David Frum's Obituary for Maggy Brimelow

Published on National Review Online

David Frum's Diary

FEB. 8, 2004: MAGGY LAWS BRIMELOW On Friday came the terrible news that Maggy Laws Brimelow had succumbed to the cancer against which she had valiantly struggled for seven hard years.

Maggy Brimelow was the wife of former National Review editor Peter Brimelow, but always a force of nature in her own right.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Peter had been a star journalist in my home city of Toronto. He had been a close friend too of the family of my future wife. According to family lore, it was Peter who lured my future father-in-law, Peter Worthington, into trying his hand at politics in the early 1980s—to the delight of thousands of conservative Canadians and the utter dismay of my future mother-in-law. Yet even as they grumbled at the results of Brimelow's advocacy, his habit of snapping to his feet whenever a woman entered the room established him as the beau ideal of two generations of Worthington women.

Peter Brimelow migrated to New York and there met and married Maggy, a native of Newfoundland, Canada. The two of them were among the very first people my wife and I looked up when we made our own migration southward. Maggy had just begun working at the Manhattan Institute, where she inspired awe among her colleagues by her unique ability to mollify and manage the Institute's brilliant but mercurial president, Bill Hammett.

Charm may be the most difficult of all human qualities to recapture after it has gone. The beauty of a face can be preserved in a photograph—but how can one summon up the play and pleasure of a departed soul?

Tact was never Maggy's strong suit. She didn't mince her words; she didn't even give them a rough chop. She spoke her mind, always—but thanks to the sparkling ebullience of her personality and her hearty humor, her directness always delighted.

In the early 1990s, my wife and I lived in Manhattan on 68th Street at Second Avenue. The Brimelows lived on 68th near the Hudson River. My wife and our eldest daughter used regularly to take the bus across town to Central Park to meet Maggy and her eldest, a boy named Alexander. Maggy would watch unflappably as Alexander charged toward roads, or ponds, or cliffs. Alexander at three was a solid mass of muscle—a mass that nonetheless moved at astonishingly high speeds. Yet Maggy would catch him at the very last minute, without ever—or so memory has it—interrupting her dazzling flow of talk.

Maggy loved the good things of life, and she was never bashful about inviting everyone around her to join the conviviality. She was a gleeful consumer of horoscopes, crystals, and New Age nonsense. Others might laugh at her absurdities, but she herself would laugh fastest and loudest.

She did not worry over-much about conventions and formalities. I once tried to feed a writhing Alexander a dish of yogurt. I succeeded only in smearing most of it over his face. Maggy arrived in mid-mess and watched unperturbed as I smeared most of the remainder over Alexander's clothes.

Maggy was almost wholly uninterested in national politics, but she had a shrewd eye for office dynamics. In 1992, Peter recruited me to work at Forbes magazine, where he was a senior editor. I was not a very successful hire; I trusted to Maggy to monitor my employers' steadily rising exasperation with me.

Soon thereafter, the Brimelows moved out of the city. Not many years later, Maggy received her terrible diagnosis. In illness as in health, she spoke her mind. She did not go easy into the good night. The Newfoundlanders are fierce brawlers, and Maggy was one of the fiercest of them all.

I last saw Maggy in New York two autumns ago. By some amazing feat of determination, she had summoned up all her old zest and wit for this appearance. Alas, at that point my family was separated from the Brimelows by more than distance. Much had changed in the decade since I used to playfully bonk heads to make Alexander laugh. But perhaps the most important change was one I only learned about post-mortem. Maggy had been raised a Roman Catholic. She had drifted away from her early faith, and when she moved to Connecticut, she joined an Episcopal church—because, as she insisted in her characteristically offhand way, the priest there had been the only pastor in the village who didn't pour tea into polysterene cups. But as her illness intensified, so did her religion. From hints on Peter's website, VDare.com, I infer that he and their children have also found help in their time of trial. In which case, Maggy left behind not merely the memory of a life largely lived, but a blessing for those she loved best—a blessing at a horrible price, but a blessing even so.

May the God who brings comfort to those who mourn bring comfort to Peter, Alexander, and Hannah-Claire Brimelow.