SIGHTLINES: Free spirit remembered

South Surrey artist Maggi Rey passed away last month at the age of 82.  - Contributed photo
South Surrey artist Maggi Rey passed away last month at the age of 82.
— image credit: Contributed photo

It was a gathering the way Maggi would have wanted it.

The 80 or so people who came together at Beecher Street Place on Feb. 17, for a potluck and celebration of the life of late Crescent Beach artist and craftsperson Margaret ‘Maggi’ Rey, instantly recognized touches that evoked her whimsical, always upbeat presence.

Platefuls of chocolate biscuits, many potfuls of tea and more than a few bottles of wine were reminders of the generosity and capacity for joy that all associated with the diminuitive Rey, who passed away Jan. 28 at the age of 82.

So were the vivid and vigorous paintings and charmingly distinctive papier-mâché creations – including her popular dolls and puppets – that lined the room, most of which, as her son Hugo pointed out, had been loaned by their longtime owners for the occasion.

There were friendly faces well-known in local arts and community circles who came because of their special affinity for the artist; people like potters Connie Glover and Sid and Adele Samphire, musician Mike Villeneuve and Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve, and painter and print-maker Don Li-Leger.

Paper and crayons on all the tables tempted spontaneous creations among the guests, while the late-afternoon vista of Crescent Beach from the upstairs windows of Beecher Place prompted memories of the artist walking or riding her bike through the quiet village.

Indeed, it was hard not to fancy that one could still see the tiny Rey, out of the corner of one’s eye, quietly observing, and chuckling at, the scene.

Known in latter years as a member of the Artists At Hand group, and a participant in their annual Christmas shows and sales, Rey was a lifelong artist and creator from her earliest years in Essex, England and growing up in Scotland.

With typically dry humour, Hugo narrated a slideshow of photographs from Rey’s full life which had spanned continents and embraced both close family members and an international community of friends.

Family included daughter-in-law Diane Cadieux, granddaughters Odessa and Celeste Cadieux Rey, Kathleen and Naiara Taylor, and Rey’s sister Nancy and her husband, Theo Hendriksen.

Uncompromisingly Bohemian, Rey, as Hugo related, was “always very poor  – she always lived in the smallest house in any given place.”

He was born, he said in a tiny shack that “used to be a chicken coop” in the Orkney Islands. A later residence, he said, was a former “goat shed.”

But her paucity of means never meant that Rey, a single mother by the time Hugo was two years old, didn’t have a life full of riches, or have ample opportunity to indulge her endless sense of curiosity. Moving to the U.S. when Hugo was still young, Rey kept them going with a staggering succession of teaching jobs and arts-and-crafts entrepreneurships all the way from New Jersey to California and New Mexico, finally arriving in Crescent Beach in the late ’70s.

While many remembered Rey with smiles, it was an occasion that evoked its share of tears and deep pangs of loss, particularly when granddaughter Odessa Cadieux-Rey and several close friends, like Texan Tom White, who knew her for 45 years, spoke of the bonds they had shared with Rey.

And one of the most touching tributes came from daughter-in-law Diane whose clear and tuneful singing voice, self-accompanied on guitar, brought added meaning to the old folk song My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose, and the line “Fare thee well, ye bonnie lass...”

But tears were replaced by smiles by the time the boom box spun the disc of the 1980s revival of Puttin’ On The Ritz  – a rendition Rey so enjoyed when it came out  that she’d told Cadieux, “I want that played at my funeral.”

A free spirit in life, Rey is now a free spirit for eternity, and of that no one could, ultimately, be sad.

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