It’s finally arrived. My last week of work before retirement.
Of course, I’m excited for the future, and sad to be leaving all of my friends at the newspaper, but it’s also a great time for a little stroll down memory lane.
After all, it was more than 40 years ago when I sent in my resume to The Lake News in answer to an advertisement for a “journalism trainee”.
I was 31 years old at the time, not exactly a fresh-faced youngster just out of high school and I had never dreamed of writing as a career. I was very shy, found it hard to meet new people, had never used more than a Kodak Instamatic camera, and couldn’t even type.
But I felt I needed to take a chance. The Lake News owners at that time were Gerry and Vera Soroka. They must have seen something in me because they took a chance, too, and hired me. I have worked two stints as a reporter, first from 1979 to 1986 and then from 2000, when I joined the Cowichan Valley Citizen team, until now.
Over the years, I’ve learned a tremendous amount, picking up skills whenever anyone was willing to teach me anything, and polishing any I already, had but one thing has become clear to me. I love people, I love hearing their stories, and I love sharing them with others.
I’ve covered the biggies: the closures of Western Forest Industries at Honeymoon Bay and Gordon River, and TimberWest’s Youbou operation, drug busts, political upheavals, Lady of the Lake crownings, and lots more.
Of course, a lot of my work in this, the second stage of my career, has been in the entertainment field. I was assigned to that beat in 2002 by the late Shirley Skolos.
One standout occurred in 2004 when I was running short of arts news and strolled downtown Duncan looking for inspiration. I discovered the (then new) E. J. Hughes gallery. When I told the owner I wished I could have spoken to the artist, he said, “You can, you know. He just lives on Heather Street.” I roared back to my desk, found Hughes’s number in the phone book, and that afternoon I was sitting in an unpretentious bungalow, listening with fascination to one of Canada’s most legendary artists. I got to photograph him, too, even though I only had a point-and-shoot camera with me at the time. That picture is a precious possession as is the knowledge that my desire to hear a story opened that door.
Another hugely memorable occasion, also in 2004, saw two of us (myself and Citizen colleague Sarah Simpson) joining the media circus surrounding what was called THE CLEAN AIR CONCERT at Cowichan Arena. Believe me, that event warranted capital letters. The lineup included The Barenaked Ladies, Randy Bachman, and a visit to Duncan by the legendary Neil Young!
Excitement (and security) was at fever pitch. We had to arrive hours before the event in order to pass through an incredible clearance process. Finally, we were shepherded into places in the players bench area and settled in to report on and photograph the show.
We were loving it but were truly astonished when it was time for the brief appearance by Young, who had been flown in from Seattle. Suddenly Tyler Stewart, the drummer for The Barenaked Ladies, slipped in beside us. We discovered he was an avid Neil Young fan and knew all his albums. Getting to enjoy that bucket list performance with commentary from Stewart engraved that evening on our minds as something to remember forever.
Of course, my reportorial life hasn’t all been rubbing shoulders with famous folks, and nor would I want it to be.
I’ve been there when someone’s vegetable garden was raided, when scorching summer suns melted ice cream cones, when local magic happened as unexpected folks suddenly emerged from their shells — as in the day when four men dropped their bathing suits while waterskiing past the beach at the Youbou Regatta — and it’s been wonderful to be able to share it all with you, my readers and friends.
Over my journalism life, I’ve worked with an amazing collection of people, and made many, many friends, in and out of the profession.
But, I’m 71 now and it’s time to give my desk to someone else while I move on to the next stage of my life. I’m not leaving the area so you’ll see me around a lot, trying to add my own thread to our Valley’s tapestry.
Keep your eye open.
You never know when I’ll be right beside you.