Eulogy for a friend - Linda Crane
Linda Ruth (Crane) Williams
September 17,1952 - February 13, 2021
Stephen Weir here, I am writing to you today (September 17, 2021) from Toronto. In my heart of hearts I wish I could be there with all you to celebrate the life of Linda Williams but I unfortunately can’t.
Although my soul says go, my body doesn’t agree. I am currently receiving Chemotherapy at home and in Sunnybrook Hospital. I know Linda, my friend, my confidante, my associate, my employer and sometimes my employee, would forgive my absence.
And while Linda would be the first to tell me to just get better and not worry about her, I know that she is also wagging a cosmic finger at me and reminding me of that old adage we both adhered to – The show must go on.
And if Linda were alive at today’s tribute it would indeed be a show planned with military precision. Alphabetical guest lists. Parking information. Canapé’s. Drinks. Nothing would be left to chance. Somehow I am sure she would also make sure it didn’t rain today, at least not during the speeches.
Linda and I go way way back. It was the late 90s I was working at what seemed like a 100 different gigs. I was writing copy for Macleans, ghost writing a book for an Iran businessman under the watchful eye of the local Imam and taking contracts from a Freelance agency. I had come off a job writing letters for Petro Canada to gas station owners in Alberta telling them they were losing their franchises. It was a 4-hanky letter
I got a call from Bev Gray, the owner of Freelancer Unlimited and asked if I would take an assignment at the Home Show working with Crane Communications. I said yes immediately, but like a lot of jobs Linda took on there was a twist. A local building union was working with Habitat For Humanity and the Home Show to construct a home for a worthy hardworking family inside the Better Living Centre down on the CNE grounds. The home was also doubling as the Toronto Star Dream Home, and it came with every bell and whistle you can imagine including a multi-domination prayer room off the Dining Room. Had the latest in plumbing fixtures, however as the couple that snuck in one night for a sleepover found out, those pipes weren’t connected!
Linda’s task was to promote the good work the Union and Habitat For Humanity were doing for the working poor, and of course shows off this truly luxurious Dream Home and promote the Home Show. We had to do this without mentioning the house would be torn down and the components put into storage because Habitat had not secured a building lot, and the volunteer labour that put it up wasn’t going to be around to reinstall it once a lot was found! (To this day I don’t know if the home was ever rebuilt).
Linda got the job done by compartmentalizing the story and making sure the message fit the specific needs of different news teams that came through the house – crews that were there to talk about Habitat got a different briefing than those wanting to talk luxury.
We hit it off during that show. Her strengths covered my weaknesses, and my insider track on the media helped open doors. We bought Bev out so Linda would not have to pay Freelancers Unlimited every time she called me.
Oh the jobs rolled in, many of them were quirky and newsworthy. Bob Denver (Gilligan Isles) lived in a tree house at a tradeshow and Linda would bring him down for interviews. I returned the favour a few years later by taking a picture of Maryanne (from Gilligan’s Isle) on the stern of a big white cruiser at the Boat Show for a fishing magazine. Linda and I toured fading stars from studio to studio – Rocket Richard (or was it the Pocket Rocket?) rechargeable batteries, Richard Karn (Home Repair) promoting a hardware chain, and we will never forget putting Rebecca Carlton (Baywatch) in a brand new boat down at Cherry Beach for Breakfast TV. Who knew she’d never driven a boat. Who knew driving a boat full throttle onto the beach does wonders for the paint job.
Yes there was a bit of sizzle in some of our assignments. I had to oversee a photo shoot with Asian photographers of two Playboy bunnies lying on a Playboy logo’d cigarette boat. Linda wanted me make sure none of the models’ naughty bits popped out of their swimsuits during the shoot – good thing she sent me. And Stew, our coworker at the boat show was surprised by Linda and asked to take a TV news crew through a few of the boats. Off he went with a cameraman and reporter, and an hour later when he came back, he was blushing beet red. Turned out the news announcer was from Naked News and did a striptease in front of the boats. Linda got a real laugh.
She was an innovator, since we were not members of the PR society Crane Communications never got its due. No biggie but Linda found more ways to honestly and ethically promote an event than all of the big agencies combined.
Linda and I kept it fresh by going our separate ways between gigs. We did stay in touch though and over the years we shared wedding parties, patio shindigs and a few of Rick’s milestone birthdays whenever we could.
Her family was a big part of her life and I got to meet everyone. There was the time I borrowed her father’s dress cutlass so that the head of the LCBO could cut off the necks of 10 champagne bottles live on Canada AM. He had only one shot at it, made for great TV and post show Mimosas.
At one point I was writing and producing a 13-part series on airplanes. 24 hours before it went to air in the US we had no intro-music. Dean Williams to the rescue. Unfortunately neither of us got paid, but his music was heard on 113 different TV stations around the world!
I never got her to come to my Caribana parade, I guess because cottage was sacred for Linda and Rick during the summer. But she did love to help with an annual book prize. She hobnobbed with Margaret Atwood, Tom King, Tanya Talaga and dozens more of Canada’s top nonfiction authors.
Even after we stopped working together we stayed in touch. At first daily, by the start of this year it was a 2-hour marathon ever 3 or 4 weeks. We talked a few weeks before she passed. At that point Linda knew she had some serious health issues.
We didn’t talk much about it, instead Linda wanted to talk about some of the fun things we had done in the past – and believe me – working together was a hoot of epic proportions. She pointed two incidents that she swore she’d never forget.
Linda loved remembering a visit to the Home Show by Robin Leach, of Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams fame.
Leach was at the show for a Crane publicity stunt – he married two Home Hardware employees with their dog in a gazebo next to the dream home. It was a noon hour event, tacky beyond belief, but the press ate it up and the client was happy.
After the wedding I got a call from a friend at a late night TV talk show that wanted to get Robin on the show at midnight. Linda talked to the star and he readily agreed. He did request several bottles of champagne and retired to his dressing room with two young women.
When I came to get him he was plastered. The young models were nowhere to be seen. We did a Timmy run before entering the TV studio, I thought I had sobered him up, but that was not the case.
He was taken into a dressing room used by Erica Ehm so that he could spruce up. 1 minute to airtime he sashayed out wearing Erica’s blouse and skirt, one of her wigs and a pound of lipstick and blush. He proceeded to tell the host, John Oakley, the rudest Michael Jackson jokes I have heard. Linda, watching at home, said the first 5 minutes were a series of censor bleeps. At commercial break I reminded Leach to plug the home show and I got him back to his hotel without further incident.
Linda was mortified, but by morning the reviews were in and the Family Channel proclaimed it was Oakley’s finest hour! The client didn’t stay up and watch but did get the positive vibe from people coming to the show next day looking for champagne kisses.
Linda’s second favourite story revolved around a bottle of 1912 Piper Heidsicke – the Titanic vintage - that Linda and I bought for $2,000 from a group of salvage divers that I knew in Finland. They had discovered a cargo ship on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The Kyros was filled with champagne and liquors and was bound for the tables of the czar of Russia himself, Nicholas II.
A torpedo sank the ship in 1917 and the cargo stayed cradled in the wreck in near freezing water toll the 1990s – the champagne was deemed drinkable!
Linda talked to the Sick Kid’s Hospital and the bottle was offered for a charity auction at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show. We spent two weeks prior to the auction parading the Titanic vintage champagne through the newsrooms of Toronto. We had two burly securities guarding the bottle.
We had done our job well; the room was packed with buyers and the media. It didn’t take long for the bottle to be snapped up. As I remember, a nephew of Lord Thomson of Fleet had bought it. He opened it immediately. Took a big sip and turned to Linda and said – that “ tastes rather good! Why don’t you finish it for me."
Linda, always prepared, pulled two flutes out of her media kit. She filled the glasses, we looked each other, clinked glasses and drank. Linda smiled and said to me, it will never get as good as tonight!
Amen my sister, Amen.