Olive Bailey is my hero and ours'.

Behest of the West: Her heroics didn’t make her my hero

It’s not her accolades and celebrity that make her my hero. It’s the tenacity she took to her role as a grandmother

We’re all going to get along this Friday.

The communication breakdown that nixed our long held tradition of honouring Remembrance Day together last year was hopefully a one time affair. Ucluelet and Tofino are both growing up but that doesn’t mean we should be breaking up. Families grow together. Ohana means no one gets left behind.

Besides, I’ve always looked forward to family gatherings. They were a blast when I was a kid.

My grandmother’s place would serve as home-base for me, my sister and my cousins to unleash our unbridled support for whatever festive spirit we were celebrating. The crafting was spectacular. I wasn’t a crafty kid but I always looked forward to what my grandmother would lay out for us. We would all sit around her kitchen table, armed with with every colour and kind of glitter, fabric and whatsits we needed to make the most elaborately gaudy creations our hands could come up with. Reindeer statues out of wooden spoons, animals out of plant pots, fluff balls covered in glue designed to look like something we forgot halfway through.

Our hands would be busy and our laughter loud, but my most favourite family time feature was always the gleefully triumphant gasp my grandmother would emit the moment she saw what her beloved grandchildren had concocted. To her, we were geniuses. Whatever we unveiled was immediately declared lightyears ahead of anything the world’s greatest artists could have come up with. Her face would light up and she would put every ounce of her inspiring verbosity into convincing us that we were the best.

Her vibrance and enthusiasm made her a hero to us. We were too young back then to understand she was a hero to many more than just us. Olive Bailey was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park. Historians have packed the world with stories about the incredible work she and her colleagues accomplished—Enigma was supposed to be uncrackable—and there’s a Benedict Cumberbatch movie for anyone looking for a more casual glean.

What she did was an intense secret, even decades after the war. But, once she received permission from the British government to talk about the six years she spent at war, history buffs and media types found a goldmine.

She shines during interviews and speeches because her energy is as strong as her memory and her mastery of language is unparalleled.

She is bold. She is fierce. She is fabulous. The ease and charm she injects into her stories softens how impossible they are to relate to.

She was a 19 year-old kid living in London when a war broke out in 1939. In 1940, The Blitz began and a year’s worth of ferociously perpetual bombings rained down on her hometown.

An estimated 40,000 British civilians were killed; half of them Londoners. My grandmother rode a bus to work everyday while The Blitz was going on. She has seen scenes through bus windows I couldn’t handle through television screens.

Her trophy case includes a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She is a legitimate hero to her generation and the generations that followed. Yet she was, and still is, the easiest person to talk to.

It’s not her accolades and celebrity that make her my hero. It’s the tenacity she took to her role as a grandmother. I can, and do, ask her anything. She is never speechless. She is never stumped. Her perspective is always fascinating.

I’ll call her this Friday. We’ll talk about Trump, my kids, how she’s struggling to convince Grandpa to dress in modern clothes. I’ll love every minute of it. That’s why she’s a hero to me.

 

 

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