I never imagined I would write these words: Christie Blatchford is dead.
How can that be?
Some people, you just expect them to live forever. And Christie was an indomitable life force. She shone the brightest, laughed the hardest, loved the fiercest, cussed the saltiest.
Did everything to extremes of course because she knew no other way. She didn’t just take up running, she had to run marathons. She didn’t just take up trekking, she had to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. She didn’t just take up journalism, she had to be the best damn journalist in the country. She was. None of us could touch her.
In recent months, as colleagues learned that Christie had been diagnosed with cancer, many admitted to me how much they dreaded going up against her on a story. Cry me a river. I had to do it almost every day of my working life.
When Const. Todd Baylis was shot during a walk-through of a Toronto housing complex in 1994, Christie had a source right in the emergency room. She described in detail how the young officer’s clothes were cut away, how doctors and nurses fought frantically to save his life.
How do you compete with that?
Yet we became the closest of friends, soulmates, fellow travellers, co-adventurers. There was never anything I couldn’t say to Christie. But dear God, there was so much left to say.
We were supposed to grow old together, ever more eccentric, a couple of crazy broads who still got crushes on boys. We would not go gently into dotage. Die with our boots on, even if newspapers predeceased us. Crank out the stories on a mimeograph if necessary.
When Christie took all of last summer off, I was stunned. When she claimed she would write only write three columns a week upon her return, I was disbelieving. Then she went immediately on the campaign trail and wrote seven times a week, despite that nagging pain in her hip. What the hell is it with this thing? she complained, the last time we went out for sushi, with our great friend Tracy Nesdoly.
Christie didn’t know how to slow down, really. Until a terrible illness stopped her cold. Yet even a few weeks ago, Christie spoke confidently about her column comeback, once this awful health crisis was behind her. I didn’t doubt it. Christie didn’t permit doubt. She was indestructible, I thought.
The world is suddenly a grayer place, with the taste of ashes. Christie’s vibrancy, her lust for life, has been quashed. The loss feels unbearable. And still, to the very end, she could make me smile.
A few days ago, when Christie seemed deep into a sleep from which she would never waken, someone put on music in her hospital room. From underneath the sheets emerged “The Claw’’ — the pincer movement her fingers made every time she heard a song she liked. I was there when “The Claw’’ was born. We were driving to Ayers Rock before the Sydney Olympics, me the navigator, Christie at the wheel, Bruce Springsteen on the tape deck. And suddenly “The Claw’’ was jivin’. It cracked Christie up, every time I deadpanned: Here comes “The Claw.’’
So many road trips we took together, usually bracketed around assignments, sometimes amidst assignments because invariably we chased the same big stories in what were the glory days of newspapering. But once, on vacation, I navigated Christie down the length of Italy with scarcely a wrong turn. Until we got to the chaos of Rome’s roundabouts. It was a self-inflicted torture, though. Because I’d spotted THE MOST GORGEOUS MAN ON THE PLANET — a carabinieri standing duty outside an embassy. I forced Christie to keep going ’round and ’round so that I could fill my eyes. It was only when I hung out the window yelling Ti Amo! Ti Amo! that Christie decided she’d had enough.
Christie adored officers, of course — cops and soldiers. And hockey players, anybody in a uniform. She was famously known as Sgt. Blatchford to my anti-Christie — a Toronto cop came up with that.
Cops trusted her as their go-to reporter. There was some journalistic cunning there, cultivating sources. But her fondness for police was genuine, instinctive. Unlike myself, she had a fundamental faith in institutions; it’s the way she was raised. Which is why she felt so betrayed when wrongness was proved. Few could rise to her unstinting standards, yet she was also endlessly forgiving.
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So tough and fearless on the outside, so mushy at her core. I’ve seen her cry hundreds of times in court. She cried on royal tours. She cried when the national anthem was played at the Olympics. Yet when confronted with truly wounding personal events — the death of her mother, the collapse of her marriage — she didn’t shed a tear in front of others. Stoicism was her armour. I’d say to her, “Christie, you’re being too anal Protestant again.’’ It was how she coped with sadness deep in her bones.
I’ve never known so kind a human being, opening up her heart and her home to others, whether kinfolk or near-strangers. A while back, Christie allowed a man convicted of a serious crime to take up residence in her basement. I was alarmed. She said: “If I don’t do it, who will?’’
I close my eyes and I see Christie trudging into the media tent in Kandahar after spending a week with troops outside the wire, yet immediately sitting down to write the story, no rest for the weary. I see her leaning against a tombstone in the ancient church across from where the Twin Towers had stood, on the night of 9/11, passing water to exhausted firefighters. I see her cradling an injured soldier in Afghanistan who’d literally fallen into her arms. I see her bartering in the souk, insisting the vendor was asking too little for a bijoux. “I’ll pay you $50 and not a dollar less.’’
I see her petting every dog she ever came across and being hauled on the leash when Obie walked her.
I see her in “Christie’s seat” — first row, on the aisle — in the courtroom, reinventing how trials are covered. She used opera glasses to scrutinize the reaction of jurors. I tell you, who else could pull that off?
I see her playing topless golf and flashing her boobs in the bar. Oh my, she did love to flash the twins.
She won a National Newspaper Award for her columns and the Governor General’s Literary Award for her first book — “Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army.” But she didn’t really care about awards and such. It was the everyday rattle and hum of journalism that got her stoked. And that was the strength of her writing — the sheer constancy of it, the high quality, the integrity. She lived inside all her stories.
Tracy, the wisest among us, says Christie lived a full life, perfectly realized. “She did all she set out to do, excelled at the thing she loved most.’’
She should have gone on and on and on. It is too cruel that fate wouldn’t let her.
She was my hero.
Ti amo Christie. I’ll miss you forever.
Ti amo Christie. I’ll miss you forever.