In My Own Name: A Memoir

Spring 2004 CSANews Issue 50  |  Posted date : May 05, 2007.Back to list

Maureen McTeer's memoir is an intriguing and intimate recounting of a personal, professional and political life, lived on fast forward, by a very private person.

Canadians remember Maureen mainly for the "name" issue. She kept her own surname when she married Joe Clark, an aspiring young politician from the west. As a consequence, when Joe became PC party leader in 1976, his political rivals ridiculed him as weak because,"...he didn't tell his wife what to do. He didn't put her in her place."

Throughout the book, Maureen depicts a marital relationship of both love and mutual respect. Joe was always there for her, encouraging and supportive throughout "the name furor," her struggles as a woman law student and later, as Maureen became an internationalist and early champion of reproductive and genetic techniques.

In turn, Maureen was a fierce champion for her Joe, and always an active campaigner, much more than "the discreet little woman." For instance, the PC party leadership convention in 1983 was a real pressure-cooker. By the time the results of the next-to-last ballot were read, Joe had maintained his lead, but Brian Mulroney was very close. It became evident that the outcome would depend on the support of the third-place finisher, John Crosbie.

The Clark forces were ecstatic to see Brian Peckford, one of Crosbie's senior organizers, making his way to Joe's box, gesturing frenetically. But instead of bringing delegate support to the front-runner, Peckford suggested that Joe should drop off the ballot in favour of Crosbie, "to stop Mulroney."

Maureen's immediate reaction (with a boom mike over her head) was to ask Doug Bassett to..."Get this stupid bastard out of here!" Of course the final outcome was that Crosbie "released his people"--Mulroney became PC party leader and went on to become prime minister.

McTeer is such a good story-teller that she allows us to experience vicariously the tension and atmosphere of these Machiavellian political confrontations. One astute observation: "It is hard to explain to people without political experience, just how high or low one can feel after an election. Winning erases all fatigue, while losing unleashes a wave of exhaustion and depression that is hard to master."

Maureen not only went through these experiences with Joe, she herself ran and lost in 1988. Clark and McTeer were the first couple to run for Parliament at the same time. Joe won against Preston Manning in Yellowhead, but in Maureen's riding (Carleton-Gloucester), feelings ran high against Mulroney's free trade initiatives and the infamous GST. McTeer (a devout Catholic) met vicious opposition for her very public views on abortion. Though she opposed abortion personally, Maureen felt that the decision to terminate a pregnancy must be taken by the pregnant woman herself, and not by the state.

All in all, by the time Maureen and Joe had been married for 10 years, she had borne a child, graduated as a lawyer, lived at Stornoway, moved on to 26 Sussex Drive as the youngest-ever prime minister's wife, and back to Stornoway. She had also written a best-selling book on the three official "Residences, Homes of Canada's Leaders." Not bad for a 31-year-old!

Through the years, there were plenty of folks who delighted in telling Maureen what she couldn't or shouldn't do. There was a delegation of political wives telling her not to keep her maiden name and a law professor who informed her firmly that she could be a lawyer or a mother, but she could not be both! Even her beloved father shocked the young hockey-playing Maureen by bringing it to her attention that "girls don't play in the NHL."

Support sometimes came from the most memorable sources. Representing Joe as Canada's "First Lady" at a luncheon for the Queen Mother in Halifax, Maureen was not only the sole Tory at the table, but the youngest (by a quarter of a century). The other ladies didn't even bother to hide their animosity. Later, as the Queen Mum walked to her limousine, she took Maureen's arm and said, "I always tell my grandchildren that they must be themselves and do what they believe best in life. Don't be bothered by criticism." Then she twinkled, "Good luck...Ms. McTeer!"

Joe was very generous in defeat. He seriously advised his supporters to help Brian Mulroney, thus avoiding the bitter divisiveness that followed the Diefenbaker ouster. In turn, Brian recruited Joe to his cabinet as secretary for external affairs, a post he held with distinction for the next 10 years.

As Canada's foreign minister, Joe and Maureen travelled extensively, often taking their little Catherine along. Catherine played happily with children of all cultures and developed into the poised, compassionate young woman who helped her father in the last election.

Maureen is a very evocative travel writer. This section of her memoir is particularly fascinating. Not only was she able to see at first hand Canadian tax dollars at work, but Maureen pragmatically at times took direct action to make a personal contribution.

In summing up her first 50 years, Maureen bluntly admits to political gaffes as well as accomplishments. There was, of course, Joe's totally unnecessary goal of raising the bar to 70 per cent of ballots to win the 1982 PC leadership convention, which led to his defeat. Before that, when Joe was unexpectedly elected Tory leader in 1976, he and his supporters totally underestimated the power of the Canadian media. In hindsight, Maureen maintains that they should have had a media plan and a professional press person to carry it out. The result was years of "Joe Who?" headlines and ridicule.

Nevertheless, McTeer philosophizes that "Life is not a popularity contest, but a puzzle and a maze." She wishes to be remembered as having left her own mark on the paths she has travelled and the people she has touched.

This book will certainly help in that regard. "In My Own Name" is a warm, witty and moving testimony of Maureen McTeer's personal journey.