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At Home with Rita Deverell

For many years, Rita Shelton Deverell wanted to produce a docudrama about a remarkable woman. But other careers got in the way. Blog Photo - Rita at PodiumThe actor, playwright and docudrama-maker has also worked as a TV presenter and head of current affairs for Vision TV, the Canadian network she co-founded; news director (mentoring her successor) at APTN, the Aboriginal People’s TV Network; professor of journalism and women’s studies in  two Canadian universities;

Her achievements earned her a place in the Order of Canada – Canada’s highest honour.

At last, Rita is writing the docudrama screenplay about Florence James.  She’s writing it at her country home in the ‘Sugar Bush’, outside Toronto.Blog Photo - Back Deck and Chairs “We bought the country place 22 years ago when our son graduated from high school. Thereafter we started to rent apartments in Toronto.  There have been five Toronto apartments in 22 years (plus two in Winnipeg, and one in Halifax where I worked three-year stints). The ‘Sugar Bush’ house remains home throughout these moves and always welcomes us.” Blog Photo - Rita Living Room closer Like Rita, Florence James found a productive life and award-winning career in Canada.  Rita came to Canada from Texas as a young woman, but Florence came here past age 60, after some terrible events.

“‘McCarthy and the Old Woman’ is about a feisty, resilient real-life heroine who lost everything because of the communist witch-hunts in the USA.  Florence James was blacklisted and bankrupted.  She survived the loss of her money, reputation, life’s work, her home and the death of her husband.”

The planning, creative thinking and writing for the docudrama are taking place here. Two writers live here. Rita’s husband Rex is a well-known playwright. Each has an office on the house’s lower level.Blog Photo - Rita Dining Room “Sometimes I write and plan in longhand at the drum table. But I have to get the feeling that I’m ‘going to work’. Rex has never gone to an office, so I have to keep his joke-telling self away from my work space.” Blog Photo - Desk Rita’s homes – country and city – are beautifully designed – by her.  They are bright, comfortable, unpretentious places, where history, art, houseplants and flowers mix. Many objects were passed down from Rex and Rita’s parents. Blog Photo - Rit's Small table “Every place in the large five-area living space is for my favourite leisure time activity, reading detective fiction. Blog Photo - Rita in CountryEntrance “We have lots of family pieces by now: the drum table was my mother’s. Blog Photo - Rita Drum Table in Sun Nook “The small desk and dining room table were Rex’s mother’s. The rocking chair was Rex’s grandfather’s, though not upholstered in leopard print. Blog Photo - Living room side shot “Outside, the yellow Muskoka chair is really the place I love to sit and dream and have nothing to do.” Blog Photo - Front Deck and Chair “I’m a home addict. The trivial side is I love to look at houses, read the real estate ads all the time, adore interior decorating, and can be cheered up by having a design idea.

“The important thing though is I’m an introvert, and actually draw my energy by starting each day from home base. That’s a place where my life is ordered, feels controllable, and beautiful. Then I can go out into the world and deal better with the dis-ordered, un-controllable, and sometimes ugly.”

Recently, another of Rita’s projects was launched to positive reviews.  It’s a multimedia, educational kit called ‘Women, Contemporary Aboriginal Issues and Resistance’. Free and downloadable, it includes a DVD:

http://www.msvu.ca/en/home/research/centresandinstitutes/IWGSJ/Events/ToolKit.aspx

Photos by Rex Deverell.

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My Proudest Achievement – Part 2

My career took flight during the women’s movement in the late 80’s and kept moving.

Each job paid more, demanded more, involved more travel.

For the most part, my life was unlike my mother’s (she never traveled abroad till she was in her late forties).  But, at times, my life was also strangely reminiscent of hers. For long periods, I got to work at home. Got to be there when the kids came home from school. Like my mother did.

I have two wonderful men to thank for that. My husband’s support allowed me to travel on business. My boss’ support allowed me to work at home often, in return for all that travel.

Image via airport-technology.com
Image via airport-technology.com

Support came from remarkable women.  My own mother, who’d been denied the career she wanted, sometimes moved in temporarily when my job took me abroad. My husband’s mother often cooked the Jamaican dishes we loved (but weren’t good at making).  My sister, who taught me to cook dishes my kids would like.  And a very caring nanny; we lived very frugally so we could afford her and it was money very well spent.

And so, my proudest achievement – raising children who’ve become strong, decent adults  — is something I’m not very confident about, had a lot of help with, and cannot claim as entirely my own.

**

Even with all that help and support, my husband and I worked hard at parenting our children, sometimes completely unsure whether we were doing the right thing. We got advice from our parents, but sometimes screwed up royally when we tried to apply that good counsel to our own family.

Looking back, we sometimes joke that the girls turned out alright, in spite of us.  We’ve watched with pride, astonishment and awe as our daughters have grown up and made choices about their lives.

They’ve done well at school and work.  They know when to “step up and stand up”: stepping up to help others going through tough times; standing up for what they consider to be right.  They have strong values.

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photo by Hamlin Grange

And – to my astonishment — each has a great sense of style, is a good cook and a great wit.  These are talents which I’m sure come from their father and grandmothers, since no-one has ever accused me of any of those things.

Our daughters are strong, decent adults and I am proud of having had something to do with that outcome.   But, more than that, I am thankful for having had the chance to parent them and watch them grow!  As they have grown, my husband and I have also grown.

I’m thankful for my career. The doors it opened, the confidence it built, the money I earned.  The people I met, the travel to foreign lands.

But when someone asks me about the proudest achievement of my life, there’s no debate: I’m proudest of raising children who have become strong, decent adults.

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photo by Hamlin Grange

Dedicated to my daughters, my husband and our mothers, with thanks. 

And to all those who, like us, learned parenting as they went along, and all the people who helped.