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ONTARIO: Leacock Medal-winning author recovering after suffering stroke during kick-off event

Daughter had to step in to accept the award on Saturday

ORILLIA – Life is like a book sometimes: You never know when an unexpected plot twist will turn things upside down.

That is exactly what Nelson, B.C. author Jennifer Craig experienced in Orillia over the past several days.

Craig, full of anticipation and excitement, travelled to Orillia last Thursday with her daughter, Juliet, to attend the festivities in advance of Saturday night’s gala dinner at which the 71st Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour would be awarded.

Craig, one of three authors shortlisted for the coveted humour prize, was feeling fine when she attended a weekend kick-off event at the Best Western Mariposa Inn Friday night. But, just as Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke summoned her to receive a certificate from the city, all that changed.

“As she was standing up to go get her certificate from the mayor, her legs stopped working,” Juliet told OrilliaMatters. “She managed somehow to get up there, but couldn’t stand, couldn’t get up the steps … she handled it really well considering.”

The acclaimed author suffered a stroke. It was a shocking turn of events, she admitted.

“I was all excited and had a wonderful time getting ready to come to Orillia,” Craig said from her hospital bed at Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. “I had bought some new clothes, arrived on Thursday night and then when everything started Friday night, I was there about two minutes … and I had a stroke. I came to the hospital Friday night and I’ve been here ever since.”

In the wake of the stroke, Craig is unable to walk. But her daughter is quick to point out her mom “is still full of beans and has all her wits about her.”

Armed with a healthy sense of humour and full of determination, Craig is hopeful of a full recovery. Her doctors have said it will take six to eight weeks to understand the full extent of what happened and what it might mean.

“The hope is she will recover,” said Juliet. Breaking into the conversation, Jennifer says: “I don’t care what it takes. I’ll recover.” Her daughter hopes that stubbornness serves her well. “If being stubborn helps,” she quips, “mom will recover in no time.”

The unexpected health crisis meant Juliet had to step in with an acceptance speech on her mother’s behalf when she was announced as the winner of the Leacock Medal and the $15,000 prize Saturday night.

“There’s nothing like trying to create a funny speech for a bunch of award-winning humourists at the last minute,” said Juliet.

However, she delivered a winning speech. “I was able to see a video of the acceptance speech … She is amazing, my daughter. I was so glad she could stand in for me.”

And while their time in Orillia did not go as planned, the experience did give them an appreciation of the city Stephen Leacock put on the map.

“I have to say the community is amazing,” said Juliet, noting Leacock Associates board members and others have stopped in to visit, called and offered to take them out. “The mayor even stopped by to visit mom. It’s an incredible community. I’ve actually fallen in love with Orillia – not that I’d like to stay any longer.”

The mother-and-daughter duo are leaving Orillia later today. Tonight, they will stay at a hotel in Toronto and make their way back to the west coast Friday. Craig, however, will not be going back to her home, but will go to the hospital in Nelson to begin rehabilitation.

She is realistic about her journey – even though she felt fine prior to the stroke. “I’ve never been in the best of health and I am 84,” she says. “You can’t expect to live like a 20-year-old when you’re over 80!”

And she is philosophical about her Leacock Medal win. “I didn’t expect to win,” she admits. “I was just so grateful when I won. I intend to spend some time when I get home just enjoying the thought that I won. I can’t wait to get out of the hospital and back to a normal way of life and just enjoy this.”

Craig was awarded the Leacock Medal for her book, Gone to Pot, about a grandmother who sets up a homegrown pot business. She was chosen over the other two short-listed authors: Laurie Gelman for Class Mom and Scaachi Koul for One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.