Walking tours helped resurrect Glenwood
In the 1980’s, Picton’s Glenwood Cemetery was in a state of neglect. Lack of funding, over time, had made it impossible to pay for much needed work in uprighting fallen stones. Grass cutting was a major challenge, given the size of staff, and parts of the cemetery, frequently, were overgrown. In the ’80’s, Glenwood did not receive any municipal funding. Plot sales and donations were its sole source of revenue.
Circa 1990, the late Rodger Greig led the cemetery’s first walking tour, an event organized to promote public awareness of the history to be found within its gates and publicize the urgent need for financial support.
The tour proved highly popular and resulted in several donations. As a member of the cemetery board at that time, I subsequently suggested a similar event, this time with a twist. Some of Glenwood’s most distinguished ‘residents” would be profiled at their grave sites by costumed presenters. Each talk would be followed by a song reflective of the individual’s life. However, there were two small problems.
Costumes were needed for the presenters and singers required for the songs. Two vocalists came to mind – Julian Gallo aka Wally Williamson and Don Roberts – both highly regarded professionals. Unsure of how they would react to singing in a cemetery, I finally gathered my courage to ask both men to take part in a walking tour. Both agreed, without hesitation. Wally would later quip that he had sung for The Grateful Dead. Don came to my rescue by volunteering to help me source costumes.
He loved the theatre and was the perfect choice to sing a song suited to the life of pioneer temperance leader Letitia Youmans. In addition, he came complete with a smartly tailored morning coat and top hat. The tour was organized and the big day came. As presenter Mary Martin, costumed as Letitia, was concluding her remarks, Don wove unsteadily down the pathway singing ‘There’s a Tavern in the Town’. His light-hearted performance stole the show.
On a more serious note, Don later led a Veterans’ Day tour saluting Prince Edward County’s fallen soldiers in the First World War. An impressive figure in his period costume he was the perfect choice for this role.
By this time, there had been many positive changes in Glenwood Cemetery. An annual municipal grant had made it possible to make necessary upgrades and an enthusiastic board headed by Sandra Latchford had introduced several beautification projects. Generous donations and other grants had made possible the restoration of the cemetery chapel. This Victorian City of the Dead was well on the way to recapturing its original beauty.
Don Roberts took pleasure in giving back to his community. Quick to volunteer his time and talents he sought nothing in repayment, other than the success of whatever the event might be.
Not long ago, we shared a pleasant conversation in which we reminisced about the walking tours we had both enjoyed so much. Don surprised me by asking if I knew how lucky we were. He went on to add that many people never have such happy memories. I concluded that he was very lucky, indeed, for he had a lifetime’s worth of these wonderful recollections. All that he had so generously given to others had returned to him as his life drew to a close.
Footnote: Donald George Roberts died on April 8 at the age of 82.