One of the last times I saw Jack Layton he was with me as we door knocked at Spruce Court Co-op, Pam’s co-op. I was a candidate, trying to become Pam’s provincial counterpart. The long standing tradition was that she would have taken the candidate around. Why not this time? Why did Jack step in? It was easy to see when we knocked at her unit – there she was with a brand new grand baby in her arms. I’ve often thought of that scene since Pam left us too soon. Her love of family is well known and that love of family included the families of her constituents. As I do social justice walks in the downtown core with students it’s easy to point out her legacy – the new aquatic centre in Regent Park that is free for all to use, Regent Park itself, the new homes for so many immigrants and refugees, the big park in Regent Park. I hope for her sake and for her memory we see lots more co-op housing to come.
I first met Pam when she was running for City Councillor the first time. She was quite a fighter and won out the day. The thing that struck me about Pam was that she was determined and had so much integrity. If Pam believed in something she never swayed in her commitment to it. This was especially true in her commitment to social causes and co-ops in particular. Over the years of knowing Pam I have always found her friendly and funny with a wild collection of jackets. I’m going to miss her. There’s no one quite like her. I am grateful that Toronto had someone like Pam to be the consciousness of the City.
Pam was an inspiring advocate for social justice. When she attended my co-op’s anniversary party she expressed interest in finding out more about aging in place. I invited her to tour my adapted home and she agreed. I had the pleasure to work with Pam on issues related to co-op housing and at City Hall. We must continue the work she supported. I will miss her.
I raised my son in Regent Park/Cabbagetown. During Halloween I would take him trick or treating. Pam would always be there handing out candy and talking to the parents and kids. She was always so friendly and had many words of advice for us. As an Oak Street Housing Co-op member Pam was an honorary member of the community. She was always available to attend our social functions. She was always available to listen to members with genuine care. Pam was a friend, a mentor and a community leader who will be truly missed by us all.
Pam first blew my mind in 1980. I had just begun work for the Co-op Housing Federation of Toronto and Pam was Chair of the Board. I was new to Toronto and slowly finding my way within a group of passionate, progressive people who were not just dreaming big dreams, but literally building the co-op housing movement across the country.
I’ll never forget our first encounter, as I was on my way to observe my first board meeting. Pam stopped me in the hallway, grabbed both my arms, looked me in the eye and told me that co-op housing was going to empower tenants across the country and that together we were going to build a better world. And then with a big smile and twinkle in her eye, she spun around and was gone. I stood there in shock, truly electrified by a single moment with this small, but enormously powerful woman.
Pam continued to encourage and inspire me through my tenure at CHFT. What stands out from that period is her genuine interest in how I was doing, not only in the work, but in how Janice and I were adapting to life in Toronto. She cared about us, about our kids, about our well-being.
Although I left the co-op housing sector in 1984, the importance of Pam’s message in that first encounter has resonated in me and so many others through the decades.
We re-connected in 2006 when our company became Toronto Community Housing’s development partner on the Regent Park revitalization. Since then, Pam has inspired and electrified me countless times, and there is no doubt that without Pam McConnell there wouldn’t be a Regent Park revitalization. Pam has been there from minute one, not just dreaming big dreams, but doing the heavy lifting to bring those dreams to life. Pam has been both the glue and the common thread, the unifying and trusted voice, holding steady to the vision despite a myriad of obstacles along the path.
Although the residents of Regent Park have lost their champion, Pam’s voice and vision will live on. Her personal power has inspired and empowered all of us to make our world a better place.