N.S. auditor general writes book on lessons learned from 'superhero' grandmother

N.S. auditor general writes book on lessons learned from 'superhero' grandmother

HALIFAX — Though he may be better known for combing through Nova Scotia's finances, the province's auditor general has decided to try his hand at writing something other than fiscal reports: a book about lessons he learned from his grandmother.

Michael Pickup describes his nan as a superhero, a friend, and "everything and more than people traditionally think of a grandmother."

"My primary drive in writing the book was firstly to thank her and leave a tribute for her," he said Sunday.

Mary Ann Pickup of Cape Breton was the oldest of 12 children, the mother of five sons, and became a grandmother at 42 when Pickup was born to teenage parents.

The recently released self-published "Nan-Made: How a Grandmother Made a Man" recounts 25 of her lessons Pickup has carried with him through his life, including the importance of living with integrity and taking the time to love oneself and others.

While she was a career woman — returning to school in her 30s to pursue a career in health care, an uncommon feat for women at the time — Pickup said she always took the time to care for her family, imparting her wisdom to him as a child and well into his adulthood.

She also worked as a union leader and community activist, a job from which she retired around the same time Pickup began working in public service — but not before teaching him a lesson that has stuck with him throughout his career.

"Always remember, in public service, what you're there for," he said she told him 30 years ago. "You're there to make the lives better of the people who use those services."

Each chapter recounts a memory of his grandmother and concentrates on the lesson he learned from her in that situation.

Every Christmas, beginning when Pickup was a young child and up until his adulthood, he would help his grandparents put up their Christmas tree.

Nana Pickup had an annual tradition: she and her husband would co-write a letter and store it in the box where they kept the first ornament they got together as a married couple. The next year, they would all read it and write a new one.

His grandfather died suddenly around three decades ago, and the next year Pickup and his grandmother read the letter from the year before, grateful for the opportunity to hear from him one last time.

The story inspired a chapter in Pickup's book: "Ring a bell of gratitude."

"The letter was simple: it was thankful for the family that was there, the good times, the getting together, and the wish for health in the future," he said.

"So I'll always have that in my mind."

Pickup said he spent all of his spare time writing the book over the past year, working against the clock so his grandmother, who fell ill in April, would get to read it.

He included her throughout the book-writing process and showed her the finished copy in early July.

"She said to me, 'Michael, that was a lot of work,'" said Pickup. 

"And I said, 'it was worth every bit of it, and it pales in comparison to all you did for everybody.'"

She died two weeks later at the age of 94.

Pickup — whose day job is quite demanding — said he might need a bit of a break, but hopes to write another book: this time, focusing on his mother's side of the family.

He describes his maternal grandmother as "the complete opposite" of Mary Ann Pickup, but still someone who taught him a lot about life.

"Things like being independent, being strong, being hardworking, making decisions," he said.

 

Alex Cooke, The Canadian Press