I was thirteen years old and being turned into an old woman when I met Denis McGrath. He had graduated from our school and now studied film and television, which was a big deal to me as a Nifty Niner. Denis helped us put on a production of Frankenstein, when I played Frau Frankenstein, mother to the deranged doctor-scientist. To my Niner brain, he was “the real deal.”
A few years later, when Denis worked with the newly minted Space channel, I cheered like a long-lost, forgotten distant cousin many times removed. McGrath’s closest friends were the high school seniors who mentored me in my early years as a drama student, among them the very talented actor and writer Mark Ellis (Flashpoint, X Company).
In time, as I moved into science and nursing studies, I buried my dreams of working in the entertainment industry, as an actress or writer. Time (or other things) prevented me from doing both. And, although I held Denis and Mark in esteemed respect, my life distanced itself from my early heroes.
This was, of course, before the age of social media and all of us being up in each other’s faces.
How appropriate, then, that I met Denis again when I was in my forties, re-claiming my creative career when we were panelists at Ad Astra.
He didn’t judge me for being starry-eyed over the tiniest sliver to one of my favourite moments in my personal history right there in front of me.
I had looked up to Denis in my early teens as an example of “that’s what I want to do with my life,” yet he didn’t treat me like a failure because I strayed from that path. If anything, he encouraged me to continue. Denis, award-winning and Gemini/Canadian Screen Awards nominated Denis, chatted to me like a peer and welcomed a visit of the man in action at work.
Then I let my self-consciousness and doubt get in the way. I thought I didn’t belong in the company a successful person I barely knew, to whom my connection was tenuous at best.
Now, I am the worse off for it, for Denis McGrath died yesterday.
Are people who are the inspirations of our youth allowed to die?
I am so sad for his family, his friends, and those who knew him as a teacher, an advocate for Canadian television and writers, and a shit-disturber with integrity. May the many whose lives he touched find comfort in their shared memories of happy times and well-earned successes.