Please join us in a celebration of the life of Lorna Toolis:

WHEN: Saturday, 23 October 2021
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
WHERE: Streaming online (details below)
WHAT:
Those of us able to g...
OBITUARY

Lorna Diane Toolis

6 October, 195211 August, 2021

Lorna Toolis

Lorna Toolis, long-time head of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy, and a significant influence on the Canadian SF community, died in Toronto on 11 August, 2021.

Lorna was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 6 October 1952, to Robert and Shirley (nee Setter) Toolis. She grew up in the nearby town of Transcona, where she discovered SF—specifically Andre Norton’s The Stars are Ours!—in her grandmother’s closet while trying to avoid a broadcast of “Hockey Night in Canada.” She maintained a love of Norton’s writing for the rest of her life (along with an antipathy to hockey).

In her teens Lorna took the two steps that came to define the rest of her life. First she met the noted Winnipeg collector, and one-time pulp SF writer, Chester Cuthbert, and began developing her encyclopaedic knowledge of the field. She remained friends with Cuthbert until his death. Second, she got a job working as a page at a Winnipeg public library, and libraries came to be her life’s work.

In the meantime she completed a BA in history at the University of Winnipeg, then moved to Edmonton to get a master’s degree in library science at the University of Alberta. It was while she was at university that Lorna discovered science fiction fandom through “Star Trek.” While still living with her parents Lorna attended her first SF convention (Toronto Star Trek ’76), but it was at the U of A that she became fully immersed in fandom, joining the Edmonton Science Fiction and Comic Arts Society and rapidly becoming one of ESFCAS’s most active members. She contributed to and edited the club newsletter, and wrote for (and collected) numerous SF fanzines. She also served on the executive committees of the club and of many of the conventions the club presented.

It was while she was most active in ESFCAS that she was introduced to another important feature of her life. In the early 1980s a friend invited her to play in a new collaborative game he was setting up. This game was a tabletop role-playing game, an idea then not yet ten years old (the first RPG, Dungeons and Dragons, was published in 1974), and Lorna took to the idea of collaborative story-telling immediately.

She also took to her referee. Lorna married Michael Skeet on 5 May 1984, and they were happily married to the end of her days. Lorna eventually became a Game Master herself, and had been running her own role-playing game for over a quarter of a century when she died. (The game ended with her.)

Professionally, Lorna always punched above her weight. While still in her mid-twenties she was appointed head of technical services for the library of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, a job she performed well. This was not the ultimate destination for Lorna or her career, though.

In 1986, following a nation-wide search for qualified candidates, Lorna was appointed head of collection at what was then known as the Spaced Out Library, a special collection of the Toronto Public Library founded through a donation from author-editor Judith Merril. This was a perfect moment, when an institution in need of guidance encountered a person supremely qualified—both professionally and personally—to provide that guidance.

Lorna quickly turned SoL into a highly respected and influential reference collection, hosting and assisting researchers both academic and non-academic and organizing a comprehensive collection policy. At the same time she revived the support group The Friends of the Spaced Out Library and managed the collection’s part in the lengthy process of obtaining a new home; in 1995 she was able to move the collection to the new Lillian H. Smith branch, where the library was renamed in Merril’s honour.

Lorna’s time at the Merril coincided with an outburst of creativity in the Canadian SF community, and Lorna advised and mentored a significant number of Canadian authors. She was a founding member of the Canadian SF professionals’ organization SFCanada, and won an Aurora Award in 1991 for co-editing the anthology Tesseracts4. When academic and author Allan Weiss instituted an academic conference on Canadian speculative fiction, Lorna arranged for the Merril Collection both to host the conference and to provide administrative support.

Lorna was known for a dry (some might say acerbic) wit, both at work and at home. One problem she often encountered at the library was overenthusiastic H.P. Lovecraft fans who refused to believe The Necronomicon was not a real book. Lorna sent these people to a local book-seller, Arthur Wharton—who was in on the joke and retained a small stock of the so-called “Simon” version to sell them.

Lorna also maintained a fierceness when it came to administrative matters concerning the collection. Whatever else her superiors may have thought of her strong defence of the collection and its staff, they had at least to respect her determination.

Lorna was near-legendary within the community for her ability to identify novels or stories based on the most rudimentary information provided by patrons—in some cases by the colour and primary image on a cover. She said the piece inquired about most frequently was Ray Bradbury’s “The Sound of Thunder.” (That’s the one about the butterfly wing and the hurricane.) This combination of knowledge and the ability to retrieve it quickly made Lorna a popular guest on media outlets, and she appeared on such programs as Ideas (CBC Radio) and Prisoners of Gravity (TV Ontario).

When she retired in April 2017 she had been head of the Spaced Out Library/Merril Collection for over three decades; under her direction it had grown from a curated assemblage of books and periodicals numbering in the low five figures to a complex corpus of over 80,000 items encompassing books, periodicals, art, recording, video, ephemera, and other materials. Lorna left the Toronto Public Library with a unique world class reference collection, building on Judith Merril's original donation to create a public resource supporting academia, industry, and the curiosity and creativity of the people of Toronto.

Lorna’s professional work, though, represented just part of her impact on the world. Wherever she lived she made friends. More importantly, she kept them. She visited with friends every week, often several times a week—even when lockdowns restricted meetings to virtual space. She was also known for her culinary generosity, feeding large groups of friends at least once a week for over two decades before she retired. There wasn’t a national cuisine or style of cooking she wasn’t curious about; when it came to dining out her mantra was, “I have no idea what this is. Let’s try it.” Her enthusiasm for cooking (and eating) was something that benefited everyone around her.

All of her friends knew she could be counted on for support, practical or moral, no matter what the circumstances. She was a good friend to the very end.

Lorna Toolis is survived by her husband, Michael Skeet, of Toronto; and by her brother, Richard Toolis, of Transcona; and by numerous nieces and nephews. She is missed by everyone who knew her.

In lieu of flowers or any other actions, Lorna requested that people consider donations to the following:

Megan Church is an Australian woman who operates a bat-rescue service: https://megpi6.wixsite.com/megabattie-design/contact

Closer to home, the Toronto Wildlife Centre: https://www.torontowildlifecentre.com/donate/

Tennessee’s The Elephant Sanctuary: https://shop.elephants.com/give The United Kingdom’s The Fox Project: https://foxproject.org.uk/product/donation/

Africa’s Sheldrake Wildlife Trust: https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/donate

And finally, the online Science Fiction Encyclopedia: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/donate-to-sfe

https://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/local-history-genealogy/2020/11/merril-collection-at-50-stories-from-the-spaced-out-library.html

Services

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Memories

Lorna Diane Toolis

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Randy Reichardt

18 October 2021

.: Oh, Lorna - friend, kindred spirit, fellow librarian, fellow Winnipeger. I am so saddened to see you go. I met you (most likely) at an ESFCAS event in the late 70s, and recall many a good conversation with lots of laughs included. A story for you: after the previous librarian at SoL resigned/retired, Judy Merril mentioned to me at a con (I can't remember which one) that I should consider applying for the position. I smiled and nodded and thought to myself, "Um, I think there is someone way more qualified than me to take the reins of this amazing collection," and that someone was you. Thankfully and fortunately, it happened! And what incredible, memorable, and important work you did with the Merril Collection. It is a lasting legacy that will inform and entertain other for decades to come.

Michael, please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your amazing wife and best friend. Hopefully in the future we will all meet in the ether and sing You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet as we raise our glasses to the Universe.

Chris Szego

28 August 2021

Intelligent, funny, and hard-working, Lorna was amazingly fun to be around. I'll miss her terribly, but feel so lucky to have known her.

Donna MacLeod

26 August 2021

I had the very great privilege to work with Lorna for about a decade and a half, although I met her before that on trips the Spaced Out collection. We shared a common affection for Andre Norton, Connie Willis, Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles de Lint and a huge, huge number of other authors.

What I will miss most is her great wit, matched only by her great kindness, and also her unbridled love for her work, her collections, and her tribe. With Lorna's passing, the world lost one of the Good Ones.

My deepest condolences to Michael, to her family, and to all those who loved her best.

Hugh Spencer

21 August 2021

Lorna was a great friend and titan of Canadian speculative fiction. Thanks to her ceaseless efforts, the Merril Collection is a jewel of the Toronto Public Library system; and generations of readers, writers, artists and scholar (like me) all owe her a near-infinite debt and we will remember her well past the Year A.D. 802,701.

Boris Cibic

20 August 2021

Lorna was a fantastic librarian, resource and human being. I first encountered as a patron of the Merril Collection and was amazed a "librarian" who shared the same passions and interests as mine. Then upon becoming a librarian enjoyed the many times that she was there a resource on book-buying trips for the more obscure titles. Then I met her "on the line" when she was part of my picket roster. Then I had the good fortune to do a stint at ME and could see the wonderful collection that she helped build. Lorna may be gone but her work lives on.

Jonathon Hodge

20 August 2021

Around the time that the library had an SF writer-in-residence for the first time in ages, Lorna made a point of reminding me to get my submission in to her before the deadline, so that she wouldn't have to jig the process to get me a much-sought-after appointment with the writer. She also had the good graces to read a follow-up short story I'd produced and gave me honest and candid feedback. Years later, here I am on the verge of finding an agent, and Lorna is among the handful of people I would want to gift a copy of my first novel (whenever it comes out). I am saddened to know that I couldn't get it out in time to give it to her. My sense of the Merrill room is that it was so much Lorna's room in such a good way. My condolences on a life lived richly.

David Harvie

19 August 2021

My deepest condolences to Michael and family over the passing of Lorna.

I was shocked to heard the news and deeply regret having lost touch with her since her retirement. I remember as a library science student at UofT, visiting Lorna at the old Spaced Out Library location on St. George. Lorna’s vast knowledge and gentle spirit were an inspiration to me as I began my career in public libraries. It was an honour to have known her, and I feel privileged to have considered her to be a friend.

Martha Scott

17 August 2021

Mike, Lorna's family and friends:
I worked in the Osborne Collection (above the Merril) for many years and Lorna was a key figure: such a knowledgeable, fascinating, supportive and caring colleague. I am so sad to hear of her passing. My deepest condolences to you all.

Patti Skeet

17 August 2021

I’m sorry we didn’t have more time! Rest In Peace my sister-in-law.

Mary Rae Shantz

17 August 2021

My deepest condolences to Michael, and the crowd of friends and family who were touched by Lorna, and who feel her loss. Everyone has a Lorna story -- how she welcomed them, how she nurtured them, how she made them laugh, how she supported them... and my story is no different. She was a wonderful woman and will be missed by memory.

From the Family