Straight Talk
CHIP MARTIN - Never thought Kathy would be premier

Leadership candidate Kathleen Wynne speaks at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention in Toronto, January 26, 2013.

Credits: REUTERS/Mark Blinch

CHIP MARTIN | QMI AGENCY

LONDON, Ont. -- I knew her as Kathy Wynne when we both attended Richmond Hill high school in the 1960s.

I knew her as a good athlete -- a sprinter, a basketballer and gymnast. She was a key member of the cheerleading squad (while I was on the football team).

Who would have thought this fair-haired, tough competitor would one day become premier of Ontario?

Not me.

I had my fill of politics after a term as president of our student council. I never thought she'd catch the bug.

Kathy (I still can't get used to "Kathleen") was two years behind me at school, and after I was gone she was elected student council secretary. She also set a record for the 440-yard dash that apparently stands to this day.

We both thrived in high school.

I went to university and found the job I still have with The London Free Press.

I lost touch with Kathy, although I learned at one point she'd become a rather feisty school trustee in Toronto, standing up to Queen's Park when the Conservatives were in power.

She'd moved down Yonge St. to Don Valley, was married with three kids and was a psychotherapist, I learned in the media. She became MPP for Don Valley West in 2003 and has held it since, fending off a serious challenge from Conservative leader John Tory in 2007.

I was at Conservative party campaign headquarters that night, having covered the election trail. Tory, a fine man, took his party loss and his personal one with grace. He and Wynne have great respect for each other.

At age 37, Wynne "came out." I found that surprising. But not overly. At high school, she didn't seem happy I was smitten by her friend, another Kathy, and I always sensed a bit of tension from her.

I saw Wynne once in London when she was a member of a legislative committee I was assigned to cover. We only had time for brief pleasantries

The next time was Jan. 19 at a London coffee shop during her "whirl-Wynne" one-day blitz to meet Liberal delegates in London, Stratford, Sarnia, Strathroy and Exeter.

She gave me a big hug, instantly recognizing me. (I normally hate hugs from politicians, but this was different.) Kathy is 59. I am days away from 63.

We chatted oh-so briefly, and she introduced me to her partner, Jane Rownthwaite, and to Kathy's youngest child, Maggie Cowperthwaite, 28, now living in London. We did a quick question-and-answer session for QMI Agency.

Wynne said I could keep calling her Kathy and gave me her private cell number, suggesting I call sometime. Wow! I probably won't do so for awhile, though. She'll be busy building a cabinet, recalling the legislature and trying to make the government work. The gesture was appreciated.

They say Wynne's strong suit is her interest in diversity, an important asset in the multicultural place Ontario has become.

Richmond Hill high wasn't like that back then. It was located in a thoroughly white bread community of about 16,000, known as "Canada's fastest growing town" when suburbia hit Toronto.

Our school had about 500 students, all in the same five-year program preparing us for university. We had one Chinese student and one who was black. We heard there was a Jewish family living somewhere over in the Pleasantville neighbourhood. We didn't have any gays. That we knew of. I don't think they had been invented yet.

The world has changed since Richmond Hill of the 1960s and so, too, has Kathy Wynne. And I am pleased one of us has made something of ourself.

She was a competitor with many friends, who really knew how to run. I hear she still runs.

Running a province with a minority government will be a real test, however. And she will need as many friends as she can muster to pull it off.

Her old schoolmate is watching and wishing her luck.

On your mark, Kathy. Ready, set...

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