Of all the things Gretta Chambers was known for, there’s one thing it seems many people will remember most.
“Openness, opinionated but in a very suave way,” explained Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée, ” and building bridges.”
That was a consistent sentiment expressed at her funeral at the Saint-Léon-de-Westmount Church on Saturday — one week after she died following treatment for a heart condition at the age of 90.
Chambers was a noted journalist and commentator who contributed to various media outlets including the CBC and the Montreal Gazette.
And she was a trailblazer — becoming McGill University’s first female chancellor, a post she held from 1991 to 1999.
But it was her family background that put her in a position to forge what might be her biggest legacy: providing a voice of reason in the tensions between Quebec’s French and English solitudes.
According to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, “she was able to speak to both sides of the political debate here in Quebec — both sides of the language spectrum.”
The daughter of a French-speaking mother and English-speaking father, she was often able to help connect fractures between the two sides.
Lisée pointed out that “she helped understanding on both sides of this debate. She explained francophones to anglophones, anglophones to francophones.”
And she did it with class and optimism, according to former Prime Minister Joe Clark.
“No matter how dire the circumstances, Gretta could find a positive dimension to it. And that wasn’t a trick. That was the way she was. She was a formidable woman.”
She was awarded for her contributions, and was named a Member of the Order of Canada, a Companion of the Order of Canada, and named an Officer of the Ordre National du Québec.
Her brother, philosopher Charles Taylor, said she also played a huge role in his life and that of her family.
“She’ll always be this extraordinary figure who was everybody’s mother, grandmother, matriarch. My children are still, you know, crying.”