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Val Mackintosh

The following tribute to Val Mackintosh appeared in the North Renfrew Times, December 8, 2010:

In memory of Val Mackintosh

by Charlotte McWilliam

Val Mackintosh was a lady - a leading lady in the arts and theatrical community of Deep River in the second half of the 20th Century, a gracious, tactful and caring friend for a vast number of people, and a wise, supportive, and loving wife, mother and grandmother - to her husband Bill, her four children, Catriona, Maureen, Jackie and Ian and her five grandchildren.

Val was born in Peking, China where her father, Percy Tomlinson, was serving as a medical officer with the British Army.

Shortly, he was transferred to India where Val and her beloved older brother Tony spent their early childhood.

Then came Egypt, and the time to send Tony and Val to boarding schools in England - not an unusual experience for children of Brits working in the far flung corners of the Empire, and not an unhappy one Val claimed in the memoir she wrote for her descendents.

There were regular visits from her mother, leaves when her father came home, but always Tony was close at hand and shorter holidays could be spent with him visiting relatives and friends, or later roaring around the country in "Jabberwock," a 1927 three-wheeled Morgan, a cross between an open car and a motor bike.

Because the Morgan was classified as a bike, Val, at 16, was legally allowed to drive it (or push it as the case might be).

Hitler's march across Europe began, and King's College, Oxford where Tony had been accepted to study medicine, was evacuated to Glasgow.

Val, who had completed her Oxford entrance at 16, two years early, joined her mother in Glasgow so that three of the family could be together. Dr. Tomlinson, now a major general, was the chief medical officer for the British troops in Egypt, and later for the entire Middle East.

While Val studied chemistry and physics with a view to following her brother into medicine, Tony decided that it was his duty to join the RAF. He had tickets to take his sister to the University Christmas Ball, but at the last minute was recalled to his base.

He just had time to arrange a blind date for Val with a young Canadian studying chemistry on a tuition scholarship for Presbyterian ministers' sons.

Tony announced that "Canada" would pick her up as he dashed out the door. Though Val, by devious means, discovered that her date's name was William Douglas Mackintosh, for several years thereafter he was referred to as "Canada."

Val, like Tony, deferred her plans to study medicine, and in 1940, before she was 18, joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) to become a radar operator and later a trainer.

In the late summer of 1941, Tony was killed in action.

"Canada" completed his Chemistry degree, joined the RCAF, and on August 30, 1944, each managing a week's leave, Val and Bill were married.

In 1946, with 2,000 war brides and 3,000 children under five, Val sailed on the Queen Mary to join her husband in the New World.

Bill now had a job at Dominion Rubber Company in Kitchener, and there, three daughters were born.

Atomic challenge and adventure beckoned, and in 1952, the Mackintoshes moved to Deep River.

The next years were busy and happy ones. Bill loved his work. Ian arrived on the scene.

In 1956, there were 96 kids in 34 houses on Frontenac Crescent. Neighbourhood Watch meant whatever yard the kids were playing in, that mother's rules applied. And when the 5 o'clock whistle blew, it was home for dinner.

The Mackintoshes were always involved in their children's activities whether it was skiing, theatre, sailing or ballet. Often activities overlapped, and Val found herself as secretary of the Ballet Club writing to herself as secretary of the Drama Club.

In the early days, the town provided its own entertainment. Much of it came from the Deep River Players, who produced five or six one-act plays a year and two full-length productions.

Val was the core of the Players. She directed, she acted, she designed and constructed sets, she made costumes, and she did each superbly.

All in all, she was involved in 71 productions in the first incarnation of the Deep River Players, and, in the early '80's, was honoured for her contributions with a life membership.

In 1960, the Players' entry in the three-act Eastern Ontario Drama Festival was "Separate Tables." Val won the Best Supporting Actress award as the mousey Miss Roulton-Bell: "...a most exciting actress who gave a strong and beautiful performance of rare intelligence and art," commented the adjudicator.

(That year, Rich Little, then of the Ottawa Little Theatre, won the Best Actor award.)

Val directed many EODL entries which brought honour and awards to Deep River.

After winning a one-act festival, "The Dock Brief" went on to the Ontario Festival of Drama in Toronto. A letter sent to the mayor and councillors of Deep River stated:

"The Deep River Players, Director: Mrs. Valerie Mackintosh, brought fame and favourable attention to your community by having been nominated for the honour of participating in the recent Festival.... The Deep River Players acquitted themselves with distinction and were awarded our certificate for highest achievement."

Val was a perfectionist. When she designed a set or planned the blocking of a play, she first constructed a miniature set to see how things worked.

Constructing these miniature sets may have led Val to a later project, the building of a Queen Anne style dolls' house that filled a quarter of the rec room at 17 Frontenac.

Everything was made to scale, from the pictures on the walls and the books on the shelves to the Christmas decorations and the toys scattered on the nursery floor.

The rooms were carpeted with "authentic" Persian rugs laboriously stitched by multi-lingual Val as she chatted at the French club or at the Spanish Group. The dolls' house is a museum piece.

Somehow, in the midst of all this, Val managed to take an Honours English degree by correspondence from the University of Ottawa.

She loved reading and was blessed with the gift of remembering all that she read. Not only did she write verse, some of which revealed her caustic wit, but she could quote reams of classic poetry.

At a gathering many years ago, Val recited some lines from the wall of her boarding school bathroom, lines which have somehow stayed in my mind:

"Bather, to this bath proceeding Here's a rhyme which craves your reading Be you one who lies a-dreaming Supine, satisfied and steaming Or a morning cold-bath hero Window wide and glass at zero Do not fill it out of measure Bath's a business, not a pleasure..."

She was a stickler for correct usage and deplored sloppiness in both the spoken and the written word. Before the days of Google, more than one scientist at the Plant, when writing a report, telephoned Val to check on a construction or a nuance.

She compiled 40 years of meticulous archives for the Deep River Players; she taught summer theatre courses for local youth; she taught art classes. Perhaps her best known art student is Denise Dimmick, who commented about her teacher, "Val taught me to see."

In the 1990's, Val illustrated over 100 stories for the five anthologies written by the Valley Talespinners.

Though her deafness increased, her knees ached, and her eyesight failed in recent years, Val never gave up.

She finished the illustrated memoir of her early life; she continued after Bill's death to maintain the idyllic garden the two of them had established; she continued to entertain, to knit, to read, to talk Spanish, and to spoil her adored cat Mirabel.

This fall, she even started Tai Chi.

One of her younger friends said, "Val is someone I would love to be like, but I would fall so far short that no one would even know I was trying."

The town has lost a Leading Lady.