Author Tags: Biography

Author of:

Mackenzie King: Friends and Lovers (Trafford, 2005). A self-published study of William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950), Canada's longest serving Prime Minister.

Agnes; The Biography of Lady Macdonald (Toronto: Samuel Stevens, 1979). A study of the wife of Sir John A. Macdonald.

[BCBW 2005] "Biography"

Mackenzie King: Friends & Lovers (2005)
Press Release

COMOX, August, 26, 2005 -- An Ottawa writer now living in British Columbia is offering a new and different response to a question that has vexed Canadian political historians for more than half a century: what kind of a man was William Lyon Mackenzie King?

Since his death in 1950, Canada's longest serving prime minister has been placed under the biographical microscope several times. First his political career was thoroughly parsed, pro and con, by academics and senior journalists.

Then, in 1976 his private diaries were released, detailing his sessions at the ouija board -- the "little table" as King called it -- and hinting of passions he sometimes struggled vainly to subdue. A new round of King biographies ensued, holding him up as a some kind of left-over Victorian Age hypocrite, or subjecting him to heavy-handed psychoanalysis.

Now author Louise Reynolds has posed a different question: "But what of King the man?" That question forms the first line of her new book, MACKENZIE KING: FRIENDS & LOVERS (Trafford, Victoria, ISBN 1-41205985-2). She goes on to answer it by revealing "the man" through the lifelong bachelor's personal correspondence and through the diary entries in which he debated with himself how to deal with:

his first great love, a German-American nurse whom his family forced him to abandon but with whom he later reestablished a connection that was to last until his death;

the loss of his youthful best friend, who drowned trying to rescue a young woman who had fallen through the ice during a skating party on the Ottawa River;

his years-long relationship with a Presbyterian minister's wife who later went mad, and a similar connection with a married woman who was his regular companion for thirty years;

his friendship with John D. Rockefeller Jr., the American tycoon in whom King was surprised to find a philosophical soul mate;

plus a succession of Governors General and their ladies and daughters, some of whom found him a pleasant companion while others spat poison about him in correspondence to their aristocratic friends.

And there is more besides, much of it revealed in King's own words, with more still arising from Louise Reynolds's judicious analysis, and all serving to throw new illumination on one of the most complex personalities ever to take centre stage in Canadian political life.

Mrs. Reynolds was well placed to undertake the years of research that stand behind her meticulous selection of material from the King archives. She enjoyed a longstanding connection to the Ottawa "establishment" through her marriage to Ralph Edward Reynolds, a career foreign service officer who served in several European posts before being named Ambassador to Ethiopia and later to Central America..

After the publication by Samuel Stevens (Toronto, 1979), of her life of Sir John A. Macdonald's wife, Agnes; the Biography of Lady Macdonald, she was asked by the External Affairs department to research and write a series of papers on the role of women in the Canadian foreign service. Her work became part of a general history of the service.

While engaged in research for that assignment, one afternoon in the early 1980s, she found herself in the company of Charles Ritchie, Gordon Robertson and other senior Ottawa mandarins who had been among King's close advisors. The men began to trade anecdotes about their former boss, and Mrs. Reynolds soon decided that there was more to King than the political biographies had covered.

There followed years of painstaking sifting through the voluminous King archives to isolate the elements of his life that previous biographers, motivated by political interests or sensationalist appetites, had bypassed. The book became a labour of love that Louise Reynolds worked on more than a decade, trimming and refining until she had a slim volume that captured the essence of "King, the man."

"The popular image of King is that he was a lonely man, with no close friends," she said. "His letters and diaries prove just the opposite. He cared very deeply about the few intimate friends he made in his life, and in return was cared for just as deeply by them."

She hopes that her work will throw a new and warmer light on King's memory, so that he will be seen not as a Victorian caricature or a cold-fish politician, but as a man in full, capable of both great passion and profound grief, as well as all the small intimacies on which lasting friendships are built.