Was watching an episode of The Beast and marveling at how Patrick Swayze, in the midst of terminal cancer, was delivering performances of a depth I had never seen before. Thinking about how Jack Layton was so different in the 2011 federal election campaign. Greater empathy and self-deprecation during the Leaders’ Debates. Greater ease, happiness of sorts and a particular sense of purpose. Dead of cancer, within months. Could not have not known. Remembering Freddie Mercury, in the terminal stages of AIDS, pushing himself to record as much as he could, before passing. Posthumous release of music of exceptional depth and voice of a strength that made no physical sense, but readily explained in terms of strength of spirit: Made In Heaven.
Thinking about Marjorie Nichols. Was on Parliament Hill as of 1995, and reading political memoirs to greater appreciate where I was. Came across a used copy of Mark My Words: The Memories of a Very Political Reporter, by Marjorie Nichols, originally published in 1992. This wasn’t her first book, as I now discover. She co-wrote Bill Bennett, the end, published in 1986, about the political career of the former British Columbia premier, who retired in that year.
Remember reading her regular political columns in the Ottawa Citizen and marveling at the precision of her perceptions. Then suddenly it is announced that she has terminal lung cancer, and she is dead as of December, 1991, at the age of 48. She has known about the cancer since 1988, but does not make it public, instead pushing herself to write as much as she can, within the time that she has left.
Mark My Words is published in 1992. In the months before her death, Marjorie Nichols meets with fellow journalist Jane O’Hara and tapes as much about her life as she can, conveying impressions about the state of political journalism and recounting her participation in a particularly a hard-drinking era in Canadian political journalism. Marjorie Nichols, who, at 23, in 1967, became the youngest member of the Ottawa Press Gallery and the only female member at that time. She devoted the remaining twenty-five years of her life to political journalism. Some of the points that she made in her memoir were cause for great reflection. She pointed out how political journalists in the 1970s and 1980s spent much time independently researching, prior to writing. The easy “conflicting quote” stories, which became all too common in the 1990s and following, were largely foreign to how she saw political journalism. She also took the time to convey her sentiments about particular journalists, past and present. Carol Goar remembers being described as being “not a columnist, but an essayist”, having not yet “made the grade” in the eyes of Marjorie Nichols. For Nichols, a “serious political columnist” was exemplified by Richard Gwyn. Twenty years later–yesterday evening, in fact–Marjorie Nichols’ opinion is underscored by Richard Gwyn being awarded the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing at the Politics and Pen gala, sponsored by the Writers’ Trust of Canada.
Where is her book today? Like music, film and art, the written word remains timeless. Marjorie Nichols pushed herself to convey major sentiments shortly before her death. Like so many others, when knowing that there is not much time left, it becomes a legacy of best work. Terminal gift.
Fortunately, Mark My Words was published by Douglas and McIntyre, which still exists. Maybe someone will consider publishing a updated version of her memoirs, including a selection of her many columns…