Grandma – In Detail

A Guest Post by Dr. James B. Lyttle as a follow-up to my post of two days ago.

Grandma was born November 3, 1900 in Belleville, Ontario to Cameron Brown and Margaret Sarah Ross.

Her dad was born February 3, 1870, in Hamilton Ontario. He was “the youngest city editor of the Toronto Globe” as Grandma used to proudly remind anyone who would listen. Cameron was first married October 13, 1893, in Toronto. They had two sons, Vernon Ross Brown (December 3, 1896) and Bernard Ross Brown (November 12, 1898) before Grandma was born in 1900. All these births were in the late fall, perhaps suggesting the couple was most fertile and/or most romantic around Valentine’s Day, but I digress.

PaulPeelAfterTheBath Grandma’s mother was the daughter of Sir George W. (William) Ross, who was a lawyer, Ottawa senator (a real one, not the hockey team) and ‘Prime Minister’ of Ontario. He also earned an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Andrew. Grandma was very proud of her connection to him. Mildred Amelia Margaret Peel (the third wife of Sir George W. Ross) was Paul Peel’s sister. Peel was Canada’s Norman Rockwell, approximately. (Editor’s Note: One of Peel’s most well-known pieces, with prints available from any number of sources, is After The Bath [shown here]; now in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. I recall Grandma insisting on visiting it one trip to Toronto.)

Grandma’s mom was an artist, born in Strathroy, Ontario, also in February (27) of 1870. She died in Windsor, Ontario when Grandma was 9. Her father became a traveling entrepreneur, trying his luck at Natural Gas and other ventures. This is how the family got into the United States, and his traveling to find himself probably explains her being raised mostly by “Mater.” Cameron married Frances Warant of New York City three years after the death of his first wife and produced half-brothers and a half-sister for Grandma. Interestingly, he died in Columbus in 1935, although he was buried back in London, Ontario. She knew Frances well, but I also feel like there was someone else who kept her in one place for school while her dad moved about. (Editor’s Note: perhaps Uncle Orville can verify this.)

Grandma went on to receive a B.S. in Chemistry from Allegheny College in 1922 (a rare feat for a woman) and worked as a research scientist at the Carnegie Melon Institute in Pittsburgh, PA. (Editor’s Note: Allegheny College is about 90 miles north of Pittsburgh and 70 miles from the Chautauqua Institute, which Grandma supported for many years.) This career was indeed interrupted by her marriage, on September 4, 1926, to the Rev. James A. Lyttle, DD. Nine months later (ahem), our father appeared. Five years after that, our uncle Orville Ross Lyttle was born. Dr. Lyttle’s mother was the sister of Sir Crawford McCullagh, thrice Lord Mayor of Belfast and wealthy businessman (also, known as “a hard-bollocked unionist”). She had a picture of him with Dwight Eisenhower. But once again, I digress.

The Reverend Doctor established many churches throughout the Northland, and the Pinewood United Church in suburban North Bay, at which he preached. She spent her time as the dutiful church wife and home maker. He finished his career as the Superintendent of Home Missions for all of Northern Ontario and Quebec. On February 20, 1964, he dropped dead of a heart attack on his porch, after hearing that his latest project (a Protestant college for North Bay, associated with Sudbury’s Laurentian University) had finally been approved.

Grandma went on to live another lifetime: more than 28 years. In the mornings, she used to sneak on to the property of local industrial plants to fill bottles with water samples that she sent off to the government for environmental analysis. She was proud of her Scottish background, with the names Campbell, Ross, and McKinnon riddled through her family tree. They were both unaware of her husband’s connections with Scotland, since he was born and raised in Ulster and did not learn about the Clan Little of the Scottish Borders and all that.

Grandma was quite batty (silly, not crazy) and, yes, more Victorian than the queen – but she was a real sweetheart who could keep secrets. I think Karen might agree that she could have handled your lifestyle. For example, once in the mid-1980s I went to visit her for about a week. However, I slept at the house of a librarian I met there almost every night and I don’t think any of my relatives have ever heard that tale. She died October 26, 1992 in Burnaby and was buried with her husband in North Bay.


Astute readers will note that my last name is not the same as my guest. This is not a reflection of different parents, nor one of us being disowned. As noted on the 100 Details About Me page I legally changed my name. Not in an attempt to disconnect from my family (“my biologicals” as I like to say) but rather my then-partner and I each legally changed our surnames to Gryphon in the early 80s- long before ‘same-sex marriage’ was considered even a remote possibility.

The comment about our Great Grandfather passing in Columbus being “interesting” reflects the fact that I now live in Columbus, OH.

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6 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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