I met Pat Lawson in 1992. She was attending the Ontario Hydro Demand Supply Plan hearings in downtown Toronto. She was alone and asked if I might be able to help her prepare for her legal submissions.
Pat, as I was to learn many times over, needed no help in preparing her submissions. What she needed was for more people to listen to her.
When her name was called, Pat walked from the back of the hearing room, past all the lawyers and company experts and government representatives to the speaker's table before the judges. She told a story about her hometown: Port Hope. The story of nuclear waste involved secrecy, cover-ups, health impacts, corporate control and government negligence. It shocked me. It also inspired me to work with Pat whenever I had the opportunity. She lit a fire in me that day that still burns.
When I heard that Pat Lawson left us yesterday, my thoughts immediately went to her amazing husband Tom, her kids, her family and her friends. And then I thought of the loss to the present and future environmental leaders.
Pat was a mentor to so many social justice advocates. Her energy, her optimism and her love were an inspiration. She made us soup and tea when we visited. She always attended hearings and meetings to thank us when we showed up to support Port Hope.
Pat's life-long fight was for her community. She believed in the beauty and majesty of the Port Hope where she grew up: Lake Ontario, where she played on the beaches; the Ganaraska River, where she floated through town.
She also took a principled stand against Canada's pernicious nuclear industry, which had contaminated her town by dumping radioactive waste in the soil, on the beaches, in the river. She questioned federal environment officials who opened an office in town, then downplayed the risks and impact on residents. She criticized provincial representatives, who turned a blind eye to water pollution and local government officials who favoured the status quo over real growth and progress.
To this day, Port Hope's future remains uncertain. The Cameco plant is long past its best-before date. In 1976, government discovered the extent of contamination in the region and promised to relocate. They promised to move the plant and clean up the waste. Forty years later, that promise remains unfulfilled. The facility continues to make fuel for all CANDU-fuelled nuclear plants and is looking for another license extension.
In 2001, the federal government promised 220-million to clean up the radioactive waste in the Port Hope area. The price-tag for the cleanup jumped by another $1-billion. The cleanup happening today is the largest in Canadian history.
One thing is for certain: if Port Hope prospers, it is because of Pat Lawson and her friends and family. They had the courage to expect more, and demand more, even when it wasn’t comfortable or safe or popular.
We - and the lake - will miss her deeply.
Pat Lawson's Memorial Service:
There will be a celebration of the life of Patricia Mary Rose Lawson
(nee Ketchum) on Sunday, October 2nd @ 3 pm
Trinity College School Chapel, Ward St., Port Hope
Reception following in the Davie's Centre at TCS
Bring tributes, stories, and poems.
There is lots of parking in the arena parking lot at the top of Ward Street
opposite the end of Deblaquire St.
Anyone who wishes to stay for potluck supper at Fairmount afterwards,
please bring a contribution.
All are welcome.