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Catherine Miller passed away this week. She was special in many ways -- as an artist and crafter, a mother, an activist, a traveling companion, and a friend.
I really got to know Catherine in 2009 when I lived in Charlottetown and held a term position at the University of PEI.
I spent many nights at her place learning to knit, sharing food and stories or conversing with her lifelong partner, Peter Rukavina.
During this time, Catherine was still reading and sometimes struggling to read (because of her dyslexia) stories to Oliver, her son.
Oliver is insightful in ways perhaps only an autistic child might be.
For example, one cold November evening, while reading Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax, Oliver said to Catherine that this is the book Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be reading because he was going to the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen in mid-December and the Lorax would help him understand the importance of caring for the environment.
The Lorax is an imaginary character who “speaks for the trees” when it seems no one else cares.
Catherine agreed with Oliver and decided that she would send Harper and his environment minister copies of the Lorax.
In typical Catherine-style, she added her own colourful spin to the effort – that is, she collected signatures so that Harper would understand climate issues were of concern to many people on the Island and for those who still didn’t understand the issues, well at least Catherine made them aware of the Lorax.
She collected signatures by plunking herself on a chair in various public locations and reading the Lorax.
When she ran out of space for signatures on the book cover, she collected the signatures in a lined notebook.
She started on George Street in front of Timothy’s. Then, I joined her to collect signatures in front of the library at UPEI, at the mall, and finally, with the help of Leo Cheverie, we read the Lorax at Baba’s Lounge during an Open Mic one stormy night.
She mailed the books and signatures shortly thereafter.
The fires in Australia, the snowstorms in Newfoundland, the floods in Indonesia are a reminder to us all that climate emergencies are with us.
The Lorax is calling and so too is the spirit of Catherine Miller.
Catherine's love of life and living will be sadly missed but fondly recalled.
In the words of her obituary published in the Guardian, “In Catherine's memory, make a donation to Stars for Life Foundation for Autism. Then follow her example to forge a more colourful, just and peaceful world. “
Cindy Hanson is a friend and professor living in Saskatchewan. She regularly visits PEI.