Oration | Address to Convocation
Born in St. John's and educated at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Mary Walsh has been bringing her particular bent on politics and current affairs to comedy fans since the award-winning CODCO troupe hit
the stage 20 years ago. During CODCO's years on CBC Television (1987-93), Ms. Walsh was honoured
with numerous Gemini Awards.
In the early 1970s, Ms. Walsh toured the Newfoundland and Labrador with the Newfoundland Travelling Theatre Company. In 1972 she was a member of the Mummers Troupe. While studying drama at Ryerson in 1973, Ms. Walsh was involved in the collective writing of Cod on a Stick, the first CODCO play, with Tommy Sexton, Cathy Jones, Dyan Olsen and Paul Sametz. The show's initial run was in the fall and winter of 1973-74 in Toronto, while in the spring the play toured Newfoundland.
Throughout her professional career as an writer, actor and director, Ms. Walsh has worked extensively with local artists at the Newfoundland's Resource Centre for the Arts. She has appeared in many films, television shows and stage productions. In 1992, she won the Best Supporting Actress award at the Atlantic Film Festival for her performance in Mike Jones' Secret Nation.
Among her characters on This Hour Has 22 Minutes are the flagrantly outspoken Marg Delahunty, redneck commentator Dakey Dunn and wacky Prairie correspondent Connie Bloor.
Beyond her work on the television series This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Ms. Walsh performed in a feature role in the mini-series Major Crime.
Ms. Walsh will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree.
Oration honouring Mary Cynthia Walsh
Shane O'Dea, public orator
Ray Guy, that most arch of Newfoundland tongues, once described this crew as Military Road Catholics — a generalization which, like all such generalizations, misses the mark. While her colleagues lived much above Military Road, Mary lived below — a badge she wears with some pride because it gave her that sense of Newfoundland's reality only achieved elsewhere by being the progeny of fishers. But it also allowed her to put her betters on a pedestal — a position which allows, as Mr. Oscar Wilde once told us, a view from beneath. And, since Military Road has become, of recent times, the road without the view, this has some merit. Such a berth gives Mary Walsh a place for her tongue to strike out, and lash with truth, the pretentiousness of class, or creed, or conviction.
But do not let this capacity to puncture pretence make you think she is some mindless harridan of the airwaves. You might quite honestly be led to this view by her characters like Mrs. Budgell of CODCO or Connie, the snot-filled Central Canadian crone from This Hour Has 22 Minutes. If, however, you look at the character of Marg Delahunty, that frightening revision of Xena, Warrior Princess, you will see that Mary Walsh is, in a way, far more subtle and far more learned in the depths of our history than we could ever know. In Marg Delahunty she has adopted the persona of a most influential 19th century Newfoundland figure of the same name. Margaret Delahunty was Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming's servant and would have been as close as any to the soul of the bishop, would almost certainly have attended to the episcopal unmentionables; but receives no mention in any of the great histories. She does, however, receive £20 in her master's will. The new Marg, like Mrs. Budgell or Daky Dunn, speaks most powerfully of Ms. Walsh's agenda of speaking for the marginalia, those people consigned by the power elites to burial in the footnotes of history: superscript tombstones in texts whose spines creak once and then bleach in sunlight on great shelves. These people are the public undergrowth, those who feed on the fishwhite underbelly of our society. To these Marg Delahunty gives voice as she claws open that foul gut, exposing its bile to the nation. Her rage ridiculous leaves behind, in the uncorrected pages of the mind, a thought which, time-sifted, laughingly moves us to change our view. We would not normally accuse a satirist of such ancient knowledge but we know her as a Newfoundlander for whom a knowledge of the lesser by-paths of history is but a way of life.
Mary Walsh is imagination lit by a sense of place. She was the one who, when CODCO dissolved following the loss of Tommy Sexton, developed the concept of This Hour. She was aware of the self-immolating quality of theatrical groups who, phoenix-like, burn bright for a time but then, as Gore Vidal puts it, “time stops and the fiery beast falls upon itself to begin again as dust-filled wind.” Creator as she is, out of that dust-filled wind she has shaped a show that makes Canadians proud of their sense of humour — even if it is not theirs. I present to you, Mr. Chancellor, for the degree of doctor of letters (honoris causa), that tamer of the powerful, shamer of the slick, Mary Cynthia Walsh.
Well, here we are, convocation 2000. I guess the theme of the honorary degrees could be Send in the Clowns. It seems fitting that yesterday the biggest clown in the country received his honorary degree. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who has provided Canadians with so little in the way of what he had promised to provide and so much in the way of disappointed laughter. And so it is with some deep humility that I, having provided only a smidgen, a tiny, tiny, teeny portion of the laughs that Mr. Chrétien has, that I stand here today with my esteemed colleagues, Cathy Jones, Andy Jones, Greg Malone, to all of whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude, stand here so bereft, so oddly stand here without Tommy Sexton, who was the man who kept us all together, stand here and accept this honour without Tommy.
And though I never technically attended Memorial University, I did drop acid in the Spanish Café somewhere around '68, '69. Well, actually, I was too chicken to take the acid but I acted as if I did. It was a pathetic ruse to try and get fellas back when I was a girl attending Hearty Hole of Mary Regional High School for Girls, as Tommy always called it. And I never did go on to stride the hallowed tunnels and pedways of MUN but I am proud to say that Memorial University has always played an enormous part of my professional life. When CODCO came home from Toronto in 1974 we didn't know where to turn when we were starting out. We were a province without much in the way of infrastructure or institutions let alone professional theatres, but we instinctively and quite rightly turned for help to Memorial Extension Services and Extension gave us a home where we worked and fought and wrote and fought and laughed and fought right up until that tragic day when Memorial Extension was no more. So to those people of Memorial Extension Services, visual and performing arts section, from Mina Hickey, to Jake Harris, to Patty Tremblay, to Edythe Goodrich, to Susan Jamesion and, of course, to Ray Cox and to all the other Memorial Extension workers, I would like to offer my profound gratitude for all the help that they gave.
And when I was going through that this morning, I thought, well what about all the people on the main campus. What of George Story, Helen Peters, Anne Hart, Bert Riggs, Gordon Inglis, Rex Clark. The campus is seething with talented, good, great and glorious people who've helped and encouraged me and us over the years. So, thank you.
I am bursting with pride to have received a degree from an institution that is so blessed with so many brilliantly talented people.
Honorary Degree Recipients: Spring Convocation 2000
Dr. Michel Chrétien
William Hubert Rompkey
John David Allison Widdowson
Craig Laurence Dobbin
Dr. Peter Francis Neary