She had style. Striking clothes, strong colours, with matching glasses and cigarette holder, Lorraine Bruce-Robertson Hovey Sutherland was a complex blend of courage, zaniness, independence, and love.
Eight days ago, after a brief stay at Barrie Manor, Lorraine entered Royal Victoria Hospital and then, softly, with her son Bruce at her side, she left. She was 79.
But for those who knew and loved Lorraine, forever will be the soft twang of her laughter as she flaunted her “Rosedale Raccoon” (her sassy description of her fur coat), or her sense of command as she sought crew–any crew–to take orders on the 26’ sailboat she captained.
She’d pull into my driveway in her Volkswagen van, easels and canvasses, paints and chairs spilling out the back. Fresh from a field, or the side of a road, or next to a barn, she’d be breathless as she’d look in on the progress of Kid One, now sitting in a high chair, mushing peas into his hair.
Son Bruce remembers days in Toronto’s Rosedale when he and sister Orian would return from school. There’d be a frying pan on the stove, wax melting. Turpentine punctured the air, paint fumes floated throughout the house… this was “mom” for them. Cookies? Not likely. Lorraine Hovey (as she was then) was driving a Ford van in the 60’s in Rosedale. Nobody was driving a Ford van in Rosedale. It took that much character, and besides, she painted on site and this was her studio.
A serious painter all her life, Lorraine studied with Group of Seven icons Franklin Carmichael and Arthur Lismer. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of her paintings hang in homes in Canada, United States and Europe. She worked in encaustics latterly and was constantly developing new techniques. Her work became Christmas cards, and ultimately several of her paintings were selected for the Unicef series.
When her own father (Dr Lawrence Bruce-Robertson) died when she was five and her mother remarried, Lorraine’s life of independence actually began. Boarding schools took her to Barrie’s Ovenden College, a popular girls’ school in the 1930’s and Lorraine attended, no doubt a popular student of Margaret Childs, a British artist who’d arrived as art teacher.
From school, Lorraine joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1944, drafting interiors of planes. While there, she entered one of her paintings into an air force show with the National Gallery of Canada. It was a landscape of Georgian Bay and her family is thrilled today to not only own the painting, but also a photograph of their mother working on the same painting. The RCAF continued the independence Lorraine had nurtured since boarding school reality as a child.
And marriage to Fred Hovey of Canadian Breweries brought two children and still the urge to paint. And so crib mixed with easel and Lorraine’s zany approach to life saw her kids through their own unique childhoods.
The ultimate hostess, Lorraine brought a twist to everything she did. When husband Fred moved to Barrie to become Dean of Administration at Georgian College, the family settled in a bungalow on Shanty Bay Rd, but not until Lorraine had a studio added to the rear of the house. That was her concession to moving to Barrie! In a sense she was returning to childhood roots.
After Fred’s sudden death in 1974, Lorraine continued to sail, moved out to waterfront property in Oro, and added the required studio to her new home. To christen it, she hired Lorne Hay, and invited scores of friends to learn how to square dance before she put down final flooring! Hee Haw! Lorraine-style. Fun. Laughter. Generosity. Style. And with it, thrift.
With her marriage to Wally Sutherland in 1982, her RCAF days blended with her new life as she took enough lessons to be able to land Wally’s Comanche aeroplane. Together the couple flew to Florida, to see daughter Orian in Vancouver, and to places in between.
Lorraine continued to paint prolifically, proof that independence remained an essential ingredient to her life. With Wally’s death nine years later, Lorraine plugged on. She continued with all her charitable work… bringing tremendous style to Gryphon Theatre receptions, nurturing the inception and development of a theatre guild, and offering that same enthusiasm to the MacLaren Art Centre. A long time devotée of the Barrie Art Club, Lorraine was recently recognized for lifetime achievement.
Her kids describe life with mom as a combination of Aunty Mame and Lucy Ricardo. Her friends describe Lorraine as the ultimate hostess, the consummate letterwriter, the steadfast comic. Her community reveres her generosity not only with her talent as an artist, but with her financial support. Her death this week caused them all to come together to celebrate a unique individual who managed brilliantly to blend several lives into a harmonious tableau.
Artist. Mother. Wife. Stepmother. Daughter. Stepdaughter. Sister. Grandma. Mother-in-law. Friend. Neighbour. Community supporter. She recorded life as she saw it. Her canvases were sometimes raw, sometimes sentimental, often touching, always excellent.
She had style that was uniquely her own. And every one of us who knew Lorraine will be able always to close our eyes and hear that throaty voice with its twist opening her heart to welcome you aboard.
Bon voyage, Lorraine. Sail well. And thank you.