COLUMN

‘SHE WAS THE BEST’

Christina McCall was one of the most admired reporters and writers of her time

KENNETH WHYTE May 9 2005
COLUMN

‘SHE WAS THE BEST’

Christina McCall was one of the most admired reporters and writers of her time

KENNETH WHYTE May 9 2005

‘SHE WAS THE BEST’

THEEDITOR'SLETTER

COLUMN

Christina McCall was one of the most admired reporters and writers of her time

ABOUT A DECADE AGO, I took a taxi down a rainy, leafy street in the Toronto neighbourhood of Rosedale and walked up the steps of a stately brick mansion, home to the journalist and author Christina McCall. She met me at the door, a small, dark-haired woman with a soft voice and a missing smile.

I’d recently been appointed editor of Saturday Night magazine, and something I’d done

had offended Christina. I can’t for the life of me recall my blunder, or how we got past it. I also draw blanks on the interior of her house (beyond that it was grand), what she wore (except that she was neat), and what she served (if anything). About all I remember clearly was her polite but intense scrutiny of me.

She looked deep into my face when we shook hands. I felt her watching me as we sat down, and I caught her glancing at my shoes as we began to talk. Once we had worked through whatever unpleasantness lay between us, her smile appeared, beautifully, and she asked permission to pose some questions. Where was I from? What did my father do? Where had I gone to school? Where had I worked? Where did I live? Who did I read? Why did I write?

Most of my responses were met with encouraging ‘uh-huhs’ before she asked her inevitable supplémentais. It wasn’t long before I noticed that my answers weren’t half as interesting as her questions. I have never, before or since, been probed, measured and sorted in so genteel and expert a manner.

As I came to know Christina approached almost everyone she met with the same combination of curiosity, meticulousness and grace. Indeed, it was her modus operandi, in life and in work. One can read those same qualities in every line of her prose. They are what made her a supreme master of her craft and

her, I learned that

I felt her watching me as we sat down, and I caught her glancing at my shoes as we began to talk

one of the most admired reporters and writers of her time.

Christina McCall began her career as an editorial assistant at Maclean’s in 1957. She wrote in these pages over two decades and rose to the influential position of associate editor in the early seventies—one of the magazine’s most celebrated eras. Her book Grits: An Intimate Portrait of the Liberal Party is the best yet written about a Canadian political party. She co-authored with her husband, Stephen Clarkson, an equally impressive biography of Pierre Trudeau. She was the loving and devoted mother of three daughters. She was also a wonderful friend, colleague and mentor to many (including, despite our inauspicious beginnings, me). She died last week at age 70.

I ran into several of the journalists I admire most on the steps of St. Thomas’s Anglican Church after her funeral. We were all short of words. One simply shrugged and said, “She was the best.” There was nothing to do but agree. KENNETH WHYTE