R.I.P. Ida Plaskett

Back in grade 10 English, I submitted a haiku to my teacher, Mrs. Plaskett:

Dear Mrs Plaskett
O give me a good mark, please
Now, or I’ll kill you

Ida Plaskett was a sweet old lady who came across as prim and proper, but who really was a kind and accepting soul. She accepted the poem in its humourous intent and gave me a good mark. So I didn’t have to kill her.

Mrs Plaskett really took an interest in her students, particularly in those of us drawn to language. She would use the word “gay” in its original meaning (e.g., “that’s a very gay shirt you’re wearing”) without fear of being misunderstood. She once gave me the highest compliment of my teen years when she announced to the class that, “if anyone submits high level, professional quality writing I will suspect you of plagiarizing…. Except for Ray, of course.”

Then she complimented me again. When she retired she initiated the Ida Plaskett Award for excellence in writing. I and another student, Chris Theiss, were its inaugural winners. It still hangs proudly in my old bedroom in my parents’ house:


Upon her retirement, I gave her a copy of Beowulf and on the inside cover wrote for her an embarrassingly pretentious sonnet.

We stayed in touch over the years. I sent her copies of my first book and told her she should take some credit for my literary achievements. I saw her once for lunch after her husband had died. That was many years ago.

Today I received news of the passing of Ida Plaskett. She lived a long, full life of 88 years, so it’s not a tragic death. But the sad part is learning that she outlived her husband and her two sons. Such a sweet and generous woman deserved a better outcome, I think.

Her obituary:

PLASKETT, Ida (nee Walsh) – Died peacefully at Toronto on Sunday, September 20, 2009 at the age of 88. Beloved wife of the late Reverend Charles R. Plaskett. Loved mother of the late Ralph Plaskett and the late John Plaskett. Survived by her daughter-in-law Sharon, grandchildren Bruce (Laura) and Scott (Catherine) Plaskett, great-grandchildren Nathan, Abby, Devon and Skylar and sisters-in-law Margaret (Walter MacDonald), Phyllis Ritchie, Sally Plaskett, Gwen Plaskett and their families. The family will receive friends at the HUMPHREY FUNERAL HOME — A.W. MILES CHAPEL, 1403 Bayview Avenue (south of Davisville Avenue) from 3-5 p.m. on Sunday, September 27, with a small Memorial Service at 3:45 p.m. Donations in lieu of flowers, may be directed to Northern Secondary School Foundation c/o Ida Plaskett Award, 851 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto M4P 2L5. Condolences and memories may be forwarded through www.humphreymiles.com

UPDATE: (Dec 29, 2015); I recently found the letter, handwritten by Mrs Plaskett herself, that I was to receive the inaugural Ida Plaskett English award. I will never forget the deeply caring and generous Ida Plaskett: