The life and death of John George Dryden Diefenbaker (George) is nothing short of tragic, but arguably, inspiring.
Imagine, at 42-years of age, learning your life has been a lie. That’s what happened to George in 2010, when his cousin dropped the bombshell that family gossip suggested George was the product of a dalliance between his mom, Mary Lou, and former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. This would mean, of course, that Mary Lou’s husband, Gordon Dryden, the man who raised George and who he believed was his biological father, was not.
Perhaps this news came as a relief to George, who claimed Gordon, longtime federal Liberal party treasurer and influential stalwart, had always treated him badly. I can only imagine the resentment Gordon must have felt if he knew that shortly after they were married his wife had an affair, and little George was not his flesh and blood.
And not just any affair: an affair with a Conservative MP and the then-federal Conservative leader, at the same time as her husband was leading the revival of the federal Liberal party.
That is no excuse, however, if any of the atrocities George alleges Gordon committed are true.
After a paternity test in June 2011 revealed Gordon was indeed not George’s father, things in the Dryden family got ugly real quick, with George launching a $30 million lawsuit against his mother, Gordon Dryden, and members of the Dryden family.
At issue was the substantial estate of Mary Lou’s brother, John Lonergan. Gordon, a lawyer, had participated in drawing up and executing Lonergan’s will, which excluded George. The bulk of the fortune went to George’s little brother Barrie, and the rest to Gordon and Mary Lou.
In 2004 George had sued Uncle John, alleging he had sexually molested him, and won a $75 000 settlement.
In his 2011 lawsuit, George alleged that after little brother Barrie was born, Gordon “subjected George to emotional abuse….placed psychological pressure on Barrie Jr. to treat George as an outcast, to participate in (Gordon’s)… devious plans to exclude George out of an unconscionable desire to enjoy a disproportionate share of the family’s wealth.”
This after Barrie also inherited the entirety of another family member’s estate, who George also alleged ignored his existence.
“Barrie Jr. lacked the ability to withstand the psychological pressure of Mr. Dryden due to diminished mental capacity including subpar intelligence and autism,” continued the statement of claim. “Due to Barrie Jr.’s frailties, failures of character and selfish acts, he betrayed George to pacify Mr. Dryden.”
George lost the lawsuit in November 2011, and was required to pay $40 000 of his family member’s costs.
In summer of 2012, after being systematically rejected by more than two dozen of John Diefenbaker’s relatives, Dryden finally got a clue regarding the true identity of his biological father. Because Dief’s relatives refused to co-operate, a private investigator went dumpster diving in their trash, snagging an ear-wax coated Q-Tip. Dryden says tests on his DNA and that on the Q-Tip came back positive for a genetic link.
George suspected John Diefenbaker was aware that he was his son. He told the CBC about meeting Diefenbaker for the first time on Parliament Hill, when he was nine-years-old. Dief seemed to stare at him for a long time, and then told George (whose first name is John), “You’re named for me.”
Not satisfied with the ear wax evidence, George turned to the Diefenbaker Centre at the University of Saskatchewan for help, requesting items from the archive, such as hair brushes or clothing, from which Diefenbaker DNA could be extracted for testing. Initially resistive, the Centre finally relented, but it was eventually determined that the archives were too old, and had been too handled, to be of any use.
Throughout the course of his search, George learned he likely had at least one brother, who is deceased, as well as a possible sister, both of whom claimed Diefenbaker was their dad. Just a few weeks ago George was able to connect with his brother’s sons, who live in Saskatoon. Together they visited the grave of the man who was very likely their father and grandfather.
George Dryden died recently, the result of a terminal pancreatic disease he said was brought on by his alcoholism. Well, technically it was the result of his attempt to kill himself the day before, something he foreshadowed in an interview with the Canadian Press just a few days prior to his attempt.
“I’m not going to be tied to machines,” he said. “I’ll take care of it myself.”
George Dryden’s life was undeniably tragic. The amount of rejection he endured was simply astounding, yet he continued to fight, right up until his death, for what he was owed: respect, and his heritage. In that, his legacy should inspire us all to remember we are each worthwhile, deserving individuals, and no one can take that away from us.
According to the Star Phoenix, George’s last wish was for his little brother Barrie to know he was sorry, and that he “wanted to be buried in the Dryden family plot with both the names Dryden and Diefenbaker on his tombstone.”
The Dryden family denied George’s request. He will rest elsewhere, on his own.