McBURNEY email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2006-10-09 published
Virginia COOPER, Psychotherapist (1944-2006)
Gifted analyst who soothed the consciences of a cadre of Bay Street bankers, lawyers and executives was driven by resentment and haunted by guilt
By Alex DOBROTA, Page S9
Toronto -- The Toronto psychotherapist Virginia COOPER melded the adventurer and the poet within to tame the emotional torments of Bay Street. Working in an office filled with the scent of pink roses, she attracted Canada's top corporate brass. Investment bankers, lawyers and executive officials all fell under the spell of her soft-spoken ways.
But her success had come only at the end of a long and often unhappy quest.
Dr. COOPER's taste for adventure took her from an unhappy life as the manager of a family-owned fashion store in her native England, to the Mediterranean, as well as Africa and the Middle East. She wrote poetry and published a series of musings on the workings of the human mind. In later years, she designed theatre costumes for the Toronto Arts and Letters Club and sat on the board of directors of Tarragon Theatre.
Those who knew her appreciated her elegance in dress -- she preferred muted shades of brown and black -- and her knack for putting strangers at ease. She could relate to a teenager as easily as she could disarm the apprehensions of a jittery client. "She was always interested in people's behaviour," said John McKELLAR, a lawyer who became one of Doctor COOPER's closest Friends.
As a psychotherapist, she followed the Freudian method, spending long periods of time with her patients and weaving her practice around the themes of guilt and envy -- two forces that also shaped part of her own life.
Virginia COOPER grew up on the northern fringes of London in a small English town that happened to be home to MGM British Studios complex and to the Associated British Studios. It was there that 2001: A Space Odyssey, Indiana Jones and Star Wars were filmed.
The only child of a family of merchants, her parents owned two successful high-end clothing stores that also sold stage costumes. But during the 1960s, Virginia's father fell ill and lost his sight, forcing her to drop out of high school to help her mother at the store. While it was a twist of fate Doctor COOPER would resent for many years. She started out as a helper in one of the stores and, perhaps driven by bitterness, quickly took over the business from her mother.
"She always felt she was unsuited for business," said Doctor Yvonne VERBEETEN, a close friend.
She married a British man, but they were divorced within a year. During the 1970s, she began a relationship with a Syrian man. On a flight to Syria to see him, she sat next to her future husband, Kenneth OSWELL, then a Middle East regional partner at the accounting firm Touche Ross. The two chatted throughout the duration of the flight. "We were the last persons to leave the plane," Mr. OSWELL recalled.
They lost touch for several years only to meet again in London in 1976. They married the next year. By that time, Doctor COOPER had made up her mind to trade her small-town existence for a more exciting lifestyle at the side of a successful accountant who she would follow throughout the Middle East and much of Africa.
She sold the family business, her parents' only source of income, for £5,000, Mr. OSWELL said. At the time, the business had downsized to only one store that brought in profits of around £4,000.
Throughout the 1970s, Doctor COOPER discovered the joys of the Mediterranean from a base in Beirut where her husband was working. She often travelled to Athens to admire the classical monuments there and together the couple toured Africa extensively.
Dr. COOPER recorded her travel impressions in a series of poems that were published in Toronto in 1983 in a collection titled The River Within. One of her poems condemned apartheid in South Africa; another explored the Middle Eastern conflict through the theme of the 1976 assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon.
Amid growing unrest in the Middle East, Doctor COOPER and her husband departed for Canada in 1980, her conscience all the while troubled by having abandoned an elderly parent. "She felt guilty that she left her mother behind, and that she came here," Doctor VERBEETEN said.
It is not surprising that Doctor COOPER returned often to England, visits that multiplied during the late 1990s after her mother became seriously ill. Her death came after a protracted battle with stomach cancer, Doctor VERBEETEN added.
Mr. OSWELL had a different version of events. "She and her mother didn't get along that well," he said. "They had a long difference of opinions on many subjects."
By all accounts, Doctor COOPER never got over having to quit school and always wanted to pursue her education. In 1984, she followed her dream and enrolled at the University of Toronto.
In 1985, she was among the first group of women to be admitted to the Toronto Arts and Letters Club. The institution had been founded in 1908 as a men-only bastion and integration was daunting, recalled writer Margaret McBURNEY, who was part of the same group. "The majority had voted to have women in, but not everybody wanted us there so we treaded carefully," she said. For example, one particular man always sat a table nearest to the exit. "If a woman sat at his table, he could beat a hasty retreat."
Dr. COOPER weathered those tensions with characteristic grace. As a lover of books who enjoyed the works of Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson, she was an accomplished belletrist who could discuss the nuances of literature but who could also expound on the history of the First World War. "She just fit in quietly and nicely," Ms. McBURNEY said.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Doctor COOPER continued her pursuit of higher education and completed a masters degree and a doctorate in educational psychology. "She worked extremely hard," said Pat FAIRHEAD, a painter and friend. "She was intense&hellip She wanted it."
In the meantime, her marriage was disintegrating. She and Mr. OSWELL were divorced in 1990, around the same time she started her psychotherapy practice, and she channelled her energy into her work.
Her office mate described Doctor COOPER as a dedicated practitioner who went out of her way to accommodate the schedule of her clients. She never sought out the bankers and corporate officials that came to rely on her advice and care, Doctor Klaus WIEDERMANN said. They found her.
"Somebody who works with Bay Street bankers… has to be somebody who's not threatened," he said. "I think she was able to say, okay, these are [just] people.
"There were a lot of lawyers and bankers, but I think that had more to do with a circle of referrals. It means that she was able to work with people like that in ways that made them feel comfortable. She had the ability to make people feel very relaxed and welcome early on."
Dr. COOPER's work with a patient could span years as she attempted to uncover the intricacies of the mother-child relationship and how that affected the person's existence. This involved drawing from her own experience and personality to give direction to her work, Doctor WIEDERMANN said. She continued to treat clients until the very end of her life, carrying out interviews by telephone when illness confined her to her apartment.
"She was in some way trying to give meaning to her life," Doctor WIEDERMANN said. "It gave her a sense that she was doing something that was meaningful and beneficial to others. It gave her a sense that she was participating in the world."
In her will, Doctor COOPER gave $500,000 to Woodsworth College -- money she wished to be turned into bursaries for adult women who want to pursue higher education. She also donated $500,000 to the Ontario Arts Foundation for costume designers in mid-career wishing to enrich their craft in terms of research and travel.
Virginia COOPER was born in Borehamwood, England, on January 27, 1944. She died of stomach cancer in Toronto on August 27, 2006.
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McBURNIE firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.toronto_star 2006-03-11 published
McBURNIE, Catherine Mary Rita (née CURRAN)
Peacefully, on Wednesday, March 8, 2006 at Post Inn Village, Oakville, at the age of 82. Beloved wife of the late Thomas. Loving mother of Ann and her husband Art BENNETT. Cherished Gamo of Elizabeth and her husband Jim LITTLE, and the late Catherine "Mame" BENNETT. Dear sister of Louis CURRAN and dear sister-in-law Jessie MacDOUGALL. " Cal" had an out-of-this-world sense of humour. She enjoyed sharing her love of all music, books, art and sports with her Friends and family. There will be an emptiness in our hearts forever. Friends will be received at the Neweduk Funeral Home "Mississauga Chapel," 1981 Dundas St. W. (1 block east of Erin Mills Pkwy.), from 7-9 p.m. Monday. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Christopher's Roman Catholic Church, 1171 Clarkson Road North (south of Truscott Dr.), on Tuesday, March 14, 2006 at 11 a.m. Interment Glendale Memorial Gardens. Our deepest appreciation to each and every caregiver from Martin House and Post Inn Village. You were our extended family. In lieu of flowers, donations made in Catherine's memory to the Heart and Stroke Foundation would be greatly appreciated. Neweduk Funeral Home 905-828-8000 www.neweduk.com
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