Martha’s Mom Had It Going On…

Barbara Stewart reflects on a super role model with lasting impact.

Living

Barbara Stewart
September 5, 2013

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  • Daintry Robinson (no relation to our own Mrs R!) didn’t mind me hanging around her house – despite the fact that she was raising seven kids.  In my teens I spent a lot of my time at their Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home in suburban Ottawa. It had walls that didn’t quite touch the ceilings.  Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell pervaded every room. I grew up in a traditional (and patriarchal) ‘millionaire’s family’ – a boy and a girl. While my parents provided some formal instruction about money, I now realize, decades later, that my friend Martha’s mom had a subtle but more profound effect on my financial values. What did she teach me, not directly in one-on-one conversation, but just through my observing her? She worked hard. The family air-conditioning business thrived, and Daintry ran the place. She did her job well and it was obvious that the company made a lot of money.  It was Daintry who made sure that JC Robinson & Sons won the yearly trip offered by their major supplier. She played hard. I remember the excitement when she and her husband would get all dressed up to fly first class to one exotic destination or another: it all seemed so romantic to me. They also had a nightly ritual at home - they would take the time to relax and talk together with their martinis before dinner. She was generous with her time and money. For each of her children’s birthdays, she would spend the day with them on a shopping expedition. I still remember a stunning purple dress that I would borrow from Martha as often as possible. She was free spirited and open minded. I once thought I’d sneak in their house at 5am after a summer night at the “Disco Viva” in Hull. I did not expect to see Daintry outside doing her gardening at that hour! She didn’t miss a beat and just opened the door for me. She was informed. On weekends, CBC radio was a constant accompaniment to Daintry’s housework and cooking.  She was an avid reader of the New Yorker magazine as well as newspapers, particularly current events. She was interested in ‘women’s issues’. I was aware that the term ‘women’s lib’ was mostly used in a condescending or threatened tone at that time, so I was intrigued by the monthly Book Clubs that Daintry hosted. Then I found copies of “Lives of Girls and Women” by Alice Munro and “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French, and I stayed up reading all night. She was fiercely independent.  She ran a successful business, and a warm and wonderful home, but was devoted to keeping herself sane and happy. She made time for her own daily walks and her garden, no matter what the weather. Walking became more difficult for one health reason or another, but at 92 Daintry was still out and about, with her walker and a big smile on her face.