Opinion

Many people to thank for an enjoyable career in journalism

This is one of my last bylines in this paper, and my head is spinning with memories of the wonderful people I have met over a career that has spanned more than three decades.

There are so many people to thank. In fact, so many that I feel like a mosquito in a nudist camp: I don’t know where to begin.

I shall start with my employer for giving me a job writing in a language that I love, having first spoken it fluently at the age of seven or eight (German is my first). This job has given me a standard of living which my parents could not have envisaged when I was born, the last of five children, in Paraguay.

Our house in a Hutterite community was a wooden hut with mud floors, shutters for windows, and a roof of wood shingles hewn by hand. The house was about 70 feet long and 30 wide; three families had their separate quarters within it.

My bed was a mattress filled with the dried leaves of maize. Others had mattresses stuffed with wood shavings. They were lucky: maize leaves rustled every time you turned over. Draped over my bed was the prerequisite mosquito net which I, in my childlike innocence, thought would protect me from the perils of the tropics: Rats, snakes and poisonous toads which occasionally found their way into our house.

My father killed the menaces with a machete.

Perhaps because of these humble beginnings, I have little need of material things. I have a house with proper windows, a most comfortable bed, enough food in the cupboards, and carpeted floors.

 

* * * *

Thanks go, too, to my colleagues, especially those who have become good friends.

My training in this business was in broadcasting, but the offer of a job in a community newspaper came before I had the chance to go on air. I did, however, enjoy a good many years freelancing for CKNW (not on air) and the Vancouver Sun, filing briefs from council, school board, elections and the occasional court case.

My work has covered every beat of a community newspaper, and I have been blessed to have cultivated wonderful contacts and benefited from the expertise of so many. All the contacts I’ve made in the Township and City Halls, the fire departments and the school board office have been gracious, patient and accommodating. I’m particularly grateful to the gurus in the finance departments who helped me convey to the public the complexities of local government budgets in terms that we can understand, even if we don’t like what they mean.

I have truly enjoyed covering community groups that are run by people who do so joyfully and without thought of compensation. And so for the ways that they have enriched my job I give special thanks to the people in this community who really are its backbone: The volunteers who are passionate about Langley’s environment, its history and its people. I have found that they, and the sports community, are the most generous in their gratitude and appreciation for the publicity a community newspaper gives them.

I have also thoroughly enjoyed assignments that have taken me to schools where I see teachers and principals who embrace their work as a passion, not a job.

My biggest thanks go to you, the readers. I am grateful for the phone calls, emails, notes, flowers (and the occasional bottles of wine) over the years that said ‘thank you.’

But more than that, I appreciate that readers allowed me into their homes to share their stories, often for the betterment of the community or so that they might spare others their own agony.

I know that like my news photography, my articles have reported people’s triumphs. But they have also documented their profound grief, loss and life-changing circumstances, catapulting their formerly private lives into the public eye.

Some stories had a profound effect on me. I recall being outside the old Langley courthouse after a man had made his first appearance on a charge of killing another man at a local night club. The dead man’s parents and siblings were standing together, stunned and grief-stricken. The mother’s face was contorted with sadness.

Her arm stretching out to me, she begged: “Tell them (readers) my son was a good boy.”

Several years ago, a woman called Mandy walked into the office. She had a story to tell, and she chose me to tell it. She had just learned that the two men who, years earlier, had attacked her, were about to be freed from jail.

The men had snatched her off a Langley City street, brutally assaulted her and left her for dead in the Fraser River.

By a miracle and her own tenacity, she survived.

She was 17 and the mother of a baby boy.

It took three interviews before I could write the story. Mandy talked as though the cork had popped off a champagne bottle: The hurt and sadness spilled out, and, she told me, her psychiatrist and the pills he prescribed had done nothing to assuage them.

When the story ran, it was picked up by a Vancouver daily. Readers everywhere shared Mandy’s outrage that while the sentences of her attackers were just about over, their crime sentenced her to a lifetime of torment.

I lost touch with Mandy, and I would like to know how she is. Perhaps she, or someone who knows her, will read this and reach me through my email address below.

The story of Mandy probably elicited the most response to any article I have ever written. But there have been uplifting ones, such as the delightful tale of a wizened 97-year-old Willoughby man who was determined that the agriculture ministry officially recognize an apple tree growing on his land before the inevitable bulldozers moved in.

Despite writing so many pieces about injustices, traffic accidents that killed and maimed, fires that destroyed lives and treasured possessions, and children who died through disease or by the hand of others, my career as a journalist has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

I am blessed to have had my faith, my amazing and beloved family and loyal friends along the way.

My parents, my three brothers, sister and I, and about 100 other families, were expelled from the Hutterite community several years after it was relocated to England. We were cast out, penniless, with only two or three days notice. In Langley, and its incredibly energetic, inspiring and dedicated people, I have learned the true meaning of community.

In the not too distant future I hope to find a new career that doesn’t require keyboarding, as all these years of typing have taken their toll on my arms and wrists. So you see I’m not retiring: Anyway, how could I, when the thirst for knowledge never leaves me. My next project is to research trains and boats and planes, perhaps a trip to Paris or Rome.

Thank you, readers, for the privilege of reporting for you and telling your stories.

Contact me at: njwalkingonsunshine@yahoo.ca

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