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In her essence, Christie Blatchford embodied what's best about Canada

She came from a cold, rough mining town. There grew her appreciation for ordinary people, pleasure for uninhibited partying and joy in the virtues of hard work

by Conrad  Black

The occasion must not be lost to pay tribute to Christie Blatchford, though many have done so more promptly and eloquently than I will. She was magnificent: unshakeable integrity, generous-hearted, completely unpretentious, the perfect journalist. She distinguished reporting from comment, never over-wrote stories, always saw and highlighted both the humour and the sadness, and in all respects the drama, of every story. Never in my experience, as a reader, employer and subject of Christie, have I known a journalist so reliable in the standard of her work, uninterested in indulging in any kind of deception, or guile, or anyone more professional. She was entirely genuine and her criticism of others essentially consisted of the extent to which they were not genuine. She made no pretense to being especially learned, and as anyone who attended one of her famous parties would know, she had the most random collection of friends imaginable, united by their relations with Christie, to whom all of us were devoted, whatever we might think of each other in some cases.

What was most interesting about Christie Blatchford, I think, now that we can only think of her in the past, is that she was in some ways the essence of the best of Canada. She was from the rough and cold mining town of Rouyn-Noranda, in northern Quebec, where she first acquired her love of winter sports and her appreciation of ordinary, decent people, and of the pleasures of uninhibited partying and relaxed social life, as well as the virtues of hard work. I cannot at this late date claim to have known her particularly well, but well enough to know (as any regular reader would) that she was untainted by prudery or envy. She liked honesty, courage and a sense of humour, exemplified all three, and if someone was equipped with that, she wasn’t too concerned with the rest, particularly not with economic bracket or social echelon. She was an ardent patriot, not in the slightest a xenophobe or hostile to any other country, just a booster of Canada, especially the Canadian armed forces and Canadian international sports teams.

Christie Blatchford relaxes at home in Toronto with her beloved cats in an undated photo. Postmedia

Her focus on what is broadly called human interest equipped her splendidly to be a sports or crime reporter. She saw at once the qualities she admired and exemplified, and was always suspicious of faddish opinion, especially the instant condemnation of accused people. She neither revelled in, nor was intimidated for a moment being, the only visible defender of an accused person. She was, I believe, along with my wife Barbara and me, the only person who insisted that Jian Ghomeshi was entitled to a serious trial before being condemned as a pariah and a pervert on the basis of unsubstantiated denunciations from people who had been silent for many years and some of whom had continued in relationships with him after the alleged objectionable acts. (He was, of course, acquitted.) After a time, her general popularity was such and the ranks of her admirers and devotees so numerous, that she had nothing to fear from being a minority of one. But she had always been fearless, throughout a career of 47 years with all four Toronto daily newspapers, and long after she became a formidable celebrity with a national readership, she remained the same unaffected and easily approachable personality she had always been.

Christie Blatchford takes calls from readers at Postmedia. Postmedia

My first direct encounter with her was in the late ’70s when I supported a non-partisan group that advocated welfare reform. She had somewhat inhaled the Toronto media caricature of me as a rather unsentimental capitalist and questioned me very closely, but politely and with natural charm and humour, about how serious I was on the subject. After a well-prepared inquiry, she accepted my bona fides on that subject, but retained some skepticism. When Barbara Amiel (who had been Christie’s editor at the Toronto Sun) and I married in 1992, Christie was still a bit reticent, and wrote: “He can afford her, but does he deserve her?” (I have never been complacent that the answer to the question is yes.) But we completed our lengthy period of mutual introduction when we were both involved in founding the National Post. Her qualities were more evident the better and more often one saw her, and she was a delightful personality and comrade, the more so for her considerable eccentricity.

Christie Blatchford shares a lighter moment on Nov. 21, 2007, with local soldiers during one of her tours of Afghanistan. Supplied

The last public cause where we were all together (Christie, Barbara, and I, as well as Peggy Wente, Terence Corcoran and a few others), was in defence of Professor Jordan Peterson against the outrageous attempts at intimidation of gender-militants at the University of Toronto, demanding to be addressed in an improvised vocabulary that would recognize, in effect, a third sex of neither male nor female. We all saw it as a question of freedom of expression and of the right of people not to have language dictated to them for group-serving reasons, there was no question of disrespect for the complainants; Jordan Peterson prevailed in that episode and quickly became the most famous Canadian in the world (replacing the late mayor Rob Ford). He must now rank with Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan as the most renowned Canadian intellectuals of the past 50 years. I know Christie wished him well in his current state of over-stressed fatigue, as everyone should — he is a fine and good, as well as a very distinguished and courageous, man. I look forward to dinner with him again soon, once he is up to it.

Columnist Christie Blatchford was known for her hard-as-rock journalism, yet kind demeanour towards friends and colleagues. Postmedia

Christie would be snappish that I am going on too long about her, and as noted at the outset, others who knew her better have written better pieces about her; and Jordan Peterson would not wish me to tarry on him. Let us celebrate the distinguished people we have, express our concern when they are seriously unwell, and mourn when they die. It is distressing that we will not be seeing Christie Blatchford again; she will be long and affectionately remembered.

First published in the National Post.


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