Adrienne Clarkson is a journalist, broadcaster, author, and was Governor General of Canada from 1999 to 2005.
She was born in Hong Kong in 1939 to Chinese parents William and Ethel Poy. During World War II William was captured by the Japanese while serving with the Canadian Signals Corps. The family immigrated to Canada under a Red Cross-sponsored Japanese-American prisoner exchange program after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in 1942. Since there was a shortage of American prisoners for the program, the Canadian Trade Commission was asked to send any employees who wanted to leave, and Adrienne's father accepted.
When the family - Adrienne, her older brother, and her parents - arrived in Montréal, officials tried to prevent them from staying, citing a (racist) 1923 law that barred Chinese resettlement in Canada. Luckily, however, because their names were on that Japanese-American prisoner exchange list, they were admitted, and moved to Ottawa.
Adrienne earned an Honours B.A. and an M.A.in 1961 in English Literature from the University of Toronto. She did post-graduate work at the Sorbonne in France from 1962 to 1964, during which time she perfected her now-fluent French.
Her initial stint in the media spotlight began in 1965 and continued to 1982. She worked as host, writer, and producer on several CBC television programs, including "Take Thirty", "Adrienne at Large", and, most famously, "The Fifth Estate", where her impressive beehive hairdo, short skirts, and "exotic" (read: Asian) good looks only added to her intelligent and intense style. During this period she wrote articles and columns for newspapers and magazines in Canada; she had a monthly book review column for Chatelaine magazine. She has written two novels, A Lover More Condoling and Hunger Trace, as well as a book of essays, True To You In My Fashion: A Woman Talks to Men about Marriage.
From 1982 to 1987, Adrienne held her first diplomatic post: she served as the first Agent-General for Ontario in Paris, where her duties included promoting the province's business and cultural interests in France, Italy and Spain. On her return to Canada she went back to a media-oriented life, and was president and publisher of McClelland and Stewart from 1987 to 1988. From 1988 to 1999 she was executive producer, host, and writer for the TV shows "Adrienne Clarkson's Summer Festival" and "Adrienne Clarkson Presents", for which she won numerous awards in Canada and abroad. Adrienne has written and directed several films and contributed essays to Celebrating Inuit Art 1948-1970 and Trans Canada Trail: The 16,000 Kilometre Dream.
In 1988 she took part in a non-governmental delegation to observe a plebiscite in Chile and investigated the human rights status of writers, directors and actors for a group she belongs to, International PEN. In the 1995 she began to serve as Chair at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec and President of IMZ, the International Music Center based in Vienna, posts which she left in 1999 when she became Governor General. Adrienne received The Order of Canada in 1992 and holds honorary doctorates from four Canadian universities.
Her personal life is rather less illustrious. She married a University of Toronto political science professor, Stephen Clarkson, and had two daughters, but the marriage fell apart in 1975. Stephen gained custody of their children, and Adrienne has been estranged from her daughters ever since. In 1984 Adrienne began living with philosopher and author John Ralston Saul; when she learned she was in the running for the position of Governor General the two hastily married, the queen's representative living in sin being, apparently, a no-no. In part, she was chosen to be Governor General because she was a refugee to this country, as are so many great Canadians; it doesn't hurt that she is the second woman, and the first person from a visible minority, to hold the post. The fact that her now-husband is a well-known Canadian made the appointment a happy "two-for-one", and his biography was featured prominently with hers in the Prime Minister of Canada's announcement of the appointment, as well as on the official website of the Governor General,
http://www.gg.ca/govgen_e.html. You'll find a stodgy biography of Adrienne there.
Since she's become GG her work has been largely ceremonial and uncontroversial, though she did cause a ruckus when a staffer sent a polite note to a gay couple declining an invitation to their wedding, a move which many took to indicate tacit support for gay marriage. And right-wingers in general were incensed at the appointment of the "radical left-wing" couple to this post. Most Canadians, though, were pleased. I think we could have done a lot worse.
I've seen Adrienne many times because she is a member of the Downtown Toronto YMCA, as am I. When she was appointed Governor General, she moved to Ottawa, and I hadn't seen her again until last Friday, when she came in, better coiffed than before (and, I think, with less wrinkles - could it be?) for a muscleworks class. A bodyguard in a violet dress sat outside the room looking demure - though she could probably have disarmed me in a second - and a burly guard escorted the two out after the class. Adrienne sweated quite a bit - she hasn't been working out, I surmise - but still I was impressed that when in Toronto she comes to her old public gym in spite of her current exalted position. Yes, we could've done much worse than Adrienne Clarkson for Governor General.