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This article was published 15/8/2015 (1522 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Maureen Scurfield won't shake hands upon arriving for an interview.
Her nails are wet, freshly varnished with gold polish.
Scurfield, who is better known as the Free Press's advice columnist, Miss Lonelyhearts, is a woman fond of glamour and all things exciting.
Hailing from Manitou, she boasts the longest-running advice column in Canada and is one of the most familiar faces at the newspaper. Yet she's a devout freelancer, someone who values her personal freedom more than a union contract.
Scurfield also has her own business, Goddess Adventures, and takes women 30 and older on daring trips once a week. Past adventures have included skydiving, helicopter rides and a Halloween scavenger hunt "in very dark places," she says, with a laugh.
Scurfield orders a pot of tea and settles into a booth at the Falafel Place (her meeting-place pick) to talk about her unique career path with Free Press reporter Jessica Botelho-Urbanski.
The interview has been edited for space.
Free Press: Before you became Miss Lonelyhearts, you were a reporter. What did you do before that?
Maureen Scurfield: I was a teacher first and then I found that I hated being in the classroom. I loved the kids and they often gave me the tough kids because I could handle them. But I wanted to be out in the world. I took them on a lot of field trips.
So then, I realized that I'd like my life to be like one big field trip, which is really what reporting is. It's going into all kinds of different worlds and situations.
So I took journalism at Carleton University and I had a job before I even left school. It helped to be older — I was 30. So then I worked in Hamilton and then Montreal and then Winnipeg.
FP: When you were at the Winnipeg Sun, why did you decide to moonlight as Miss Lonelyhearts?
MS: I came up with the idea because it was a new paper in town and a tabloid, I thought they needed an agony aunt. And who better than me?
They said you can't do your regular job and do that column and have credibility, so you're going to have to come up with a name. I said, 'Oh, just call me Miss Lonelyhearts.' It took three seconds.
FP: Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair Jr. revealed who you were in a column while you were still working at the Winnipeg Sun. Can you tell me about that?
MS: I had a couple of months where nobody seemed to — well, the people at the Sun didn't rat me out. But Gordon Sinclair was very, very curious at the time. And not only did he rat out who Miss Lonelyhearts was — he printed my pathetic salary. Out of that, I got a 20 per cent raise. Thank you very much, Gord. I'll never forget that. (laughs)
FP: I heard you get about 75 letters per day. Is that accurate?
MS: It depends on the month. May is suicide month, so you get a lot of really sad letters because people feel the disappointment between what their lives are like and what they hoped their lives would be like. They see people walking around in the springtime holding hands and in love.
In the wintertime when it's really cold, people are not that depressed. They think, 'You know what? I've just got to get through January and February like everybody else.' They're not expecting things to be better.
FP: Do you have a letter that stands out as having been the hardest advice to give?
MS: Any letters from children I find very sad. I've gone above and beyond for kids. I will do everything I can to get them help, even though you can't betray their trust if they've written you a secret. Those are the letters that touch me the most. I've taken maybe three letters to the police, because you have to be responsible. One was somebody who wrote me he was abusing people in an old folks' home.
FP: What's the best advice you've ever been given?
MS: When I was unhappy as a teacher, somebody said to me, "Find your dream and then follow it." Because that wasn't my dream, you know? And what I realized is I'm kind of like a combination of Mae West and Miss Frizzle (from The Magic School Bus). It's the first time I've ever described myself that way, but Mae West certainly was brilliant and wrote all her own material, wrote up her own contracts and was very much ahead of her time.
FP: Why Miss Frizzle?
MS: Because of the Goddess Adventures where I like to take people out to places they know nothing about and things that they've never done, so that they will learn. So the teacher is still there, right? But just not in the classroom.