By Sue Tiffin
When Linda Robertson and Wendy Connelly sit together to speak in memory of their friend, Donna Lee McKnight, they spend much of the time laughing.
That’s how they spent time together throughout McKnight’s life, too. McKnight, a Minden resident, who was recovering in the hospital after a medical event on Dec. 4 died unexpectedly on Jan. 4, leaving her friends with much sadness but also happy fun-filled memories.
“I probably met her when she was first born, because her family was kind of connected with mine,” said Connelly, remembering their friendship beginning as “very little girls.”
As noted in her obituary, born to Lloyd and Edith McKnight, living with brothers Lloyd “Snuffy” and Brian at home, McKnight “grew up in a house filled with music, and she was seldom without her guitar.”
“When we were all growing up, [Brian] would play for dances and we’d all be there,” said Connelly. “My family was musical, her family was all musical, so we kind of just all … partied.”
“And Donna liked to do that,” laughed Robertson. “Wherever there was country music, that’s where you saw Donna Lee. As long as I can remember.”
Robertson met McKnight through Robertson’s sister, Doris, who had accompanied McKnight on a trip to Scotland several years back.
“After that, she just kind of integrated into our family, you know?” said Robertson. “At Christmas time and Easter and every special occasion, Donna always came and had dinner with my family. Donna became very much a part of our family.”
McKnight also became part of Robertson and Connelly’s band, the Country Hot Flashes, in her own way, coming along to events like the Country Music Jamboree in Coboconk as the band’s sort of roadie.
“She was always there to help out,” said Robertson. “She helped us with the equipment, helped us take the money at the door, and she’d get up and sing at open mic. She was very involved with us girls. She was always there.”
McKnight’s love for country music – “There’s only one kind of music,” she once quipped – led her to follow the work of musicians whenever she could. When she lived in Oshawa, she followed people like Rick Jones, Harold MacIntyre, Todd Nolan and Johnny Burke.
“He used to do a lot of music down in the Oshawa area,” said Robertson. “Every night of the week she would work, and after work she’d go to wherever he was playing.”
It was the connection she made with Todd Nolan, a production manager and audio engineer, that led to McKnight checking off an item on her life’s bucket list – creating a music CD alongside her friends, Robertson, Connelly and Connie Sawyer, who called themselves Four of a Kind.
“She was so proud of it,” said Robertson. “She was still flogging those CDs down at bingo. I don’t know how many she sold, quite a few down there. ‘Guess what, I’m on this CD!’ ‘Really? Well, where can I buy it?’ ‘I have one right here!’”
The experience was special for all four in the group.
“We had some good memories of doing that CD, and Donna Lee was always, I guess what you’d call a tomboy,” said Robertson. “She didn’t like makeup and wouldn’t put a dress on or anything like that, but the day we did the photo shoot, we all had to get some makeup on and all that. That was quite the experience too. Getting her lipstick on, makeup, do her hair, that was quite out of character for her but she went along with it.”
McKnight rarely wore makeup, but she was seen from time to time with it on when she showed up at events as her alter ego, Aunt Martha.
“She never said anything to anybody, but she’d disappear and come back as Aunt Martha,” said Robertson. “All of a sudden, Donna would come up missing, and then she’d show up as Aunt Martha.”
“With a pail and a mop,” laughed Connelly, of Aunt Martha’s props, which she danced around the room with no matter the audience. The costume included makeup, which Robertson noted, “was a little different.”
“From your nose right down to your chin,” laughed Connelly.
“She really did miss her calling,” said Robertson. “She should have been a comedian. She was right full of one-liners. You never knew what she was going to say next or do next.”
Besides her comical side, McKnight was known for her kindness.
“She was very kind and caring about other people,” said Robertson. “She’d give you the last dollar she had in her purse, that’s the kind of person she was. If she thought you needed it more than her, she’d give it you. She was very generous. She never really had a lot of money, but she always made sure everybody was looked after when it came to gifts. Never forgot your birthday, or anything like that.”
After her death, people spoke to that kindness, including people who knew her through her friendship with the Haliburton County Red Wolves, her work at the Minden Curling Club, at the Minden legion, or at Easton’s Valu-Mart, where one customer noted that due to her own eyesight, McKnight would act as her eyes and help her with her shopping. McKnight was known to help out wherever she could, even if someone was needed in a last-minute role at the beef barbecue or fair.
“It didn’t matter, if somebody said they needed a hand with something, she was right there,” said Robertson.
A celebration of life will eventually be planned for McKnight, one filled with music, fun, laughter, and perhaps a costume or two.
“We’re sure gonna miss her,” said Robertson.