torn from the arms of her friend, their loving, responsible adoptive white mother, and returned to a dysfunctional native caregiver on "cultural" grounds, she wrote despairingly to me: "Oh Canada! Where minority group rights trump individual rights every time!"

In particular, she denounced media profiteers in the Japanese-Canadian community who have no qualms about mining western guilt for injustices meted out to their ancestors in the war years.

Lois knew that the internment camps were not exactly "democracy's finest hour," especially since her father

had served overseas in the First World War as an infantryman. But she rejected the popular image of the camps as hellholes. She told me of a playwright's historical drama about the UCC history in Canada, in which a character sips green tea behind a barbed-wire fence and dreams of home. But there were no barbed-wire fences in the camps (in fact Lois remembers the camp as a place of great natural beauty and one round of school, dances and cultural events after another where "quite frankly, I was enjoying myself too much" to be outraged). She wrote to the playwright to ask him to excise the reference. He responded that whether there was or wasn't barbed wire was irrelevant, since the play was about loss of freedom, a more important truth than a mere fact. Lois wryly commented to me: "Who needs historical archives for this kind of 'truth'? "

We're always looking for Canadian icons, those special people who sum up what is best about our country. For me that icon is Lois Hashimoto, an ordinary Canadian blessed with an extraordinary ability to separate life's trendy trash from its timeless treasure. She had a good life because she was a good person and inspired goodness in others. I am grateful for our too-brief friendship.