Penny’s obituary says her marriage to Hugh Lawson in 1969 was initially happy, “. . . but soon alcohol and drugs took their toll. Penny left the marriage, sought recovery and began to rebuild her life . . .”
Really? That’s not the Penny I knew and lived with in Vancouver, London and Toronto over a period of more than five years.
She admitted her brother was an alcoholic in one of her letters and she hated what it did to him. Perhaps as a result, her own drinking was moderate, even occasional. In the entire time we were together, we never had a discussion about booze, a fight over it, or concerns about it. I’ve lived with a functioning alcoholic, in fact my third wife was one, and I know all the symptoms: the boxed white wine in the fridge, the empty cases of beer bottles, the glass in hand that is never quite full and never quite empty. That wasn’t Penny.
Drugs were a different story, and not one you’re expecting. She had always been worried about her weight. While beautiful to my eyes, she thought she was ten or fifteen pounds over her ideal. As a result, she asked her doctor for a “diet pill” to help control her appetite. This was the 60’s remember. He put her on Preludin, generic name Phenmetrazine, an amphetamine – basically ‘speed’ – that has since been withdrawn from the market. It was referred to as Prellies by the Beatles, became a popular abused drug in the late 60’s and early 70’s and had a street name in the United States of “Bam.”
Phenmetrazine is currently on the list of banned stimulates put out by the World Anti-Doping agency
What did she know, or I know, about the effects of speed? Why would she expect her doctor to get her hooked on a dangerous drug that could cause sexual excitement, confusion, irritability, mood changes, sleeplessness and hyperactivity?
And there is a third component I should add. When Penny left me for Hugh, she was surrounded by hard-drinking, high-living financial executives for whom the three-Martini lunch was the norm. Add the additional social pressure of alcohol use to a family history of alcoholism, to the effects of a now-banned amphetamine; and what do you get? Well, what you get isn’t pretty.
I describe, elsewhere, how when Penny left me she cried, sobbed, her face ran with tears. I think I know what she was crying for. She was crying for the little girl she describes in her letters, for the woman who felt cold, and alone, and wanted to be held. She was giving that up – almost didn’t, then did – for something else.
Somewhere, out there, was a man who had a big brick house below Casa Loma, a cottage on Georgian Bay, an eight-metre racing sailboat, who skied at Osler Bluff Ski Club and who had a good game of tennis. She would have to give up her love to get it, and it wasn’t easy, in fact was almost impossibly hard.
It almost makes you think there was something forcing her to do what she didn’t want to do. It felt – she looked – as if she were the victim of emotional, or actual, blackmail.
Drugs and alcohol doesn’t really cover what happened, does it? It was much more than that.
Let me return to the quote at the top of the page from Penny’s obituary, “but soon alcohol and drugs took their toll.” Deconstruct that sentence in the context of what we know. Penny, in marrying Hugh Rogers Lawson, managed to recreate the wealthy lifestyle she knew as a child and young woman. She had a house near Casa Loma, almost within sight of her old home on Ardwold Gate.
She had wealth, security, a cottage on Georgian Bay, and shortly two babies. Where in this scenario is there a reason to take to drink and up the pill count? What did Hugh do, or not do, that created this sense of desperation? Doesn’t a new husband have responsibility for a new bride? What am I missing here?
Here’s Hugh’s obituary; see for yourself. Penny doesn’t even make the cut, although her kids do.
When I saw her for the last time in 1977, in a small apartment in east Toronto, she had lost Hugh, lost custody of her children and had lost everything she’d gained in breaking our marriage. The only thing in her fridge and I mean the ONLY thing, was a half bottle of Ballantine’s whisky. I forgave her. I asked her back. I said I had a great job as a CBC National Television News reporter. We could start over.
We went to the bedroom and hugged, still in our clothes, she kissed me passionately. Then she stopped. She said “I can’t do this. You’ll have to go.” She was crying as she gently pushed me out the door.
This was the second time the flame went out. Finally, and for good. I stumbled outside, climbed into my new Corvette and fled into the night. I had come agonizingly close to winning her back . . . as close as anything I have ever experienced.
But not close enough.
What the Photos Tell
I’ve gone over scores of pictures of Penny taken in Sault Ste. Marie, Vancouver, London, Toronto and Muskoka and she’s only pictured with booze twice, a pint of British beer in one and a can of Molsons in another. This would be pretty unusual if she were an alcoholic. I have pictures of other people, other wives even, with glass after glass of wine or beer. Penny, just two.
This backs up what I said above; that Penny was not addicted to alcohol while I knew her over a period stretching back before our marriage to 1963. Nor do I accept the argument that she was drinking at work during her lunch hour and I just didn’t notice. An alcoholic doesn’t stop wanting booze every evening and every weekend.
Because of these facts and recollections, I don’t accept the statement in her obituary that “Penny had been hooked on booze and pills herself long ago.” I’ve mentioned the pills (which didn’t appear until 1967 in Toronto), but booze? This statement simply isn’t true. I accept that it was true later; I saw the evidence with my own eyes.
But it didn’t happen on my watch.
Eight Metre Class Sailboats
The 8-Metre Class keelboats are very impressive sailboats that are actually 15 metres long (49-feet), costing from $100,000 to a $400,000 and taking a crew of seven (7). World Championship races are held annually. Wikipedia says before WWII, they were considered the the most prestigious international yacht racing class and they are still raced today at yacht clubs around the world.