The Velvet Studio sent Luke Smith to cover the recent Celebration of Life for Eileen Murphy. Luke Smith had worked alongside Eileen Murphy at the Ottawa Police GLBT Liaison Committee. Eileen was recently made a lifetime member, and had been with the Committee since its inception over 24 years ago.
Luke’s fondest memory of Eileen was in the summer of 2012 when Eileen had been recognized as one of the Grand Marshals in the Pride Parade. Luke joined Eileen at the Pancake Breakfast as they crammed 50 helium balloons into her vehicle and made their way down the highway towards the half dozen flag raising stops. At each stop they were greeted by smiles as Eileen and Luke struggled to pull 50 balloons in and out of the car. Eileen was the inspiration behind the Pride Bus which has taken the same tour for the last two years, and guaranteed a lasting legacy each year during Ottawa Pride.
The Celebration of Life began with the jumble of voices, as the Good Companions main room was abuzz with noise as people crammed in to pay their respects. It was a combination of sombre emotions, but with the odd giggle as people recalled fond memories of time they had spent with Eileen. The proceedings were kicked off by her son in law, Allan Sansom (her partner Kathi of 29 years died in 2008 of kidney disease). Allan was astounded and gratified by the sheer volume of support from the community. The crowd featured veteran activists, and young community leaders alike. The first speaker was Dennis Stimson from PFLAG, who spoke of several memories of Eileen, he had the crowd cheering in applause when he took off his jacket to reveal Eileen’s trademark suspenders, and put on a ball cap.
The next to speak were Gary Leger and Denis Schyburt former chair of the Ottawa Police GLBT Liaison Committee. Gary recalled “Now hold on a minute, I’m going to check my calendar” as Eileen spoke to everything that was happening in Ottawa, even sometimes things that had already happened. He went on to speak about times when he was faced with making a tough decision in the community. He would ask Eileen what she thought he should do. She would look at him, eat her sandwich, then say “That’s not going to be that’s popular, but you’re not here to make friends you’re here to do what’s right”, he went on to say that she always advised him to go with the decision he knew in his gut to be right. Eileen notably stood her ground recently at an AGM meeting of PTS where she challenged the then Executive Director, which spoke to her decades of activism. Denis likewise recalled speaking with Eileen.The warning there is, if you ask Eileen a question, be prepared to hear the truth, whether you wanted it or not”. He noted that she was always honest, and straight forward and a great source of advice in the community. Although her commitment to volunteering was renowned, so too was her compassion. Denis recalled when Eileen attended his father’s funeral and was there as a source of support. Gary finished by reading the poem, ‘Death is Nothing At All’ by Canon Henry Scott Holland.
Cathy Collett from the Ottawa Senior Pride Network spoke to how Eileen and her partner Kathi really created, and were the welcoming committee for SAGE. They did the education sessions, and were the loving welcome to those who entered the community. She thanked Eileen for being so Proud, and so Out when it was not at all easy to be. She was followed by Tone Clusters, for whom Eileen was an ardent supporter and volunteer. They recalled that she had been a volunteer collecting tickets at the door for countless concerts. Their concert on the 24th was dedicated to Eileen. Her long time commitment to volunteering inspired their second choice of song, the Nova Scotia folk song ‘These Hands”.
The last speaker to head to the mic was Jay Koornstra the Executive Director of Bruce House. He said he didn’t have notes, but would speak from the heart. When he moved to Ottawa in 2000 he knew it was important to get to know the community. No matter what event he went to; Tone Cluster concerts, the Rideau Speedos, every time he went out, there were two women, Eileen and Kathi. When he spoke to them and met them, he couldn’t believe that they could be at so many events, so joked that they must have been cloned. He struggled as he recalled how he would turn to her for her wisdom, which ranged from“that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” to “go for it, it won’t be popular, but go for it”. They made him feel that he truly belonged in the community. He then read a note written by Richard Naster, who had known Eileen through Brue House for over 25 years; “Before there was a Bruce House there was Eileen and Kathi. They are both gone now and we are overwhelmed with sorrow. They loved us deeply, and we adored them in return…” it concluded “I did not know how far back Eileen and Kathi went, until after Kathi passed away, and at Bruce House when they remembered and recognised people who had passed away who had helped, or been affected by HIV. In 1988, shortly after the creation of Bruce House, there was a letter they received which read that after a party at a friend’s home, they raised some money. $25 in total, it was signed by Kathi”. Jay struggled to conclude saying, “they may be gone, but she will always be on my shoulder, saying “that’s a stupid idea”’.
The evening was full of fond memories of Eileen, and we can’t possibly do them justice here, we doubt a dozen articles would begin to suffice. Please share your stories of Eileen, and let us celebrate, and remember her fondly.
The Velvet Studio team.
Editorial Note: The article was written with permission of the family.