‘Anyway, we’re away tomorrow morning. Take care all. Keep happy, keep healthy and keep up the hand washing.’
With its good advice, that was the final paragraph of Tehkummah Talk and Times, Pat Hall’s country news column from Tehkummah, that appeared in the July 8 issue of this paper, the last one submitted by Pat.
Pat was ‘away tomorrow morning’ with her daughter Sherry for surgery scheduled for July 10 in Toronto and last Wednesday afternoon, July 15, we heard the very sad news that Pat had passed away in the Toronto hospital.
On Page 20, there is a posthumous installment of Tehk Talk, submitted by daughter Sherry, who observed that ‘Mum was always making notes.’ It details part of her trip to Toronto and both Sherry and son Kim have also contributed to this special message.
Pat’s Tehk Talk news had a real following, far beyond Manitoulin. This was information that has been often passed on by way of a note or a call, usually when a subscriber was renewing their paper for the next year. Most people wouldn’t have known who the writer was, as there was no byline, but there has been a constant reference to the column of Tehkummah news and how much it was read and enjoyed.
Pat passed away on the first publishing day that her column did not appear and so it will be after this week and ongoing.
This is significant for this old newspaper because Tehk Talk, authored by Pat Hall, was the last rural news column, voluntarily authored, that The Expositor carried and so ends (at least for now) a 141-year tradition.
About 35 years ago, a thick envelope arrived in The Expositor’s post office box one Monday morning. The pages it contained were hand-written and there were a lot of them: 10 or 12. There was no covering letter, but a suggested headline was included: Tehk Talk.
It was typeset, proofread and ran in that week’s paper under the proposed headline and a little sleuthing determined that the author was Pat Hall from Tehkummah.
A telephone conversation ensued. At that time, Pat was a Canada Post rural route mail contractor and so her daily drives took her all around the municipality.
It became instantly clear that she not only had a keen eye for observation but that she could also describe her finds for her column in ways that made the readers feel that they had seen these things themselves, and that is a rare gift.
For many years, the Ontario Community Newspapers Association (OCNA), of which The Expositor is a member, included in its annual Better Newspaper Competition a category called ‘Champion Country Correspondent.’
We had to enter three representative columns from the given year’s body of work and, with Pat, that was no problem: they were all so descriptive.
Pat’s column finished in second place three times in a row and she went once to the annual convention in Toronto. (Alicia, then nine and now the paper’s editor and publisher, shared a room with Pat at the convention hotel.) We felt it was a matter of time before her work was named the overall winner, but the newspaper association retired the category the next year. She took this news in stride and made a joke about it.
It has always been one of the perks of country correspondents that they get to write about their families’ comings and goings and so we learned much about her beloved, and best friend, ‘Mum’ (who passed away in her 101st year in late 2017), as well as the comings and goings of her siblings, children and grandchildren.
But what an observer she was of things going by her home in the village of Tehkummah, right across the road from Ward’s Store!
It was clear from reading 30-odd years of handwritten news copy (latterly arriving via fax early Monday afternoons) that writing came quickly and easily to her.
So did poetry, and Tehk Talk often began or ended with one of Pat’s wonderful poems. In fact, two collections of her poetry and were published: ‘Mind Storms and New Beginnings’ in 2016 and ‘A Fragile Thread’ in 2013. When Pat spoke to Expositor reporter Michael Erskine about her skills as a poet in 2016, she observed that, “I think in rhyme. I don’t often have to adjust my words after I’ve written them. They just seem to flow out of me.”
(Writing poetry is a family trait: Pat, her sister Pauline Martin and their mother Jean McCauley have each been winners of this newspaper’s annual Valentine’s Poetry contest.)
Pat was not only a keen observer and chronicler of her community, she had the related ability to be a good listener. Someone from another community told this writer last week (when she learned that Pat was undergoing critical surgery) how much Pat had meant to that person’s generation of young people. For many years, in the summer months, Pat and her family operated a take-out food business from a building beside her home and this person recalled many young people, with problems on their minds, confiding in Pat when they visited the diner or at her home. This person observed that, “Pat has prevented many suicides. She probably doesn’t know that.” Quite a legacy.
Pat enjoyed parties. Some were surprises for her, like the one when she was named Tehkummah’s Citizen of the Year or the one celebrating her 80th birthday, both with standing room only at the spacious Tehkummah Triangle Club Hall. And then there were the euchre and crib parties at her beloved Tehkummah Hall.
We saw her evolve from membership in Fairview United Church’s Junior United Church Women (UCW) group to becoming a UCW member. She spent time as a member of the municipal council and stood for the reeve’s position.
Her world was Tehkummah, with occasional forays to Manitowaning and Mindemoya. Julia and I were caught in the act of eating pie at Carol’s and Earl’s South Baymouth restaurant (the incident was recorded in that last column) and it was in conversation that day, the Tuesday of the week was she going to Toronto for surgery, that she told us in her inimitable way, ‘I’ll either come back or I won’t,’ said with a shrug and a twinkle in her eye.
That statement, and especially now that we know the outcome, is representative of Pat’s profoundness: the same attribute that let her think in the images that translated as good poems, that led to the sharp observations she was able to transcribe in Tehk Talk for her multitude of readers, that gave her insight into some people’s anguish (and someone, as already noted, knew this particular gift had intervened positively in many people’s lives).
If this is the end of the trail for country correspondence for this paper, Pat’s Tehk Talk is a fine one with which to end this tradition.
On behalf of the Expositor Office staff, our condolences to Sherry, Kim, Derek and their families with special mention of granddaughter and next-door neighbour Tara.