When I heard Maggie Negodaeff died today, I immediately went to the Internet looking for a photo.
I didn’t see one. There was only a brief mention of Maggie; it was in a bibliography. How strange, I thought — a woman who had lived that large, yet had no presence on the Web.
In brief: Margaret Negadaeff was an Ottawa writer and bon vivant, who once got a grant to go to China to write a book about a famous Canadian female doctor. She went to China, had a great time, then wrote the book, eventually.
Many people may not be aware, but Maggie is the voice of Queen Victoria in the Parliament Hill Sound and Light Show and had a radio show about gardening. In her latter years, Maggie made a small but wildly adventurous living as a travel writer.
That’s all I know about Maggie’s career; I’m sure I’ll learn more in the coming days.
But here is how I’d like to remember her.
Maggie was a fixture at the National Press Club bar for what seems like forever. She was always there about mid-afternoon doing the following: singing, laughing, joking, dancing, chiding, flirting, insulting, cajoling and infuriating anyone within earshot.
The mood varied, depending on the day.
I first met Maggie in the early 80s, when the late great news man David Vienneau pleaded with me, and Joe O’Donnell to come check out a chick at Christopher’s Pub, a woman with whom David was clearly mesmerized. There she was, a modern-day Liza Minnelli, a real beauty with long black shiny hair and a cigarettes and Scotch voice. If Leonard Cohen hadda met her, she woulda knocked him dead.
Maggie was captivating back then.
Soon Maggie became a Press Club regular who inexplicably morphed into Gloria Swanson, with strange hats and scarves. She answered every question with a word: “Quite.”
She hung out with larcenous folk, including her first husband, a Hungarian rounder, and charmed the old guys at the bar. The rest of us lived in fear and awe of her because behind the sly smile was a rapier tongue that could turn an ego into chopped liver. She was sometimes hard to love, our Maggie, but she was also hard to ignore. If she had been in Hollywood, where she really belonged, Maggie would have been Louella Parsons or Hedda Hopper. One didn’t dare to turn down an invitation to her famous Christmas bashes, with the two bottle rule — a cheap bottle for you, a dear bottle for her — or her clothing exchanges where Maggie managed to pick out all the best outfits before the troops arrived.
She was crafty, mischievous and fun-loving, and always gave the best parties.
About ten years ago, give one or two, Maggie was given the news that she was dying of cirrhosis of the liver. She was told to put her affairs in order, and ready herself for the long goodbye. Maggie took this news with uncanny optimism; she threw herself a wake and gave away all her furniture. She treated her impending death with the dramatic flare of Blanche DuBois, her eye always on the spotlight.
Then came the news that the doctors had it wrong; she wasn’t dying after all. To a different person, this might have been cause for celebration. Not Maggie, who dove into a deep depression and booked herself into a psychiatrist.
I always joked with Maggie that the doctors didn’t get it wrong; she was actually undead. She laughed at that one.
I saw Maggie a few times after she was brought back from the dead. She was a nicer, sweeter person. I shared a few glasses of wine with her and we mended fences once and for all. I realized that Maggie was complicated, under it all. She had her demons and she wasn’t afraid to dance with them.
She might actually have had the devil by her flat once or twice. If she did, he never had a chance.
She put her lips to the world, as they say.
I heard today that Maggie left her body to science.
Goodnight, miss. Your persona still shines bright, like the silent film star you should have been.