• Maggie Wheeler

Raised by Giants

The loss of not one but two beloved stars of our youth this past week has left its customary sadness but also a renewed appreciation for the gifts they gave us.

Doris Day died at the age of 97 on May 13th. Tim Conway left us at the age of 85 the next day. Both have been eulogized and lauded for the careers they had in film and television, and for the great people they truly were. This last and most important item has stood the test of time.

Tim became a staple in our lives on The Carol Burnett Show, with his weekly dose of brilliant comedy often with his (and our) favourite straight man, the late Harvey Korman. The skits were funny but the better show was watching them trying not to laugh (Tim, of course, was infallible in his ability to crack Harvey’s composure). I smile now just thinking of it.

Doris was our golden girl in her many movies and later her TV show. She, too, was a fabulous comedic actor with a brilliant smile that made you feel good just to watch her. We never knew the heartache of her personal life until many years later.

Both were and remain giants in their industry and our culture. I would say this is not only due to their talents but also to their lives and their personalities. Each was a person who believed in and lived by good values and was not just admired but genuinely liked/loved for who they were in an industry that continues to be infamous for producing vacant egos.

The thoughts expressed this past week refer in part to these careers reflecting a “more innocent time” with guidelines and censors that precluded much of the trash we are handed regularly now. They are correct about the censors but not about the more innocent time.

There never is a more innocent time. All generations face the same challenges, just different clothes and technology. Day’s career spanned the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam and the assassinations of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., just to name a few. And in the years of The Carol Burnett Show (1967 to 1978), I remember the Kent State shootings, and the Charles Manson murders in America. Here in Canada, we had the October Crisis in 1970, where my country was a frightening and dark place; and we spent 30 days wondering if we would still have a nation left if we got through it at all.

No such thing as more innocent times. Yet both of these people (as two great examples for there were others, of course) continued to hold fast to values and integrity, and devoted their careers to improving the lives of others with their craft. Decades after retirement, we loved them still and mourn them now.

Our generation, the 50-somethings, were the children of those times. We sat in our pyjamas with a snack to watch The Carol Burnett Show in the evening and loaded up on great old movies with the usual Sunday Afternoon Movie on TV.

In retrospect, we were raised by giants.

We live in times that seem increasingly darker, more unfamiliar and—let’s be honest—frightening again. The passing of two giants, Doris Day and Tim Conway, reminds of how they both, each in his and her own career, chose in times much like these to devote their influence to helping us lighten up, laugh at ourselves and bring us together as people through the commonality of humour. They didn’t have to.

But they chose to be giants in a world of small people and small ideas. A world very much like this one.

We were raised by giants. That means we are giants, too.

Let’s remember that the next time the world wants to make you feel small.

Talk next week,


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