By Careesa Gee
A framed poster hangs in Toby Brooks’ dining room, announcing that Vancouver-poet Pat Lowther would be among those speaking at an upcoming labour union meeting, held on Saturday, September 27, 1975.
But Lowther never got her chance. She was murdered three days before the event by her jealous husband, Roy Lowther, himself an aspiring writer. Roy Lowther was tried, convicted, and spent the rest of his life in prison until he died in 1985.
Lowther’s life is the subject of Brooks’ first book, titled Pat Lowther’s Continent: Her Life and Work. As she sits sipping tea, Brooks talks about the book and what drew her to the story.
“I’ve spent my life working for human rights…if there are people not being treated fairly I get hot under the collar,” Brooks says, adding that Lowther’s life “followed the pattern,” of abusive relationships. Her book details how Roy Lowther started throwing fits, becoming more and more violent as his wife’s career upstaged his own.
Brooks says one of the things that attracted her to Lowther’s poetry was the way she expressed ideas about womanhood and motherhood, without using sentimentality or romance.
“There was nothing sugary about it,” she says.
Brooks says she was also drawn to Lowther because of the similarities between them during the early ’60s – they were the same age, married young, and had children early. But while Lowther was a victim of spousal abuse, Brooks has been standing up for equal rights since her youth.
When she moved to Ottawa in 1970, Brooks spent 13 years working at Interval House, a downtown shelter for battered women, which she says opened her eyes to the violence faced by women every day.
Brooks says that experience, and her love of Lowther’s poetry, led her to write a paper on Lowther for an English class at Carleton University. Inspired to create more of a tribute, she went on a mission that lasted 14 years. She interviewed Lowther’s family and researched with a journalist in British Columbia. Now, she hopes her first book will help more Canadians realize that not everyone has achieved equality.
Growing up in Massachusetts and Virginia exposed Brooks to the ugliness of racism and the civil rights movement. She became involved in organizing the lunch counter sit-ins and protest marches of the ’50s and ’60s. She and her husband were also part of a group that sued the state of Virginia over the non-integration of white and black tax and property records.
“People say we don’t have discrimination in Canada…but Pat was a victim of violence,” she says. “I want people to know that it can mean life or death. Women who stay (in abusive relationships) are playing with their lives.