Kate McGarrigle (1946-2010)

kate_mcgarrigleCatherine Frances McGarrigle, mother of Rufus and Martha Wainwright, died peacefully at age 63, at her home in Montreal, surrounded by family and friends, following a three-and-a-half year battle with cancer, borne bravely and fought gallantly.

She was the third of three daughters of Frank McGarrigle and his wife Gabrielle Latremouille. Born in Montreal, Kate was raised in the Laurentian village of Saint Sauveur-des-Monts and educated at the École Marie-Rose in Saint-Sauveur, and subsequently at the Town of Mount Royal Catholic High School.  Kate graduated with a B.Sc. from McGill University in 1970.

Brainy, well-read, full of obscure information, forever theorizing in politics, mythology, science, mathematics, literature, history, human relations – these are only some of the ways to describe Kate. Ambitious, determined, opinionated, impetuous, and adventuresome – these are some of the qualities that were inherent in Kate. Lovely, lively, sweet, quick-witted, charming, beautiful, a delight, she was also a challenge to her family and friends. Although outrageous at times, anything was more fun when Kate was along.

Kate was born into a musical family – everybody sang.  She learned harmony singing from her father and piano from the village nuns. She taught herself blues guitar, claw hammer banjo, and fiddle.  She and her sister Anna were stars on the Montreal folk scene in the 1960s, in Le Trio Canadien and the Mountain City Four. When they turned to song-writing in the 1970s, they wrote for the greatest singers of the era: Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur, Judy Collins, and Emmylou Harris.

They made recordings that moved and enchanted listeners. Kate and Anna toured the world, played Carnegie Hall seven times, displayed wit, charm, profound musical talent and a Canadian ideal of effortless bilingualism. They sang in French and English whether in Montreal, New York, London or Hong Kong. They were awarded the Order of Canada in 1994, won JUNO Awards in 1996 and 1998 respectively, received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 2004, and Lifetime Achievement Awards from ASCAP in 2005 and SOCAN in 2006.  Kate and Anna appeared on stage together for the last time in a family Christmas concert at Royal Albert Hall in London in December 2009.

Kate loved cross-country skiing, grand opera, Russian novels, cooking Christmas dinner for everyone, and knitting. She loved Stephen Foster songs, the works of Francis Parkman, and Ti-Jean Kérouac. She loved long evenings of singing, talking, and arguing. She loved the old McGarrigle place in Saint-Sauveur. She loved her family and her friends. Kate simply loved life.

Her last three years were immeasurably brightened by the company of her children, who guided her on an extended “grande tournée”: hobnobbing in the Hamptons, hitting the beach in Rio, and doing the Biennale di Venezia. There was Madame Butterfly on opening night at the Met, Parsifal at Bayreuth, and La Favola d’Orfeo at Teatro alla Scala di Milano. She was on the tour bus too, with Martha in Ireland, and with Rufus in Spain. She always made an appearance in their respective shows, and she always got a cheer.

Sincere thanks goes to Roger Tabah, Sonia Semenic, Gerald Batist and Peter Metrakos, among the many doctors and nurses at the Royal Victoria, Montreal General and Jewish General hospitals, and to Canada’s wonderful health care system. Thanks to her family members and friends for their many acts of kindness. Thanks to Jane, a comfort to Kate, especially in her final weeks, and to Anna, throughout the ordeal Kate’s faithful attendant, ever patient in hospital corridors waiting for Kate and hoping for a happier outcome.


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Printed on: 24/10/16