PEI

'The matron saint': Charlottetown comics remember 65-year-old performer

Almost every Monday night at a local bar they introduced her as the tower of power.

Margaret Macgillivray started comedy after her daughter took her own life

Margaret Macgillivray often performed comedy at Baba's Lounge in Charlottetown. (Jessica Davis)

Almost every Monday night at a local bar they introduced her as the tower of power.

She stood barely five feet tall. But when 65-year-old Margaret Macgillivray took the stage at P.E.I. comedy events the entire room would fall silent and the audience would listen attentively until she hit her punchline.

Macgillivray died Wednesday at a hospital in Halifax following an infection that moved to her heart.

Many who perform comedy on P.E.I. are remembering the legacy she left behind in a career that only began when she was 63.

Local comedian Ryan Gallant started his comedy career alongside Macgillivray. Gallant dated her daughter.

Daughter took own life

Macgillivray's daughter took her own life June 7, 2017.

"We kind grew closer after she passed away," Gallant said.

It was after her daughter's death that Macgillivray started to perform comedy as a way to cope, she told CBC in April. 

Gallant found himself doing the same.

"On my own I never would have done this," Gallant said.

He said he and Macgillivray joined a mental health comedy group called the Out of Our Minds Network.

"She was like a mother to us all, she was like the matron saint of our group," Gallant said.

He said it won't be the same at comedy events with Macgillivray not being there.

'She just had this joy'

Joe Revell is another local comedian who was friends with Macgillivray. He said he is going to miss the hugs he got before heading to the stage.

"It's going to be weird," he said. "It is going to be difficult the first few times for sure."

Margaret Macgillivray used comedy as a way to cope with personal loss. (Jessica Davis)

He said seeing Macgillivray take the stage was inspiring.

"I don't think she had nerves," he said. "She just had this joy, she was just so happy to be there, happy to be doing it.… I think that is what always shines through with her.

"She had a joy about it that was definitely infectious."

Floating flowers

Macgillivray was supposed to go on a trip over the weekend to a cottage just off the West River with friends Nancy Riley and Cathy Young.

Riley said she didn't want to cancel the trip because she believes Macgillivray would still want them to go.

"She was always the highlight of the party, she always had a smile even if she didn't feel good," Riley said.

Some yellow flower petals remain at the shore of the West River in honour of Macgillivray. (Nancy Riley)

Riley said Macgillivray was a great comedian and she was excited to see her friends in the audience when they came.

"Getting her stories out there and getting people laughing that was what she was all about," Riley said.

Riley and Young decided to honour their friend by releasing yellow flower petals into the West River.

Son sees performance

Although Macgillivray was born in Newfoundland she lived on P.E.I. since she was 11 and raised two children on the Island.

Sheldon White, Macgillivray's only surviving child, had a chance to see his mother perform comedy before she died.

"I was really nice to see her myself," White said.

White was surprised when his mother told him she was going to do comedy. "Seeing her work through her pain that way I think there couldn't be anything better," White said.

Last conversation

White will always remember the last conversation he had with his mother before her infection got so bad she couldn't speak.

"I just told her she was the best mom ever, and she gave me a hug and said I was the best son ever," White said.

He said he joked and told her "Well we each only have one, so..."

His mother chuckled and replied, "'Well, there you go,'" he said.

"She still had her humour right to the end."

Macgillivray celebrated her 65th birthday a few weeks before she died.

Macgillivray's funeral will be held at Belvedere Funeral Home on Monday at 4 p.m.

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About the Author

Tony Davis grew up on P.E.I. and studied journalism at Holland College. He can be contacted at anthony.davis@cbc.ca

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