Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Mona memories

Updated re memorial guestbooks
Memories of Mona Winberg, who died Monday at 76 (see Star obit) after a lifetime of advocating or the rights of the disabled:

A message from David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario: "I was saddened to learn of the death of Ms. Mona Winberg, long-time Toronto Sun columnist and disability rights activist.

"Mona was known throughout the disability rights community as one of the few media voices who regularly provided insights and information on what was happening on the disability front.

"When she began writing in the Toronto Sun, just over 20 years ago, there was almost no coverage of disability issues; if you were disabled and wanted to know what was happening, you turned to Mona's column.

"Mona was a constant source of inspiration to me and I would extensively quote from her columns when I would give speeches on disability issues. Her perspective on these concerns was relevant and important. She overcame significant adversity to become a role model for all people with disabilities.

"I join all Ontarians in extending my deepest sympathies to Mona's family."

John Downing, former editor of the Toronto Sun: "What a cheery lady! Always a smile. A wonderful evangelist for her cause. And a better memory for names than I have.

"There are already comments in the Toronto Sun Family blog from David Crombie and Linc Alexander. The three of us really got to know her as members of the Terry Fox Hall of Fame selection committee, which the Tiny Perfect Former Mayor still chairs. Mona was one of the first recipients of the honour, which started in 1993, and despite her humble status, one of the most deserving.

"I was happy to back her because she made such an impression on me and everyone else in the Sun newsroom. And she had a stalwart supporter in Mike Burke-Gaffney. Good for him. Good for him to get her to write that column - and just writing it down was a monumental task that would have disheartened many of us.

"When Mike Harris was premier and came to the Hall of Fame luncheon announcing new entries and honouring former recipients, he and David Crombie and Vim Kochhar, the hall founder, were chatting with me as Mona made her way by. I introduced her to the premier. Then Crombie kidded her about something.

"We were all laughing when we were told to sit for the meal. So there was a final round of handshakes, which was never easy for Mona, and when we turned to sit down, Mona went sprawling from her wheelchair with an awful thud. The premier said to the former mayor, "I thought you had her." Crombie was horrified at what we had done. So we picked Mona up and, of course, she said she was fine. What a trouper! And after a few awkward moments, events moved on and Mona's faithful companion took her to her table.

"I told Harris and Crombie that I would keep an eye on Mona since obviously they couldn't be trusted to be around her without knocking her over. (Exactly what happened no one knew. Perhaps Mona tried to stand out of her wheelchair in honour of the premier.) After a few minutes, it was obvious she was in some pain. So her loyal friend and I discussed this because Mona's trip home was with Wheel-Trans, and the scheduling of those trips seems to have to be carved in granite days in advance. The pain grew worse, although Mona never said anything.

"Finally, I ordered a cab, we got Mona to the door of the hotel, I loaded her into the cab and off they went in the cold, armed with a Sun cab slip. (I made up some explanation about a murder in North York to justify the cab slip because who knew what bean counter might complain about me shipping our disabled columnist to North York General after the premier, or maybe Crombie, had sort of dropped her from her chair.)

"Mona never mentioned it, although for the next few years when she came to that luncheon, we handled her as if she was made of the finest china. And, of course, she was. Oh yes, she broke her arm. It must have caused her extraordinary difficulty considering how hard ordinary tasks for her were, but she never never brought it up.

"There are many people who immediately think of Terry Fox when they think of a Canadian hero who didn't flinch when he faced tremendous medical problems and the hurdles of the gauntlet that life puts in the path of the disabled. I think of Terry . . . and Mona."

Memories of Mona can be e-mailed to TSF.

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