19 JUN 2007: Marilyn Barker Paulson.  If you are a woman executive in this industry – or if you aspire to be one – chances are your road to success was made just a little easier by a very special woman who died Tuesday afternoon. 

If you worked in travel in the seventies or eighties she needs no introduction.  She ran Wardair’s tour department with style, grace and energy. At the time she was one of the only senior women executives at a large travel corporation.  She was smart, astute, shrewd, intelligent and sharp.

MB - The Boss

Marilyn was a demanding boss.  Work for her and you had better be prepared – for anything – at all times.  She was impatient and intolerant of laziness, or a lack of common sense, or an unwillingness to apply oneself.  Yet no one could be kinder, more generous, or more caring if you had a problem, or needed understanding and advice.

In the old Wardair days at the TD Centre, or out at the airport offices, she drove herself harder than any of her staff. If you came in at 7am she was there ahead of you, when you left at 7pm, the big plum coloured Oldsmobile Toronado was still in the lot.

If you worked for “Barker,” or “MB” as we called her then (though not to her face), you knew you were pretty special.  Her employees and associates were loyal, devoted and many, myself included, became close personal friends and have remained so for many, many years.

As a vice president at Wardair, then Adventure Tours (now Signature Vacations) and later CP Holidays, Marilyn was always a force to be reckoned with. A successful woman herself, she encouraged women in business, but only if she believed they had the talent, energy and dedication for the job. To Marilyn, it was pretty obvious - the best person got the job – gender just didn’t matter.

250b   250b1

A passion for life

Few people live their lives with more passion.  She loved people. She loved to travel. She loved to learn. She loved to teach. She loved new adventures. 

She worked hard. She played hard. She loved, if not always wisely, well…certainly with gusto.

When she learned she had contracted Hepatitis C, through a blood transfusion, she accepted the news as she did everything else. It was a fact and she would live with it.  No complaints and no fuss.  Without a second’s hesitation she adapted to a life with dietary restrictions and no liquor, except the (very) occasional glass of celebratory champagne. 

She still laughed, enjoyed life and partied.  Few who didn’t know her realized her condition, or that the glass in her hand contained just juice. 

She particularly loved Spain and loved to spend time there. She had also spent years living and working in Russia and she never stopped travelling - but Canada was always home.

Last winter, as she always did, she skied at Whistler. She recently wrote an article on cruising the Danube for the new Cruise and Travel Lifestyles magazine.  Before she learned she was ill, she was scheduling trips for the next ten years. She was also working on an exhibition of her photographs and planning a new apartment in Toronto.

Even after, just a few short months ago, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, she excitedly discussed arrangements for a huge 70th birthday bash on July 11th.  That tragically, wasn’t to be. 


 Marilyn and Heather


Her family shared her

Marilyn’s family, particularly her daughter Heather, her three grandchildren and her three ex-husbands, were all obliged over the years to share her with her friends.  That they so graciously, and with good humour, welcomed us into their homes and lives, attest to the kind of people they are and were.

The friends were many.  Marilyn made little distinction.  Friends came in every age, in all kinds of professions, in all manner of social and financial strata and in every country one can think of. 

During her final stay at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, friends came from across the country, from the US and from Europe.  Friends took her to treatments, brought her gifts or just came by to talk.

They came also to pay tribute to a woman who has enriched the lives of all who knew her.  In her almost seventy years of life Marilyn was a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a sister, a companion, an executive, a boss and to many, many people all over the world, a beloved and devoted friend.

Marilyn Barker Paulson – irreplaceable.

Bon Voyage my friend.

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