Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Royal Profile: The Right Honorable Adrienne Clarkson

Adrienne Clarkson had a distinguished career in broadcasting journalism, the arts and public service, before becoming the first immigrant, person of Asian heritage, and the second woman, to become the 26th Governor General of Canada, whose role is to represent The Queen in Canada.

She was born Adrienne Poy in Hong Kong on February 10, 1939, the daughter of William Poy and Ethel Lam. Her father was a successful jockey and horse owner through the Hong Kong Jockey Club and she and her brother Neville (born in 1935) grew up in a life of priviledge. Upon the Japanese invasion in December 1941, her family's lifestyle vanished. They lived on the run for six months, while her father utilized his contacts to get his family out of the country. After they made a Red Cross list to be exchanged, they boarded a Japanese ship and came to Canada as refugees in 1942.

During her early years in Canada she lived in a small triplex on Sussex Avenue in Ottawa, which is also the location of Rideau Hall; the traditional residence of the Governor General. She attended Lisgar Collegiate in Ottawa and later she attended Trinity College in the University of Toronto, earning a B.A. and M.A. in English literature. She did her post-graduate work at the Sorbonne in France. During her education she wrote and published two novels, one while she was still an undergraduate.

She married fellow Trinity student Stephen Clarkson and the couple had three daughters, Kyra (born 1969) and twins Blaise and Chloe (born in 1971). Chloe died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome when she was nine months old. Their marriage ended in 1975 and after the divorce, Adrienne became estranged from her two surviving daughters; who have since reconciled with their mother.

She began her career with the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) by chance. A former classmate encouraged her to audition, where her natural ease in front of the camera was recognized. She stayed at the CBC for 30 years, beginning with the popular afternoon show, Take Thirty. In 1974 she began her program Adrienne at Large and in 1975 joined the public affairs program, The Fifth Estate. In 1983 she became Ontario's Agent General in Paris, a role she held until 1987, when she became Publisher and President of McClelland and Stewart. After 18 months she resigned and returned to television in the arts program Adrienne Clarkson Presents, for which she won a Gemini award (the Canadian equivalent of the Emmy). In 1992 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

She married her second husband, John Ralston Saul in 1999. In the same year, on October 7th, she was sworn in as Governor General. Just prior to the announcement of her appointment, to better understand and prepare for the role, she researched it at the Toronto Reference Library. Upon her appointment she became Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada. She held the position of Governor General until September 27th, 2005.

Since leaving the position, she published her memoirs, Heart Matters, and was appointed the Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, a position she took over from Countess Mountbatten of Burma.

© Marilyn Braun 2007

1 comment:

Leah J. Utas said...

Excellent post on Clarkson.
I grew up watching her and admired her work on Take Thirty.
I didn't know about the novels.