HNATYSHYN email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2006-12-23 published
Mary DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY, Civil Servant (1943-2006)
Known as the voice of Rideau Hall, she served five governors-general and set exactly the right tone at ceremonies and investitures. 'People stood a little straighter when she walked into a room.'
By Buzz BOURDON, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S9
Ottawa -- When Mary DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY retired from Rideau Hall, after 18 years of working for five successive governors-general, Governor-General Michäelle JEAN asked her to reconsider and stay on. Her experience and knowledge were just too valuable to lose.
Working as the director of honours in the Office of the Secretary to the Governor-General from 1995 to 2006, Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY held a key position in the Chancellery of Honours. Leading a team of 28 people, she was responsible for administering the nomination and selection process for 30 honours and awards.
Each year, hundreds of Canadians receive honours and awards from the governor-general, who is the personal representative of the Queen. While the sovereign rarely presents honours in person to her Canadian subjects, "The Crown [remains] the fount of all honour," wrote Christopher McCreery in his 2005 book The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development.
Established in 1972, five years after the Order of Canada was introduced, the honours system includes the Victoria Cross, the Cross of Valour, the Star of Courage and the Medal of Bravery. Over the past 15 years, Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY played a key role in creating many new decorations and orders, including the General Campaign Star and the General Service Medal.
But she was best known for her very public role as master of ceremonies during investitures held in the gold-and-white ballroom at Rideau Hall. Presided over by the governor-general of the day -- Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY worked for Jeanne SAUVÉ, Ray HNATYSHYN, Roméo LEBLANC, Adrienne CLARKSON and Ms. JEAN -- her job was to read, with suitable aplomb, the names and citations of each recipient as they walked forward to accept their award.
Officiating at about 20 investitures per year, the modest and unassuming Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY quickly became known as "the voice of Rideau Hall." Standing at her podium to the right of the governor-general, her clear, precise and elegant tones in both official languages -- she was perfectly bilingual -- lent an air of dignity and solemnity to the event.
"On occasion, she was also the voice of Canada. She emceed the ceremony held on Parliament Hill as a tribute to all those affected by the terrorist attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001," said her deputy, Danielle DOUGALL. " She was often recognized in public and people would say, 'you're the elegant lady on television.' People stood a little straighter when she walked into a room. Her whole demeanour spoke volumes."
But Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY never took anything for granted, Mrs. DOUGALL said. "She was very professional. She'd rehearse before the ceremony. You have to know where to pause, where to be emotional. If it got emotionally stressful [for her] she'd just concentrate on reading the words, and not the story behind the words. She was a very caring and compassionate person. She was everything to me. We were best Friends and soulmates for 10 years."
Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY was also good at making people feel welcome in Rideau Hall, helping to dispense hospitality at about 200 events per year. She met hundreds of celebrities, athletes, business moguls, politicians and foreign heads of state and government, but she never failed to connect with ordinary people, Mrs. DOUGALL said.
"I remember one shy 10-year-old who had just received a Medal of Bravery. With her usual magic touch, Mary went to him and I saw them leave the ballroom together. When they returned shortly after, the child was holding a plate [of food]. Lunch was running late and he was hungry."
She understood that Rideau Hall's formality could be intimidating, "particularly [to] recipients of bravery awards and their families who sometimes came from remote parts of Canada," Mrs. DOUGALL said. "Some of them had never left their community, let alone travelled by plane to the nation's capital. When Mary noticed people looking a little lost or anxious, she immediately went over and reassured them."
Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY also rubbed elbows with such celebrities as Nelson Mandela and Wayne Gretzky, yet never acquired airs, said her daughter, Kimberly. "She was extremely modest and humble about what she did. She didn't boast or brag about it even though she met some very famous people. It never went to her head."
What seemed to affect her was meeting people who had committed acts of bravery, said her husband, Keith. "She'd come back in the evening and talk about what people had done to get their award. She was really touched by their feats of bravery and service to the community -- the qualities and dedication of ordinary Canadians."
Kimberly DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY only once saw her mother on the job. In 2003, she went along to a military investiture at Quebec City's Citadel, an imposing structure that is sometimes called the second viceregal home. "It was a moving [and] emotional ceremony and it was wonderful to see her in action," Ms. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY said. "She had a presence about her in both her personal and work life. People were really drawn to her."
Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY grew up in Ottawa. A clever youngster, she was admitted to the University of Ottawa at the precocious age of 16. After teaching French and English to Grades 3 to 9 in Ottawa and Fort William, now Thunder Bay, she worked as a writer, producer and on-camera presenter for educational television programs for the Ottawa Board of Education.
Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY was also something of an actress, appearing in Ottawa Little Theatre productions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1972, she took the role of Betty in Paddy Chayevsky's play Middle of the Night. Playing the part of a girl who falls for an older man, she soon fell for her leading man, her future husband Keith. They married two years later.
"She blew me away. I thought she was the beginning and the end sexy and smart," said Mr. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY. He swept her off to Washington, where he worked as a diplomat at the Canadian embassy. After they returned home to Ottawa, she spent from 1974 to 1976 as the office manager of The Globe and Mail.
In 1988, everything changed. Rideau Hall hired Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY as director of information services and was given the job of increasing public awareness of the governor-general's role and responsibilities. "She was absolutely dedicated to the office of the governor-general and its role," Mr. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY said. "She would have been happier if the role was better understood."
Over the years, Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY got her share of awards, too. In 1992, she received the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal, and 10 years later was given the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. This year, she was awarded centennial medals by the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
During Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY's final 15 months at Rideau Hall, she served as acting deputy secretary of the Chancellery of Honours, with responsibility for policy advice and the administration of honours and heraldry.
Earlier this year, Ms. JEAN learned that Mrs. DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY's decision to retire was final and decided to honour her with a farewell reception in Rideau Hall's historic Tent Room on June 30. "Mary, herself, is irreplaceable," she told about 60 guests.
Mary Kathleen DE BELLEFEUILLE- PERCY was born on January 28, 1943, in Ottawa. She died there of a heart attack on November 7, 2006. She was 63. She leaves her husband Keith, daughter Kimberly, son Kristian, brothers Terry and Pat. She was predeceased by her brother Mike.
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