It was 1989 and I had been working like a woman possessed, writing stories for the Hamilton Spectator about the horrible state of the elementary schools on Six Nations Reserve outside of Hamilton. This was the kind of story I’d become a reporter to tell. Crumbling, decaying, stinky, infested buildings that would never have existed off-reserve. I was desperate to get people to care and determined that the federal government would to do the right thing and build decent school buildings on the reserve.
Eventually, other news outlets started to pay attention and one day, I got a call asking if I’d like to be interviewed on CBC Radio’s Morningside, Canada’s morning, national program. The interviewer was Stuart McLean. I remember doing tons of prep work, laying out pieces of paper with my points in front of me on my kitchen table – I didn’t want any newsroom distractions for the live telephone interview. I wanted this story told nationally, to pressure the federal government.
Stuart was a kind interviewer who knew how to tease out the story and, once I got on a roll, to get out of the way and let me paint the word pictures. I loved The Vinyl Cafe and read many of his books, but I have to say he really was a great interviewer, too. People mention his gift of storytelling, but I learned he was also gifted at allowing and encouraging others to be great storytellers too.
A week later, I returned to the newsroom after being on the reserve and I found a postcard of the book cover I’ve shown here. On the back it said, “Dear Jennifer, You were just great last week. Sorry I missed you. Stuart.” I ran around the newsroom trying to find the practical joker (there were many in the newsroom) but then I learned that Stuart had, in fact, been in the newsroom being interviewed about his new book. He’d taken a moment to ask about me, write me a note and then tuck it onto my telephone. Just a little gesture of kindness I’ve always treasured because it told me something important about the man.
I’m so sorry he’s gone. BTW the federal government eventually replaced every school on the reserve and the band started a Mohawk immersion program in the schools.