It was sad news indeed to learn of the death of National Post journalist Christie Blatchford Wednesday after a short bout with lung cancer. With her passing goes perhaps the last of the generation of journalistic legends that entered the field in the early 70’s during and following Watergate, which served as an inspiration to all journalists of her generation, and it must be admitted, this reporter as well. She worked at all four newspapers in Toronto and was the star reporter/columnist at all of them.
I had the privilege of encountering Christie Blatchford back around 2007, when I was running a public relations business in the CIBC tower. My neighbor across the hall was the Law Firm headed by John Evans QC. I was approached one day by Evans and his partner Michael Bordin about a civil suit they were launching on behalf of David Brown and Dana Chatwell, two Caledonia residents who saw the value of their property destroyed by the Caledonia native blockade. The suit was against the Ontario government for failure to protect Brown and Chatwell, and they wanted me to generate some publicity in order to put some heat on the government to settle with the couple.
It struck me that this was the kind of little-guy-against-impossible odds story that would appeal to a writer like Christie Blatchford, then with the Globe. I didn’t know her, although I admired her, but emailed her with some details and to my surprise she agreed to meet with myself and Dave Brown; but it had to be in Newmarket where she was covering a murder trial. We met over the court lunch break and Dave poured out his anguish to Christie. When you are a reporter interviewing somebody, you are always listening for “the quote,” that genuine phrase that sums up the story for the reader. Several times Christie and I looked at each other as Dave was a virtual quote machine, uttering gem after gem, as only a straightforward honest guy can.
The rest is history. Christie wanted the story. She wrote a scathing article right away and when the trial rolled around in 2009 Christie was in a Hamilton courtroom occupying her usual front seat. She told me she always went for the front row, not to show off, but in order to hear; but no doubt her presence was not lost on the government lawyers. The suit was settled within months.
In 2008 we started the Bay Observer and I returned part-time to journalism. At one time I had the temerity to contact Christie to see if she would write the occasional column for my fledgling journal. To my surprise and delight she expressed interest. When I ventured to discuss a fee, she said “how about 25 bucks.” Her paper nixed the idea of her moonlighting, but I will never forget the gesture. Christie Blatchford was arguably the best (and hardest working) newspaper reporter of the last half century. Tough, disciplined, taking nor giving any bullshit and yet underneath, capable of touching kindness. We have truly lost a legend.