Florence Mary Eaton McEachren 1919-2012

There are many whose deaths signal the end of an era but none so much as Florence Mary McEachren (nee Eaton) who died this week. Florence was the last of the children of Sir John and Lady Eaton. Sir John was the merchant prince of Eaton’s, the son of Timothy, founder of that great institution. Sir John died in 1922, when Florence was just a toddler. Lady Eaton carried on as the family’s public face for almost 50 years before dying in 1970.

Florence lived a life of privilege of the sort that no longer exists. Her mother adopted an English child, Evlyn, so Florence would have company. The two attended finishing schools in England and Italy, were presented at the court of King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1938, and regularly sojourned to Cannes and Fiesole accompanied by a chauffer and a Rolls-Royce shipped to Europe for their conveyance.

Despite an upbringing that should have created a spoiled brat, Florence grew into a wise, witty and independent woman whom everyone admired. During the Second World War, she tried to enlist but in those days women needed their husband’s permission and Frank McEachren refused. So Florence signed on as a volunteer truck driver for the Canadian Red Cross and served her country at home.

There were those who said Florence was brighter than any of her four brothers and should have run Eaton’s. Sir John’s will said she could be president, but only if no brother was able. John David Eaton was eventually designated and she told me she was not unhappy with the choice. She was not, however, pleased with what occurred during the sad regime of John David’s four sons, John Craig, Fred, Thor and George when Eaton’s went bankrupt.

When I interviewed Florence in 1997 while researching my book, The Eatons, she talked first about John David’s brothers, saying, “The others didn’t have the talent.” She then continued on to talk about the trouble the modern-day Eaton’s had gotten into by saying, “You need a certain talent; look what’s happening now.”

Florence was also able to see the lighter side of life. When I asked about John David’s propensity for drink, she talked about the family’s pleasure in fast cars and fast times. “We’ve all got gasoline in our veins. And alcohol.”

I won’t attend the memorial service next month. The family doesn’t like me much and no one deserves such a person around on an occasion like that. But I’ll be celebrating Florence’s life in my own way and wondering what would have become of Eaton’s if she and her progeny had taken charge.

3 Responses

  1. Thomas F. Smith says:

    I knew Florence very well. In 1987 I put together the photo directory for the Timothy Eaton Church. She and Frank were great in their support of my project, they just lived around the block. For about a year I had an office in the church, that had been Andrew Lawson’s, for former minister. Florence often dropped into to visit. I had access to Eaton scrapbooks, and put many of the pictures in the church directory. My front cover was a photo I took of TEMC at night – that still hangs in the building in the new atrium opposite Lady Eaton portrait. Her nephew John Craig also was a lot of help, and I was granted access to the Eaton Archives in Yorkdale. Sister-law Signy also came to visit one day, and had her picture take for the church directory. I moved from Toronto many years ago. I will always remember the many visits I had with Florence and Frank. Good people, devoted Christians.

  2. Lauren MacNeil, Sydney, Nova Scotia says:

    Thank you so much for posting this piece. After noting the obituary in the G & M today, I went looking for Florence on-line and found your essay. I have many memories of my family’s connections with the Eatons. My Great-Grandfather, William Dean, was a long-time vice-president at Eaton’s and had responsibility for building Eaton’s College St. He was in charge of the far-flung factories and travelled widely, thus treasures I own such as hand-worked crewel drapes from the Near East. My Grandmother always spoke with great reverence, and often, about the family, but of course, being born in 1896, placed her in their heyday. Apparently, William Dean was recruited early on by Timothy, because of a shared background coming from County Cavan in Ireland and the family stores, beginning in Dundalk.

    I hope Florence had a good life. I was very interested in your comments regarding what might have happened had she been able to take over the firm. I have always been glad that although my Grandmother lived til 93, she did not see the awful demise. How tragic that Florence did.

    Again, thanks, Lauren MacNeil

  3. Signy McEachren says:

    Thanks for the kind words. They are an accurate and thoughtful assessment of my mother.


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