Don Harron was just a young fella when we first got to know his alter-ego, an aging farmer by the name of Charlie Farquharson. After more than 60 years of entertaining the masses together – from stage to television – today they both know a thing or two about being a senior in this country.
After an illustrious career in and outside of Canadian show business, Harron recently released a memoir of his life’s work, dubbed “My Double Life: Sexty Yeers of Farquharson Around with Don Harron,” an account of his time with Charlie as well as his experience with Shakespearean plays, Broadway musicals and shows in London’s West End. He will be discussing his life’s work with Waterloo Region’s chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) on March 19.
He’s had a varied career, but through it all Charlie has been an influence on and an integral part of Harron’s work. A “second self and, in a way, more truly myself than I am.”
“I was involved in the Spring Thaw revue (in 1952) and I would try to get laughs from people by making fun of the government in my own voice and it didn’t work. So a very wise lady who was the real star of Spring Thaw, Jane Mallett, said, ‘you need a disguise, you’re too young; people think you’re just a smart ass making fun of the government, so become an older man.’ So, I became the farmer that I once worked for.”
“I met Charlie, several of them, working on a farm in 1942, but I didn’t have the nerve to do him for 10 years,” he explained.Charlie is an aging farmer, with a distinct political slant who speaks what Harron calls broken Canadian. He is worried about his future.
“Charlie is stuck alone because farmers don’t get a retirement, there’s no pension for a farmer, there’s no freedom 55. Charlie is hoping for freedom 85,” he explained.
With such a long history of looking at the world through a senior’s eyes, Harron brings insight to his appearance at the CARP event.
“What a man like Don Harron brings when he speaks to our members: number one, he is a really big piece of Canadian nostalgia,” said chair of local CARP chapter Debby Fox.
The fast-growing local chapter created nearly three years ago, encompasses members from the tri-cities area as well as Woolwich, Wellesley and Wilmot and North Dumfries townships. As a national organization, CARP is run out of a head office in Toronto with a mission to create better quality of life for aging Canadians through the exploration of health issues and political advocacy for seniors.
“When I heard him speak at Kitchener City Hall, at the end of his presentation he goes into this bag and he pulls out the old sweater and the old hat that he wore when he was Charlie Farquharson on television: I was like a little girl sitting on the floor when my parents used to watch him on television,” Fox added.
While local chapters of the organization vary in activity and liveliness, she said, the ABCs of the organization – advocacy, benefits to the members, and community – are a common thread.
The local chapter focuses on helping to keep its members active through preventative heath routines, and a positive outlook, Fox said of the 4,600 CARP member households.
Meeting individuals like Don Harron is part of that process, she added.
“Going to see him speak so vibrantly about his life when he’s at this age which is in his late eighties, it tells us and reinforces that life is ours for the living should we choose to take care of ourselves and engage and remain active, and that we don’t give up when we are 65 anymore.”
Harron is no stranger to the area, having spoken at various CARP meetings before, including a previous presentation at the local chapter. Years ago, he even conducted the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony as Charlie Farquharson.
“I’ve already spoken in Kitchener-Waterloo before Christmas: it was wonderful, the audience was great so I guess I’ll have to get some new stuff,” he laughed.
Bringing Charlie along and talking about his book, Harron will be speaking at St. George Hall in Waterloo at 6:30 p.m. on March 19.