Nanaimo woman’s lost letters reveal life among rich and famous
OAK BAY -- Prudence is sitting on a bench next to the ocean with a box beside her. She had been looking for something else when she discovered it.
“A kind of treasure trove,” the 83-year-old says.
It was filled with forgotten letters she’d written in her past that were saved by her parents. Prudence “plowed” through them all.
“I suppose it [was] sometimes with pleasure and excitement, sadness,” she says. “A variety of emotions.”
They chronicle a remarkable life that began in Nanaimo, with Prudence being — despite appearances — a self-described brat.
“So, I was sent off to boarding school,” she explains. “To become a lady.”
Prudence eventually escaped to England — to art school in London — and relished in the pleasure of finally finding her tribe.
“A good pint of bitter makes you happy wherever you are,” she laughs. “So that might have contributed to my feelings of happiness being with these artistic types.”
Prudence never expected to be offered the job of publicity at one of the world’s most glamorous hotels — The Savoy — during the swinging sixties.
“Here I am at The Savoy with Louis Armstrong,” she says, showing me a picture of her sitting next to the jazz icon.
It’s the first of more than a dozen photos that Prudence shows me, featuring her with the who’s who of the day — from supermodel Twiggy to comedian Bob Hope.
“I look back with some amazement,” she smiles. “I think, ‘Did I do that?’”
And that was just the beginning of what became a 30-year career doing publicity for more than 120 major movies around the world.
She shows me more pictures featuring her with more stars, from Michael Douglas to Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe to Jodie Foster, Robin Williams to Katherine Hepburn.
She wrote letters about all her adventures, which she sent home.
Decades later, Prudence’s mom — who’d sent her to boarding school — revealed her feelings about the life her daughter ended-up living.
“She said to me, ‘Prudence, do you know who I’d like to have been?’ I said, ‘Who, mom?’ She said, ‘You.’” Prudence recalls. “How touching is that?”
And how touching an ending to this story would that be? But it wouldn’t be true of our interview.
For example, when I asked, “What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?” Prudence responded with, “Getting over this interview with you!” And then burst into laughter.
Prudence always leads with laughter. Every picture she showed, laughter. Every story she told, laughter. Every moment you spend with her, laughter. And you start to realize how she was able to earn so many famous fans.
“Silliness is a lost art form,” she explains. “It’s humorous and therefore it uplifts one.”
Prudence says she lifted the best bits from the letters she found to help write her recently published memoir, ‘Nanaimo Girl’.
“I really plagiarized from myself,” she laughs.
While the book is filled with details about the famous, it’s told with the delight of a Nanaimo girl whose first full spoken sentence — according to it’s first chapter — was ‘Isn’t it funny.’