Literary world remembers Tiff Findley as great author, wonderful man

Canada's literary community mourns the death of author Timothy Findley.

Canada's literary community is in mourning for Timothy Irving Frederick Findley, a novelist and playwright who won worldwide recognition for his work, but was also widely admired for his generosity of spirit, kindness and humour.

Findley, 71, Tiff to his friends, died Thursday night in hospital in France, where he spent part of each year. The rest of the time, he lived in an apartment above Pazzo Bar and Pizzeria in Stratford, Ont.

The apartment in a city famous for its Shakespearean Festival closed a circle. Findley started as an actor, and his most successful play, Elizabeth Rex, was produced at Stratford last year.

This season, the festival will premier Shadows, a play which is typically Findley as it has people talking to each other under pressure, said Robert Cushman, author of 50 Years at Stratford.

His theatrical background gave him a dramatic flair, but people who knew Findley recall his warmth and kindness.

"I felt he was a most extraordinary person" who drew love from people, said Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, who knew him for 40 years. "Tiff Findley was an atmosphere."

Daniel Munro met Findley once, but the memory of Findley's "gentleness laced with enthusiasm and wit" has stuck with him.

In an e-mail to a CBC message board, Munro said he asked Findley to sign his program at university convocation in 1996.

Findley did, and then arranged for a photo to be taken of himself, Munro and University of Toronto president Robert Pritchard. It hangs on his wall beside his degree, Munro said.

Even people who had never met him considered him a close friend, said Iris Tupholme, the editor who worked with Findley on eight of his last 10 books.

When he heard author Margaret Atwood had won a literary prize, he was excited and enthusiastic, and said "Isn't that wonderful," recalled David Staines, Dean of Arts at the University of Ottawa and a friend of Findley's.

Findley began his working life as an actor, appearing at the first Stratford Festival, in 1953, where he met Alec Guiness.

The older actor was so impressed with Findley that he helped him in London, but within several years, the role of author had taken precedence over the stage.

But success was elusive; it was not until his third novel, The Wars, published in 1977, that his talent was recognized.

Once there, however, he never looked back, going on to write a series of acclaimed and admired novels on his perennial themes, including loneliness and survival in a mad world.

He was a link with an older Canada, Clarkson said, pointing to The Wars, which brought to life the First World War experience, based on Findley's family photos and wartime letters from an uncle.

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"He had this incredible joie de vivre for the writing experience," said Staines.

Other successes included Not Wanted on the Voyage, the story of the great flood from the point of view of Mrs. Noah and her cat; Famous Last Words, a blend of fact and fantastic fiction set in the aftermath of the Second World War, and Headhunter, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness reset in grimmest contemporary Toronto.