“She made a better Quebec”

By Gordon Lambie
“She made a better Quebec”
(Photo : Courtesy Montreal City Mission)

While the average Quebecer could be forgiven for not being familiar with Patricia Pleszczynska, her friends and former colleagues say the long-time CBC producer was a behind-the scenes hero of radio programming in Quebec who had a profound effect on everyone around her, prior to her death of pancreatic cancer last week.
“I was happy to consider her a good friend and she is somebody I’m going to miss a lot,” shared Royal Orr, sharing that their friendship started around the same time that he began an eight-month stint at CBC Quebec as the host of the morning show. At the time Pleszczynska was the producer for the show and also his in-laws’ neighbour in Moe’s River.
“She was almost always behind the scenes, never the on-air person,” he reflected, adding that over the years her impressive ability to manage people and tackle challenges saw her rise through the ranks.
“As soon as you worked with her for more than half an hour you had a sense that this was someone serious and capable and good to work with.”
CBC veteran David Gutnik, who started working as a researcher for Quebec AM alongside Pleszczynska in the early days of her career with the public broadcaster, said that beyond just being a competent manager, his friend played an almost revolutionary role in helping to bridge the cultural divide between French and English-speaking communities in the province.
“Patricia’s life job was sort of doing a quiet revolution for English Quebec,” he said, arguing that as a child of Polish and Italian immigrants who grew up immersed in both English and French culture, Pleszczynska was able to appreciate and understand the strengths and concerns of the province’s often opposed linguistic communities very differently than those who grew up on one side or other of the French/English divide.
“There was a generation of seniors in rural Quebec who didn’t speak French and they were terrified by what was happening in Quebec. They were terrified by Rene Levesque, the sovereigntist movement, and the energy of French-Canadian culture, and they were in a kind of stagnant culture,” Gutnik said, suggesting that what Pleszczynska was able to do through her role as producer and, later, program director, was subtly coax English-speaking Quebec and Canada into a broader understanding of their French-speaking neighbours. “She understood nationalism, she loved Quebec music, she understood the energy and the drive and the passion of young franco seperatists: they didn’t scare her. She saw it as fascinating,” he continued, adding that that understanding didn’t mean that she disregarded the fears or concerns of the English communities of the province.
“She was just as revolutionary as any founding member of the Parti Quebecois, it’s just that Patricia chose broadcasting and not politics,” he said. “If she had done this on the air, she would be completely famous, like Peter Gzowski, but Patricia was behind the scenes, invisible, letting other people take the credit and grooming them to become better journalists.”
Gutnik described Pleszczynska as someone who “embodied Quebec” and whose death is an immeasurable loss for the province.
“She made a better Quebec,” he said.
Michael Goldbloom, Principal of Bishop’s University, said that her engagement in the fabric of Quebec society and her management expertise were just a few of the things that made him interested in having Pleszczynska join the school’s board of governors.
“How many people do any of us know who really understand Quebec in such a profound way?” he said. “To be able to be a leader of programming, journalism, and culture in both English and French; there are very, very few people who are as culturally and linguistically literate and understanding of Quebec as she was.”
“Although we only got to work with her for a very short period of time as a member of the board, her knowledge and judgement and her leadership capacity were obvious to me,” the principal added. “It was, personally, very helpful to have someone who has managed within a very large organization, as she had.”
Pleszczynska joined the Bishop’s board in May and quickly distinguished herself as a disciplined and diligent administrator, but also a proud alumna.
“She was always very, very clear about how much respect and affection she had for the institution,” Goldbloom reflected.
“She’s the classic Bishop’s story,” Orr said with a laugh. “She went to Bishop’s and she studied drama and then ends up being one of the high muckamucks at CBC.”
Where Goldbloom said that the loss of Pleszczynska so soon into her term on the board was a devastating loss for the school, Orr explained that he had the opportunity to work alongside her a little more in recent years through her implication on the board of Montreal City Mission.
“She was just a great person,” he said. “I don’t know how to speak of her except in positive, glowing terms.”
Asked about Pleszczynska’s involvement with the mission, Director Paula Klein said that the former board member always and immediately made herself available to the work and was very engaged with the mission.
“She was such a warm person,” she said. “She was a brilliant person, but one who only made you feel more special.”

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