FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Catherine Ford
July 1, 2014
She admits, on the idea of entering the business today, if she could do it all again, “I likely would be a TV journalist.”
I’ll bet she would have been fantastic on our prime-time news…
Upon one of her several ‘return to the Calgary Herald’ adventures, she was on the night desk, then Night City Editor – that was 1976/7 – when an opening for an editorial writer put her in that editorial writer/editor writing and management role. National Columnist, Editorial Page Editor. National commentator, frequent (and still sometimes) TV commentator, she’s never looked back, or needed to.
She’s paid her dues.
She can say anything she wants to – and always has. In her working days, that caused her trouble. In health-forced retirement (she says, “I should have married a cardiologist instead of a gynecologist. He's retired, Dr. Ted Busheikin … kind, educated, thoughtful – it’s a happy marriage”). Her heart health issues may have sidelined her brilliant career, but I’ve learned it has not quieted her sharp mind (or tongue) from saying how she sees things.
On bullies: “I can’t stand bullies”. Then she spits into a flower bed in answer to my questions about a former colleague.
On the country: “We’ve never had a government that has been so mean and retaliatory to their enemies.”
Oh yes, one morning in June, I was thoroughly entertained!
Among her resume items – former President of Mensa Canada – might seem intimidating, as does her illustrious (or is that notorious?) career in Canadian journalism but my recent meeting with Catherine Ford was deliciously stimulating.
We connected recently when she asked me to promote the Peter Gzowski Invitational in the Charity Golf Tournament, of which she is chair, in FACILITYCalgary. I readily agreed, and used that opportunity to bargain for an interview. One morning in June, on the deck in the backyard of her home, she held court …
She takes pains to make sure I will promote that tournament, but I was more curious to know if she knew Gzowski, which she did. She’s a proud advocate for what he started, a promotion of literacy, that has become the legacy of a man she describes as an inherently shy man (who knew?). I was a fan and recall making sure I was in the car at the right time of day as often as I could to catch his program on CBC.
Back to Catherine ...
Eldest of three children, she spent quality time as a child, just a few blocks away at her grandparents' home on Joliet Avenue, from which she regularly escaped to cross 14 Street to steal candy at Higgingbotham Drugs.
Her mom was a war bride (nurse from Ireland), dad was a court reporter from Calgary. At age 10 her family moved to Edmonton where she attended St. Mary’s Girls (now J.H. Picard), then went on to attend the University of Alberta where she rubbed shoulders with notable classmates like Sheldon Chumir and Fred Mannix. She majored in scrabble and boys but didn’t find classes stimulating. Her program required French but she couldn’t master it. After her lengthy career in journalism she has a Doctor Of Laws, an honorary degree from the University of Calgary.
My notes on her career path began with her first job (her dad knew Larry O’Hara, the city editor) at the Calgary Herald ...
Mr. O'hara asked that she write a letter explaining why she wanted to be a newspaperman. She started as a Women’s Reporter. “I fell in love with it on the first day. I loved the by-line”. Through countless moves around the Southam newspapers world, Calgary, Red Deer, London (ON), and globe-trotting filled four pages. She’s been around. She said, and still maintains, “I never wanted to do anything but write.”
Two marriages (1st husband died), no children, four step-daughters, three grandchildren. Her career, romance, marriage and family stories were entertaining and ‘mostly ‘off the record’. Her eyes lit up when she told me about a one-year fellowship she won in her early Southam days – a year at University of Toronto’s Massey College, to take anything she wanted – where she took classes from and befriended Robertson Davies. The look on her face suggested that was a high point in her intellectual life.
“The glory days of journalism are gone – money, staff, travel and benefits – because journalists don’t bring in money."
She’s not written a memoir. She’s written countless columns, but so far only published one book, aptly titled – Against The Grain ; hardcover in 2005, softcover in 2006. I’ll need to pick up a copy and return to have it autographed.
Danny Kaye said “Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint on it you can”. I’m thinking that describes Catherine Ford very well.
I asked Catherine how she sees her business – journalism – in Canada, currently … looking forward over the next quarter?
…newspapers are not dead. Journalists are far better educated. They are under incredible stress, have to be on so many channels of social media. At the Calgary Herald they are doing twice the work with half the staff compared to when I was there. There is no time to just sit and think.
And over the next five years?
… impossible to predict – it is in such a state of flux. Nobody wants to pay for writing anymore.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I don’t care for change. If I find something, or someone, I like I stick with it. Competence, loyalty. I’m impressed with people, by how they handle a problem. When you have a public job you don’t know who will notice – so being difficult or vocal is likely to be noticed.
What distinguishes you that causes people/employers to choose Catherine Ford to do business with, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I always made people think.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… my weight. Peace in the Middle-East.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… two stand out. The first, after returning to London, Ontario from a Christmas visit, I sent my mother an article I wrote. Her response said she liked my letters so much better. That comment influenced my writing. The second, after the death of my father in 1974 – when I got back to work I faced a two hour deadline to submit my column. I had nothing on the go, so I wrote about my dad. I found putting yourself into your writing, lets emotions show. That was very powerful.
What do you read?
… anything I can get my hands on. Walrus and Alberta Views magazines. Currently, Dear Life by Alice Munro, The Edge of the Water by Elizabeth George.
… 2014 Cadillac. I inquired about what model. “I don’t know. It’s a big grey thing that barely fits in the garage.
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