Anne Murray looks like a woman who worships hard work.

When I lay eyes on her, I don’t recognize her immediately. She’s smaller than I expected, wiry and thin, with piercing blue eyes and cropped grey hair. Her body seems remarkably strong for a woman so slight. I can tell when we’re introduced that she’s taken aback by my age. Or it’s that I’m wearing jeans and a parka to the Colon Cancer Canada Gala.
“I’m sorry I’m underdressed, ” I tell her.
She smiles, the ice broken.
“Don’t worry about it.”
She’s disarming and kind, speaking slowly and with measured grace.
“I was in the public eye for all of those years because that was my job, but I don’t think I was ever really comfortable in the public eye. Since I’ve retired which was just earlier this year, I’ve become a much more relaxed person and will have more time to spend on charities and giving back, so that’s what I’m very happy to do. This is a rare evening out for me.”

That might be true now, but it wasn’t once. Anne Murray had many historical nights out.

She’s received four Grammy Awards and twenty-four Juno Awards, holding the record for the most Junos awarded to an artist in history. She also has three American Music Awards and three Canadian Country Music Awards. She has been inducted into countless Halls of Fame and she has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I can tell she’s genuinely humble, which is incredible considering the life she’s lead. The night she won a Grammy award for “A Love Song” John Lennon came to her dressing room and told her that her cover of “You Won’t See Me” was the best he’d heard. It’s also rumored that she was Elvis’ favourite singer upon his death.

Murray retired earlier this year, and since then she has avoided the spotlight. What brought her here on this night, the Colon Cancer Gala, was something personal.

“My Grandma was a colon cancer survivor in the 1950s and it is also an unglamorous illness, I thought, you know what, it’s time people started to talk about it. I’ve taken it upon myself along with many others, to try and raise the profile for colon cancer and encourage people to get tested early. It’s nice to be able to put my name to something that is a worthy cause.”

I ask her, now that she’s retired, how important health is in her life.

“Well, it’s everything for me. I’ve always been active and it’s such a big part of my life. I have severe scoliosis so in order for me to stay straight and be fit, I have to be on the move all the time. I do aerobics twice a week, and I do yoga once a week and I swim and have a trainer on other days. It’s hard work, it doesn’t just happen, you know. There is no off season.”

I can tell Anne has lived her life without off seasons. I wonder what advice she would give to other young women who want to pursue their dreams.

“I think you have to be prepared to work very hard. Nothing comes easy, and nothing good comes easy. It’s hard, hard work. People who see show business and the job I did as glamorous and easy and simple should read my book. It’s anything but those things. You have to be dedicated and passionate about what you do, and if you do that, it’ll happen for you.”

What advice would she give her younger self, that girl who worked so hard?

“Oh, dear me. I think the most important thing for people is to not take themselves too seriously, and not have it be whatever your work is to be absolutely everything. Sometimes you do that as a young person, you get so wrapped up that you don’t see everything. I am the perfect example of that, I would be working and not seeing things, just focused on Point A to Point B. Have a good time, too. And laugh a lot. A good sense of humour helps, and don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Our time is over, and as soon as my tape recorder is off, I can tell Anne is more at ease, and so am I. We begin to speak like two people, no longer just polite questions and answers.

I put my parka back on as we walk towards the red carpet, where photographers are anxiously waiting for Anne.

“Do you want your picture with Anne?” a woman asks me.

I look at Anne to gage if she’d be comfortable with that. She seems like she would be.

“You should take your parka off,” the woman tells me.

I take off my coat and Anne puts her arm around me.

“Let me teach you something about posture,” another woman says to Anne. “Point one toe towards me and move your shoulders on an angle.”

Anne looks at me and raises her eyebrows, as if to say, “Well, she’s straight forward.”

“You’ve done this a lot before,” I whisper to her and we laugh.

“Wait,” she yells, “my lapel isn’t right.”

She fixes her collar and our picture is taken. I shake her hand one last time.

“Thank you, and have fun tonight.”

“Oh, I will,” she says.

I believe her.

~ Katie Boland