Saturday, 24 January 2009

Mona memories

More Mona Winberg memories from Sandy Naiman, former Toronto Sun columnist, now a Coming Out Crazy blogger at the Star's Healthzone.ca site:

"My first memory of Mona Winberg is interviewing her and introducing her to Toronto Sun readers, prior to the launch of her column. I believe Mike Burke-Gaffney assigned the story to me and it ran in my Women on the Move column, but I'm not sure of that.

It was sometime in 1986.

I remember driving to her small North York flat in a house, east of Yonge, north of Sheppard, where she lived alone and spending a great deal of time with her, several hours, on at least two occasions, "to get her story."

She lived very close to me, so it was no trouble and in fact, a pleasure to visit her. She was warm and welcoming. She always offered me something to eat. Cookies and instant coffee. We had many common connections in the Jewish community, even though she was 16 years older than me.

I can see her apartment now in my mind's eye. Very small, so she could get around easily, without taking too many steps. Very cluttered. But orderly. She received meals on wheels, at that time.

What I remember most was her determination. Her passion. She would get very angry talking about the injustices that people like her with physical disabilities had to endure. At the same time, she loved to laugh.

Still, it took me hours to do the interview because of her garbled speech which was difficult to understand. Many of her statements had to be repeated. Sometimes she had to spell a word for me so I could write it in my notebook to see it and comprehend it.

Her accomplishments even back then were remarkable. We also shared our "dis-abilities." Her cerebral palsy and my mental illness. So we connected. Became soul-mates during those interviews.

I remember returning to the newsroom and raving about her before even beginning to write my story.

I write this memory with enormous sadness, but in a spirit of celebration of Mona, an invincible crusader with a powerful voice and faltering speech. Her strength lay in her intrepid service to others and her cause. Her advocacy, fueled by her empathy, was for human rights - rights she, herself, had been denied because of her cerebral palsy.

Through her exquisite mind, her tenacity and the platform Mike Burke-Gaffney and the Toronto Sun wisely gave her, she became a change maker, educating so many, through her column. This small woman moved mountains with her words. She proved "the power of one."

She rightly deserved her Order of Canada and I realize now, in some subliminal way, that she inspired me in my mental health advocacy. Although I always spoke out, after profiling Mona, my voice grew louder."

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