By Jeff Morris
Manotick’s ties to Rideau Hall are growing.
Earlier this year, Manotick resident Mary Simon was named Governor General of Canada.
Now, another Manotick resident, Gabrielle D’Emilio-Lappa, has released 1 Sussex Drive, a book based on her 36 years of work in the Governor General’s Office.
For D’Emilio-Lappa, the book started as a retirement project. She collected stories, memoirs and anecdotes from the past of those who worked behind the scenes at Rideau Hall. The stories are told in first person by D’Emilio-Lappa’s former colleagues and friends who worked for as many as 50 years as the Valet (starting with General Vanier), the Housemaid, the Footman, the Maître d’hôtel, the Orderly and others.
1 Sussex Drive is a collection of short stories, memorable moments, and anecdotes from the past, as told by those who worked behind the scenes, and often for the greatest part of their working lives, at Rideau Hall. From an unexpected encounter with the President of Brazil to a card game with The Queens, General Vanier’s final moments with his trusted Valet and the favourite meal ever prepared by the Executive Chef, the stories and the people are real, and they present an intimate glimpse of gentler times in ‘the big House’.
D’Emilio-Lappa talked to different publishers about the book, she ended up self publishing. She wanted to write a book about the humble people who served the Governor General’s office with loyalty and devotion. The publishers were looking for something different.
“Following the interviews with these people, I wrote their stories and ensured that they approved the content,” D’Emilio-Lappa said. There is no gossip nor derogatory comments, which is what publishers were looking for.”
After graduating from Carleton University, D’Emilio-Lappa was hired as an events clerk at Rideau Hall when Jules Léger was the Governor General. Her job included preparing guest lists, and writing names on invitation cards for ceremonies, dinners, and receptions. She eventually became Director of Honours, where she worked closely with Canada’s national honours and awards programs.
“Meeting so many great Canadians and seeing them recognized for their bravery, military valour, volunteer service or outstanding contributions to their country was the highlight of my career,” she said.
Some of the more exciting moments for D’Emilio-Lappa were shaking hands with South African President Nelson Mandela when he came to Rideau Hall in 1990, and meeting His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1984.
“I was expecting our first child and he took my hand and blessed the baby,” she said.
While the Governor General of Canada is the representative of the Queen, D’Emilio-Lappa says that the Office of the Governor General does not feel like it is connected to Buckingham Palace.
“Since the appointment of Vincent Massey as the first Canadian Governor General, I feel that the Office has always been more a reflection of Canada and Canadians than of ‘royalty’,” she said. “Even though our system of government is a constitutional monarchy, for those who worked at Rideau Hall for so many years, the emphasis was on making the Residence a warm and welcoming home to the ‘tenants’ and their families, who were there for five or more years, as well as for all who visited or were invited to an event.”
During her time at Rideau Hall, D’Emilio-Lappa worked for eight different Governors General.
“Each Governor General I worked with brought dedication and pride to the Office” she said. “I can honestly say that, for any event, whether it was for a visiting Head of State, a royal visit or for Canadians being recognized for their contributions, the effort and expectations were the same. Rideau Hall set the standards for the rest of the country and, in many cases, the world. This was evident in the staff members who worked there and perhaps this explained their dedication and loyalty which, to this day, even after most of the people in the book have retired and the GGs they served have passed on, they maintain their discretion and sense of loyalty to the individuals and their families.”
Although D’Emilio-Lappa has retired from her position at Rideau Hall, she is excited that fellow Manotick resident Mary Simon is the new Governor General.
“Mary Simon has been, for decades, a woman of determination, experience, and deep knowledge of our country,” she said. “She has been, and continues to be, a mentor and role model to many. I was so happy to hear of Mrs. Simon’s appointment and I’m confident that both she and her spouse, Whit Fraser, will bring a welcoming warmth and dignity to the Office while preserving its history and increasing awareness of Indigenous cultures and traditions. They are surrounded by knowledgeable and hard-working staff members who will help them with the many demands of the Office.”
D’Emilio-Lappa said the book was self-published with the intent of simply covering the cost of the books and donating any profits to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
“I never dreamed of writing and publishing a book even though I always loved writing about interesting lives lived,” she said. “As my collection of stories increased, I felt that they needed to be preserved and shared.”
Soft-cover copies of the book are available at Manotick Office Pro on Main Street for $25.00. Hard and soft cover copies can also be ordered online at Amazon.ca or FriesenPress.ca.