On May 14th, 2011, St. James’ church hosted a celebration of May Gutteridge’s life entitled, A Day in May for Mrs. G. A distinguished group of friends, family and colleagues came together to commemorate her work.
Mary MacDougall, the former Executive Director of Catholic Family Services in BC and Trudi Shaw cheerfully greeted people and handed out beautifully designed programs printed through the generosity of Glenmore Printing of Richmond.
Lance, Tallulah and Ursula Gutteridge brought artefacts and enlarged pictures of their great mother and grandmother. A full-scale framed picture of May, inscribed with her birth date May 21st, 1917, and her passing on February 26th, 2002, was positioned on an easel at the end of the head table so that the audience would see May as they watched and listened to the keynote speakers.
John Conway, the Master of Ceremonies, welcomed all the guests and introduced the first speaker, Archbishop Douglas Hambidge. He walked to the microphone that stood at the end of the table in between me and May’s picture, and began the celebration by saying, “When I first came to the diocese no-one would mention the name May Gutteridge. After all, she had picketed the Anglican Church of Canada. Can you imagine that?” He spoke with vitality and humour as he recalled how May intimidated and angered some in the church with her passionate crusade for the poor and the disenfranchised. The Archbishop also informed us how May consistently referred to those she helped as her friends.
Judy Graves shared her heart-warming story of personal agnosticism back at the time she first met May Gutteridge. How she eventually converted her beliefs to embrace the kind of Christianity she witnessed through May and others in the Downtown Eastside who never lost faith and never gave up.
Dr. Carol Matusicky, the former Executive Director of the BC Council of Families, expressed her admiration for May’s life’s work in the Downtown Eastside. She possessed first hand knowledge about the Downtown Eastside as her family had owned a marine business in the same block at Powell and Gore Avenue in the 1950s and 60s.
Mike Harcourt disclosed to the audience how elected officials and bureau chiefs locked their doors when they heard that May Gutteridge was in the building. He said, “Harry Rankin would be upset to hear that May was at City Hall. ‘What does she want this time?’ he often complained.”
We could see that Mike enjoyed his ruminations of this strong, courageous woman who could knock down the walls of disinterest and apathy, ‘always politely’ and send shivers of fear through the halls of bureaucracy.
Mike told an amazing story about how May had pushed government for better and safer living conditions for the poor in the Downtown Eastside for years. One day in the early 1970s he witnessed the Commercial Hotel go up in flames from his storefront office that resulted in the tragic death of several people. In a matter of just a few weeks, the amendments she had vigorously lobbied for, were finally enacted.
Lance Gutteridge took the microphone next fully intending on publicly presenting the framed picture of his mother to St. James’ church to be hung in the May Gutteridge Room. As he began his reflections of early childhood in Prairie River Saskatchewan, the lack of plumbing, the sink that drained into a bucket that everyone forgot to empty until it was too late, his voice quavered with emotion. His warm tribute to his mother ended, gracefully.
I had the honour of speaking last at which time I thanked everyone deeply for attending and contributing to this very special day in May.
Images: Top: Brother John Blyth and Archbishop Douglas Hambidge share memories of Mrs G. Below: Ursula Gutteridge smiles for the camera as others enjoy conversation and refreshments