Pam and I met when I moved into Spruce Court in the mid 70’s. She and her husband, Jim McConnell were already residents, and the 3 of us bonded as we worked together to turn these first world-war era low-rise apartments into a co-op. It was in the early years of CHFT, and Pam became the first co-ordinator for the co-op. She often reminisced with me about how much she loved those years and how impressed she was with early CHFT staff like Marianne Moerschel and Jean Stevenson. Inspired and trained by them, she went on to become a co-ordinator at Tommy Douglas co-op as well, and got involved for many years as a Board member and President of CHFT.
We became fast friends and collaborators for life, and raised our families in the co-op. Progressive politics at the municipal, provincial and federal levels was a shared commitment for us, and a logical outlet for her passion for social justice and community development. When she became involved directly as a school trustee, then Chair of the Board of Education and finally as a City Councillor for her community, Pam remained firmly grounded in the co-op housing movement. Her advocacy for affordable housing, inclusive communities, and co- ops never diminished.
It seemed only appropriate when, many years later, Pam initiated and championed the move to build Toronto’s first housing co-op after the long years of inactivity and lack of funding that began in the late 90’s. The new co-op was an integral part of the planning for the first phase of the Regent Park revitalization. As the City’s housing planner for the revitalization, I took a secret delight in the opportunity to collaborate again with Pam to include that co-op in the City’s decisions. Now I am grateful that Pam didn’t stop there. She later persuaded the City to add a requirement to include at least one more co-op in the Regent Park re-building.
But for Pam, the most important thing about building co- ops and inclusive neighbourhoods with community schools at their heart was always about the people, and the better, more vibrant and caring lives we can lead if we do it together. Pam acted, and lived, as she advocated. And the thousands of people in her community, in the co-op housing family, in politics and across the City who knew her simply as “Pam” and who miss her already, are the demonstration of that legacy.
Noreen Dunphy July 25, 2017