• C.J. Maxwell

Red Hat Society soldiers on through pandemic


PHOTO COURTESY MARY BISSONNETTE

Back in pre-pandemic times, the Red Hat Society women – this chapter named the West Island Beautiful Bowlers – celebrated their 5th anniversary in 2013 at the Côte de Vaudreuil Vineyard on Harwood in Vaudreuil-Dorion where they were given an escorted tour of the property by owner, Serge Primi (front, left, kneeling).


A chance encounter 15 years ago, seeing a group of older women sitting together adorned in red hats and purple blouses, intrigued Kirkland resident France Medicoff enough to do some research and discover the Red Hat Society leading her to form her own chapter.

Based on the 1961 poem ‘Warning’ by Jenny Joseph, the opening lines read, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple…

“With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.”

The poem, which Joseph wrote at the age of 29, goes on to detail all the ways she will defy convention of the expectations of proper behaviour when one reaches a certain age. And the Red Hat Society’s goal, according to their website, is to allow women who’ve given their all to family, career, and community to step back and finally take some time for themselves and to have fun with like-minded women.

“We’re not very well-known,” said Medicoff, “especially in Quebec.”

Pandemic effects on group

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the group – which consists of about 22 members from the West Island out to Les Cèdres – would meet on a monthly basis to socialize and support one another in the daily struggles some of the elderly women face.

“It’s a great group for active seniors,” said Medicoff who holds the title ‘Queen,’ “… through no qualification of mine,” she hastened to add.

Restaurant meals or tea room visits were organized so that members would be seated randomly, allowing everyone in the group a chance to get to know the other women.

Many of the members are widowed and now, with the isolation imposed by the pandemic, the group is feeling the effects of the withdrawal from their red-hatted sisters.

“Normally we would get together for lunch once a month,” said 12-year Red Hat member and Vaudreuil-Dorion resident Mary Bissonnette, “and the Queen organized some outdoor activities in the summer. But I haven’t seen any of them for months now.”

Bissonnette credits the group for their loyal support through the years, helping her through the death of her husband Joe over three years ago.

“We watch out for each other,” she said.

Connecting through technology

Though the group keeps in touch on Facebook and with small Zoom meetings of four or five members at a time, all in-person meetings have been suspended.

“Zoom meetings help but it’s just not the same,” said Medicoff. The platform lacks the in-person touch and many of the seniors have encountered difficulty with trying to navigate the technology.

While the Red Hat Society is open to women aged 55 and older, Medicoff said the median age of her group is older and even when COVID-19 restrictions were lessened during the summer months, many of the members still were not comfortable attending outdoor meetings.

With the upcoming winter season and the current state of infection levels in the province, Medicoff is hopeful all members will be open to using the Zoom platform to continue meeting and keep everyone’s morale boosted.

In the meantime, members stay connected via telephone. “We have one member who’s currently ill but people stay in touch, giving her calls.

Staving off loneliness

“It’s not easy,” Medicoff added. “For seniors, loneliness is more difficult than for any other group. We’re trying not to go out at all so if you’re getting your groceries delivered, you’re not seeing anyone.” She said the second wave of the virus has been more difficult on the seniors than the initial outbreak.

“The first one we were ready to accept it because we sort of saw the light at the end of the tunnel. But now, with winter and the holidays coming, it makes it more difficult.”

But Medicoff stands firm in her belief in the strength of the group. “I believe we’ll cope. I intend to do another Zoom meeting or two. And yes, we’ll all be wearing our red hats.”

For more information consult www.redhatsociety.com

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