Monday, March 12, 2012

My Friend Mary.


I first noticed this lady who called herself 'BC Mary' on the comment threads over at 'The Tyee'.

For all kinds of reasons.

And not just because we had similar world views.

Instead, what really interested me was the way she engaged the other commenters on those raucous threads in a meaningful way.

Just to be clear though, Mary never mollycoddled, backed-down, or suffered fools gladly. But she was always willing to listen if she decided that someone was speaking openly and honestly, regardless their point-of-view. Then she would ask them for evidence to support it.

And when she started her own blog she did the same thing with her own commenters.

And, as I was soon to learn, she did it with everyone.

And that included members of the media as well as members of the legislature.

And it included other bloggers.

Bloggers like me.

Because, as much as Mary did online at the 'The Legislature Raids', she did even more off-line.


I always loved hearing from Mary.

She was so darned collaborative that it was impossible not to be enthused by everything she suggested.

And she suggested a lot.

And she got folks together.

A lot more.

She also asked for help and advice early and often.

About all sorts of things.

One particular time she worked tirelessly with a gaggle of bloggers, commenters, and all manner of folks in the know that she had assembled, to vet a rumour.

It was a rumour that arrived on our doorsteps pretty late in the Basi/Virk saga, and it was a potential bombshell.

But it wasn't really all that plausible.

So Mary ran it down tirelessly over the course of a long weekend, and in the end we all decided not to bite.

And we were all the better for it.

Which is just my way of letting you know that Mary showed us that we could be both self-correcting and we could try to get things right.

Right from the start.



I know that criticisms have been levelled in some quarters that what Mary did was 'just' cutting and pasting.

Which is ridiculous on a whole lot of levels, but I will just deal with three of them here.

First, Mary wanted her site to be a living library were folks could go to get all sorts of information on Railgate that they could then sift through to find what they, themselves needed.

Second, and very importantly, in addition to the archiving Mary also broke stories of her own, sometimes thanks to her legion of Anon-O-Mice on the comment threads, sometimes thanks to her contributors, and sometimes thanks to her own off-line digging. Just ask Ian Mulgrew, Lucinda Chodan, or Gary Mason, to name a few.

Third, Mary also inspired others to go off and break their own stories. All kinds of those were from Robin Mathews, of course. But the one I remember most came from Laila and G.A.B., who beat the proMedia like a gong for about a week when they realized and published the true significance of something that popped-up in the pre-trial courtroom just before the gag order came down.


So, here's the real thing.

The really hard thing about losing my friend....

Which is that, unlike most of the folks that will greatly miss the online 'B.C. Mary', I actually got to meet the real Mary Mackie in person.

And it was one of the most fun, rewarding and, yes, inspiring things I have ever done.


It was late on a Friday afternoon.

And the work week was all done.

And I was 2,500 miles from home.

But I did not rush back to Pearson to climb back into the cigar tube as fast as I could, which is my usual way of doing things.

Instead, I strolled out of the downtown Toronto core with my bag slung over my shoulder and I went to visit Mary.

Her grandson was there at the house with her, and he was magnificent to put up with us for the next couple of hours as we talked, and talked, and talked some more about everything under the sun. Mostly we talked about Mary's cherished British Columbia - its people, its natural beauty, and its public institutions, all of which she held in the highest regard after a lifetime spent there doing all kinds of the most interesting things.

Then she asked me all about my family and, especially, what my kids were up to. After that it was her family. Then, and only then, did we talk a little about her illness.

Actually, I'd already given Mary as much advice as I could on that score given the business I'm. But on that particular day she didn't want advice. Instead, she just wanted to tell me about the great care she was getting at Princess Margaret Hospital, and how fantastic our Canadian medical system, that we all built and still own, still is.

After that we finally got down to brass-tacks and talked about the details of RailGate and all that needed to be done, and who had to be contacted, and what we thought really went down, and what we could still do to really and truly find out.

What, ultimately did go down, I mean.

Did I mention that this was a lady in her 80's who, on the afternoon that I stopped by for a quick visit, out of the blue, already knew she had terminal breast cancer?

Did I mention that this was one of the most inspiring things I have ever been a part of, ever?


Mary and I kept on corresponding until very recently.

Even though, over the last few months, I knew she really wasn't well.

I knew things had become really difficult for her when she told me last fall that she didn't like to talk on the phone anymore because her failing body just got in the way in a way you couldn't tell on-line or by Email.

And even after that he was still leaving me comments and sending me Emails through January and into February.

Which is fitting of course, because the comment threads, where the real action and discussion are, really were her favourite.

As were her commenters.

In fact, here is something she told one of her very best favourites, GWest, by Email, just before she died:

"...I'd love to think that one day, when my screen goes quiet completely, the commenters will come out and fill the space with what THEY know ..."


And here, finally, is the last thing I must to tell you about Mary, which is something very personal.

You see, she would never call me by real name years after she knew it.

Instead, she always called me by my screen name, RossK, because, as she told me once, that is how she thought of me, with a descriptive term of endearment in front of it (which I won't bother to tell you about because hurts far too much to type, much less say).

And with that I must close.

Because, while I will always miss and love you B.C. Mary, I will never say good-bye.





paul said...

Lovely piece. I always had time for BC Mary and her work, and in our few personal exchanges always found her courteous and professional in seeking information and things like permission to reprint.
But what stopped me cold as I read your remembrance was the fact she was in her 80s. Jody and I had speculated about that when he heard of her death.
She was retired, I said, maybe early 60s. If I hadn't known she was retired, I would have guessed younger.
Which I suppose says something about my own agism.
But it's also might heartening to think that, if you want it and are lucky, there are many years of working and fighting still ahead.
Thanks for that reminder.

Danneau said...

I, too, was surprised to hear of Mary's age. She neither acted nor wrote "old". But what really strikes me in your piece is how different it is from the accolades tossed around when captains of industry, colossi of the cinema and sports titans leave us. There is no giving 110% or discussion of what a pillar of the community this person was, and, of course, no mention of the millions that Mary might have "given back". So rossK, on the theory that birds of a feather do whatever together, it is no surprise that you and Mary found community and that you would be able to knit together such a choke-up elegy.

RossK said...

The family's memorial site for Mary is here.

It really is amazing - she was born in 1926.


G West said...

Thanks Ross.

Nicely done...I'll send you something else privately.


Jody Paterson said...

Thanks for that great post on BC Mary! I used to hear from her now and again - always loved her enthusiasm, always wished I could have met her in person.

Grant G said...

Ross K...You mention Mary`s age, to me Mary was every age, certainly you could tell she wasn`t a teenager but..

But she posted and spoke as a strong team captain, age was never an issue..

In our emails Mary always asked my opinion, it was important to her, I never asked asked Mary`s age because to me age had no bearing on her work..

Like old-time radio broadcasts one`s imagination creates the character..

My BC Mary was 7 feet tall, strong, honest, fair with a tender side, when Mary spoke the written words her voice inspired, it drew one to more questions requiring more answers, and Ross...

Mary was....


Good Day

cfvua said...

Yes, RossK we will miss what Mary did and how she went about it. Hopefully we can all keep shining some light on topics that she would have.

RossK said...


I think Mary would be ecstatic to know that she helped you recalibrate and recharge for many more years of working and fighting and everything else.


Make no mistake, it was Mary that sought me out and it changed the way I thought about blogging. Those who read my stuff early on would be suprised by how much one hand clapping was going on at the beginning.

You're most welcome GW. And thanks for the message.


I get the feeling that you two would have gotten along famously. And her daughter would probably really be something playing with an accordian occasionally.


Didn't I mention that Mary was, in fact, 7 feet tall?

Must have forgotten that part - sorry.

Yup, she was inspirational


There is no doubt in my mind that we can shine a little more of that light of hers.