Memories of Doris Bentley Allan, 1910-2002

Aunt Doris at the Hunt Club, 14 June 2002 Aunt Doris was born 14 July 1910 in Middleton, Nova Scotia and died 12 October 2002, aged 92, at the Ottawa General Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She was the wife of Donald Mackay Allan and daughter of Frederick Eugene Bentley and Mary Elizabeth Marshall of Middleton, Nova Scotia. She was raised in Middleton and studied business at Acadia. The Depression meant there were few jobs to be found in the Annapolis Valley so she worked for her father until 1935 when a change in the provincial government--her father was a staunch Liberal--allowed her an opening in the Premier's office in Halifax. She rose quickly in his office to become his Private Secretary within a few years. After the outbreak of war, Premier Angus L. MacDonald accepted the call of duty from Prime Minister Mackenzie King and came to Ottawa to be the Minister of National Defence for the Navy. Aunt Doris came with him and served as his Private Secretary until his resignation in 1945. She then stayed on worked for his successor Douglas Abbott, eventually transferring with him when he became the Minister of Finance. She later worked for other cabinet ministers but retired in 1959 to marry Uncle Don--whom she had met in 1940 but had kept waiting for 19 years because she enjoyed working in the government. She loved golfing, playing bridge, and watching baseball.

These are a few memories from the last years of Doris (Bentley) Allan's life when we both lived in Ottawa and I had the chance to see her more often which tell something of the way she aged with grace, spirit and sometimes fiery determination.

Martini on the Rocks

In the late 1990s, Aunt Doris treated me, my cousin Bruce and his wife Alena to dinner one night at the Hunt Club Golf Club in Ottawa. Bruce was in town for a conference and Alena had come along for the shopping. The dining room was booked that night so we sat in a cozy lounge set aside for golfers who wished a more casual dining environment. Aunt Doris, then about 87 or 88, ordered a "martini on the rocks" from the young waiter.

Apparently deceived by the elegant appearance of the grey-haired lady, he returned a few minutes later and asked her politely, "Did you want ice with that?"

She looked surprised and glanced at us for confirmation and replied in a slight drawl, "Well, I said on the rocks didn't I?" We nodded agreement.

Suitably chastened, the waiter scampered back to the bar to bring the formerly meek lady her martini on the rocks. She knew how to obtain service.

Golf on T.V.

Aunt Doris loved golf. Recovering in the Montfort Hospital in Vanier just a month before her death, she complained of the boredom and how long the days were. Without her contact lenses, she could not read and her hands were too sore for her to consider using them. I arranged to have a telephone and television set up for her to offer some distraction. The weekends were a particular treat for her because pro golf filled the day.

It was with some consternation then that she called me the next Saturday afternoon at 1:30 pm. Sheila answered the phone and Aunt Doris barked, "Is Bob there, I can't find the golf!" No hellos, no how do you dos, but straight to the point.

Sheila passed the phone to me and Doris quickly exclaimed, "Bob, I can't find the golf!"

Remote control in hand, I flipped through the channels without success and finally settled on the programme listings channel. In time it revealed that golf was on two channels, one then and one later. I imparted this welcome intelligence to her and she hurriedly changed channels. To her obvious frustration, she observed "It's not golf, Bob".

"Yes it is", I replied, "that's just a commercial".

We chatted quietly while waiting for the beloved golf to appear. A few minutes later, "It's still not golf".

"No, but it's just another commercial", I replied but with less conviction.

A few minutes later the golf finally appeared to my relief and her evident delight, "Thanks Bob, goodbye". Golf on, conversation over.

When I visited her at the hospital that evening, six or seven hours later, she was still happily watching golf.

Dinner with Dave and Doris

On another occasion in spring 2002, my brother Dave had come to Ottawa on business. He had arranged to meet a friend at a pub for 9:00 but we decided to see if we could drop by for a visit with Aunt Doris beforehand. We ultimately took her out for dinner but not having a lot of time, we hoped to find someplace close to her posh retirement home on the banks of the Rideau River in Sandy Hill. We set out by car and passed by a number of restaurants which were not suitable before we came to A Passage to India.

Aunt Doris piped up, "I hear it's very good."

Dave inquired, "Do you like Indian food?"

"Not at all", she shot back drily.

With that option closed, we soon found ourselves across the Rideau River in Vanier, a French enclave with a seedy main drag of strip malls, taverns and exotic dance parlours.

We found a small licensed family diner that promised good food. The thought of Aunt Doris in such a place seemed incongruous. Dave and I ordered a beer and a hamburger platter. Aunt Doris ordered a hot dog which she ate with evident relish. She commented about how good it was, how it had been so long since she had eaten a hot dog, and how they never had them on the menu at Rideau Terrace, her retirement home. We should not have been surprised. She had grown up in a baseball-loving family and must have enjoyed hot dogs often in the ballparks of her youth. Aunt Doris had told me that she and Uncle Don had often attended Ottawa triple A ball-games in the 1940s and early 1950s where they frequently met future Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in the stands.

She washed the hot dog down with a Scotch and soda and then we returned her to Rideau Terrace after a delightful evening.

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Copyright © Robert C. Fisher 2002-2016