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Actor Gordon Jocelyn dies at 96


GORDON JOCELYN As we write these words, our father's body has become an active cadaver (oxymoron intended) in the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine - his final chance to give as the extraordinary teacher he'd been all his life. Gordon Jocelyn was born on May 26, 1920, in the kitchen of 80 Strachan Street in Stratford, ON. His parents, Arthur and Annie Pauline (Bennett) Jocelyn, were both raised in orphanages - and Gordon loved to say he "was borne of the thigh of Zeus," with no family to answer to. Gordon and his sisters, Irene (Bird) and Mary (Hazell), all took music lessons, doggedly and with some talent. Gordon in particular was a star child pianist. They received a strict, traditional education, leading our father toward lifelong rebellion and a firm dislike of organized religion. (We kids went to Sunday school, but only to learn the Bible stories, Gordon explained, since they are the foundation of much of Western literature).

He thought he was the luckiest man in the world when he married Joy Martyn, she with "the best gams at Central High." Forever regretting that he'd lacked the courage to be a conscientious objector, he joined the Air Force - they had snazzier uniforms than the Army - and after the war travelled back overseas with his new wife. Returning from Europe, Gordon left music behind to become a Teacher and, soon, a father. Paula, Timothy, Marthe and Matthew filled the next many chapters in Gordon's life. "Blame my wife," he'd say, bursting with pride at how wonderful - after several missteps - we turned out to be.

The heart of our home on Neville Park was the dining room table, where we were confined every evening from 6 until 7, learning to enunciate, to tell stories, to express opinions clearly. Sure, he wanted us to be free thinkers but we damn well better speak good English and distinguish between may and can. The happiest years of his teaching life were at Toronto's alternative high school, SEED, where learning was self-propelled and different every day. Here he could provoke, hold forth, inspire curiosity, and correct grammar. Dozens of his students remained his friends until the end.

Gordon's world was miserably shaken by Joy's way-too-early death, followed by Paula's terrible accident, and a decade later her second, fatal collision only weeks before Tim died of AIDS. In the face of such huge loss Gordon's response was to keep giving. He joined the bereavement team at Casey House Hospice and read aloud to patients there and elsewhere, for many years. Slowly, he re-invented himself. He travelled to Europe via freighter, and to China.

He was the Co-Host of CBC's From Now On, and then a stage and TV Actor. He bought new clothes and became quite the dandy. He refined his gourmet cooking skills. He read prodigiously and mentored many scholars and writers. He gave dictionaries as wedding gifts. His own copies were heavily annotated - especially the one used for solving crossword puzzles. For decades he began his mornings with the cryptic - before making his special blend of coffee - "to see whether I'm bright or not." He completed at least a million clues in his lifetime. A few other statistics: He was married for 34 years and widowed for 40. He put up with his children for a combined total of 190 years of his 96. He sat on his Rosedale balcony for approximately 900 hours a year for 3 decades. He spent thousands of hours more sitting in a darkened audience watching plays and concerts. His surviving children are writers and entrenched in the theatre. His granddaughters, Hannah and Nell Jocelyn, know the difference between sarcasm and irony - and use both to wicked effect.

Gordon's precision with language impressed even the nurses during his final months in the Veteran's Wing at Sunnybrook. "I would be obliged if you were to assist me..." We will celebrate Gordon at the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre (26 Berkeley Street, Toronto), on Tuesday, December 20th at 4 o'clock. Refreshments to follow. In lieu of flowers, please find someone to read to.