General Factotum

[This is an entry in my project to write something every day in the 100 days before my retirement, reflecting on my career and life]

91 days, or My 14thlast Friday

June 1, 2018

D.M.M. Goldie, Q.C.

“My 14thlast Friday” would have been considered a convoluted, incomplete thought according to D.M.M. Goldie, Q.C., the first lawyer I worked with in my career.  Mr. Goldie passed away in 2012 at the age of 88.  This morning I looked him up on Google and his obituary tells me that he was in-house counsel for several B.C. utilities.  He had a 30-year career at Russell & DuMoulin, one of Canada’s premier law firms, where he reached national prominence as counsel in a number of the leading constitutional cases regarding the division of powers and the patriation of the constitution in the 1980s. He argued his first case in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1953. And in 1991 he was appointed to the bench of the B.C. Court of Appeal. He retired in 1991 at age 75. 

Let’s backtrack a bit to 1975, when I was hired at Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline Ltd. (CAGPL) as a secretary (after my stint at E.L. Littlejohn & Associates).  First thing to note was the enormous increase in pay. At E.L. Littlejohn I was earning $4,800/year and I took a huge jump to $10,000/year at CAGPL.  This was a welcome increase as I was about to get married (in August 1975) and my fiancé Darryl was going to be in school full-time so this annual salary would support us well.

CAGPL was a consortium of 17 different companies such as TransCanada PipeLines, Shell and Imperial Oil, formed to bid on building in a pipeline that would start in the Mackenzie Delta and bring natural gas south.  This was my introduction to the world of big business, lawyers, engineers, public relations experts, public interest groups, native land claims, environmental issues, government officials and more. Our purpose in the Ottawa office of CAGPL was to prepare for and attend at the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings.  The NEB hearings were chaired by Justice Berger and their purpose was to hear arguments for and against this pipeline, and, if a favourable decision was made, ultimately decide which company would be given the go-ahead to build it (our “competitor” in this process was Foothills Pipelines Ltd., an Alberta company).

We were a small support team in the Ottawa office – the office manager, Nancy, and myself.  Nancy was a university graduate with absolutely no office administration experience so I quickly became the general factotumof the office.  Nancy was responsible for research and had the huge job of keeping the reams of paper and piles and piles of information indexed and readily available.  

Mr. Goldie was our general counsel and he would arrive every week from his Vancouver office and spend time in preparation for arguments at the NEB. He was kind gentleman with a subdued sense of humour and as a fully grown, mature adult (now), I would love to spend time with him today. When I worked with him I was 19 years old, a neophyte to the world of business, a rube, a country bumpkin who had just fallen off the turnip truck.  It was Mr. Goldie who introduced me to the world of ‘language’ and ‘vocabulary’. When he spoke, the words would fall off his tongue like beads of rain on a window – deliciously slow, imprinting themselves on your brain. He was a brilliant wordsmith.

I could write chapters on this job I had at CAGPL and likely will. Today, I started this entry thinking about Mr. Goldie when I typed “My 14thLast Friday.”  Those words would never have flown with him and he would have encouraged me to say it properly as in, “there are 14 more Fridays for me at NAV CANADA,” or “there are 14 Fridays in my future at NAV CANADA” (these both suck now that I think about it).  He was always saying “Don’t commercialize your words, make them count. We are not writing advertising copy.”

He taught me a new word every day, starting with general factotum.  This was a scold I received from him one day when I referred to myself as a ‘Jack of all trades’ in the office.  “Rosemarie, on the contrary, you are our general factotum.  You have a myriad of responsibilities here, none of which are de minimis.” (I always kept my dictionary handy when I was around him.)

A quick final story about him.  One that makes me smile widely and cringe every time I remember it.  I was in his office taking dictation of a business letter and as he finished he said, “And sign that, Your friend Mikey”.  (He went by his middle name Michael.)  So I typed up the letter and closed it with “Your friend Mikey” and presented it to him.  He promptly burst into laughter and that was my introduction to his sly sense of humour.  He kept that letter and would pull it out every so often to tease me.  And when I wanted to tease him, I would call him “Mikey,” which of course was a ‘no-no.’  

Here’s an article from a 1975 edition of Maclean’s Magazine I found today – it’s wonderful reading this stuff – note the use of words now considered politically incorrect such as “Eskimo.”  Also interesting to note that all of the same issues are being argued and yelled about today, 43 years later.  (Footnote: the pipeline was never built.)

Also, I highly recommend a great book by Ottawa author Elizabeth Hay called “Late Nights on Air” that has the Berger Hearings threaded through the story.