Lorna Toolis – A Celebration

a photo of Lorna Toolis smiling as she was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame

The following eulogy was delivered by Allan Weiss at a recent memorial service for Lorna Toolis. Allan was kind enough to represent all of SF Canada at this event, and generous enough to allow us to publish his words here for posterity.
 

Lorna Toolis was a cherished member of our community, and she will be greatly missed.
 

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I would like to thank both Mike and SF Canada for the honour of asking me to speak at this event; I am here to represent not only myself, but also the organization of which she was a long-term member. I can’t say as much about her as others among you, those who knew her better—that is, those who joined her in weekly battles against Cthulhu (or whatever you folks did on Tuesday nights). I knew her well enough to confirm what others have told you about her remarkable intelligence, sense of humour, and fundamental decency. She was a delight to know and to talk to whenever I had the opportunity.
 

I can speak about her best in terms of what she meant to those of us who write and study fantastic literature. I knew her as a kind of associate member of the Cecil Street Irregulars, a group unofficially led by Mike Skeet and that benefited from her support, both overt and covert. She was a welcome addition, for example, to our retreats at Hart House Farm.
 

Lorna was deeply involved in the fan and writing community in Edmonton, participating in the Edmonton Science Fiction and Comic Arts Society and acting for a time as the editor of its newsletter, Neology. When the summons went out for someone to head the Spaced Out Library in 1986, she answered the call. To say that she was needed is an understatement. My first encounter with the library was in 1984 or so when I was doing research for my bibliography of English-Canadian short stories. While the collection Head at that time was well-meaning, she was more of a fan than a librarian. I appreciated the way she had separated out the Canadian texts, but not so much how she shelved them—or to be more precise unshelved them. The books stood in a row, spines up at least, on the floor before one of the shelving units. I didn’t think that was how the Faculty of Library and Information Science, as it was then known, would have recommended handling archived material.
 

Lorna arrived and immediately put the collection to rights. She brought a degree of professionalism to her job that could not be surpassed. In fact, in all my dealings with her she was the consummate professional. You may be aware that the Canadian SF community includes a number of, shall we say, unique and challenging characters, including some who thought nothing of walking off with desirable items from the library. She handled the real-life characters with all the class with which she handled the fictional ones, putting both in their proper places wherever necessary.
 

In my research, I have visited many repositories, from the Bodleian Library at Oxford to the Salvation Army Archives. Frequently, those who were in charge of specialized collections did not entirely know what they had or put up pointless roadblocks to my access. Lorna knew when to direct me to what she had and when to get out of my way. I never felt less than welcome. Above all, she knew her stuff. She was more than a librarian or collection Head; she was an expert. She helped make the Merril Collection a third home, after my small book-packed apartment and my parents’ larger chocolate-packed one. One day, when nobody else was around, the phone in the Collection rang. Rather than let the patron be disappointed, I answered the phone with “Toronto Public Library, Merril Collection; may I help you?” (Don’t tell the union!)
 

One of the scholarly projects of which I am most proud was co-curating, with Hugh Spencer, the National Library of Canada’s exhibit on Canadian science fiction and fantasy, mounted in 1995 in collaboration with the Merril Collection. Hugh and I found the Collection and Lorna herself invaluable sources of information. To this day, if you look around the Merril’s periodical collection, you’ll find some folders bearing the abbreviation “CAN” in my handwriting, denoting the fanzines and other magazines published here at home. I can’t thank Lorna enough for giving me the opportunity to work on that wonderful exhibit.
 

In association with that exhibit, the first-ever academic conference on Canadian science fiction and fantasy was held in Ottawa. I later took over the conference as Chair, and in 1997 moved it to the Merril Collection, where it, like myself, found a supportive and comfortable home. Lorna offered not just her space but also her personnel and volunteers with the Friends organization, including and especially Annette Mocek, and for that I am truly grateful.
 

If you will indulge some science fiction and fantasy right now, I can tell you about other proud moments. I was there when the photographer from the Oxford English Dictionary came to take her picture to use as their definition of “Reader, Voracious.” I was there when John Clute sent his techies to digitally upload her mind in order to create the revised editions of the Encyclopedias of Science Fiction and of Fantasy. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there when she finally conquered Cthulhu’s tentacled minions, but others can speak to that.
 

Lorna was a deeply valued friend, colleague, supporter, mentor (I still have the lists of absolutely essential F&SF she compiled for me), and guide. I was shocked by her passing, but proud to have known her. Thank you for everything, Lorna. And I know that if there is a heaven, it is wall-to-wall-to-sky books.
 

Allan Weiss, October 23, 2021

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