Journalists who cover news in this province, and those who consume it, were shocked to learn of the passing of Suzanne Woolridge, long-time arts reporter and producer with CBC.
Suzanne was diagnosed with ALS last year, and had been off work for some time, dealing with her illness. She was 60 years old.
I met Suzanne in 1975, when I worked at The Daily News. I was in the paste-up department, and she in the adjoining newsroom. Even then, it was clear she had that “spark” that would carry her far. Truth is, I had a bit of a crush on her. The young reporter was intelligent, inquisitive, witty and engaging – not to mention tall and beautiful. Alas, I was younger again, and way out of her league.
Suzanne was born in Frederiction, NB and moved here with her parents, in her early 20s. She started at The Daily News, then moved to CBC, where she freelanced for a while before finding a home in the Arts Department, with Weekend Arts Magazine. She has produced numerous items, including hard news stories, for WAM and the Morning Show.
The tributes have been pouring in for Suzanne on CBC today. Everyone points out, quite rightly, that she was a sweet, warm and kind person. It also should be said that, as a reporter, she was one of the best. When there was a story to be had, Suzanne was relentless in pursuing it.
I could write more, but my contact with Suzanne in recent years has been sporadic. I invited Ramona Dearing, one of Suzanne’s co-workers and close friends, to write a few words about her. Ramona kindly complied, and provided this heartfelt note. It had only been hours since Ramona learned of Suzanne’s passing, so tears must have been spilled. I thank her for doing that.
We dearly cherished Suzanne. She spent a large chunk of her time at CBC covering the arts, either for the daily Arts Report, which ran daily across the country for many years, or for the local audience here in Newfoundland and Labrador through the Weekend Arts Magazine and the daily current affairs show, particularly the St. John’s Morning Show. Suzanne was always fascinated by whatever she was covering. She loved the personalities of artists and she was always enthusiastic about their work and the ideas it conveyed. She brought local artists to national attention, from Kevin Major to Liz Solo to Mary Pratt. She interviewed Bill Cosby about the Lanier Phillips story. She charmed Russell Crowe into saying a few words about an impromptu musical gig on George Street with Alan Doyle several years ago. She covered high school musicals with the same gusto as the Junos. There’s a Rolodex on her desk full of artists’ phone numbers, numbers they often wouldn’t give to anyone but her.
Not all her work was arts-related. She coordinated the massive St. John’s Morning Show live Pancake Day remote broadcasts. She also organized the beautiful Christmas carol gifts-of-song on the Morning Show. Former NL regional director Diane Humber tells me Suzanne was her first boss (and a good one at that!).
But I suspect Suzanne will be remembered most for her contribution to arts journalism in the province. There probably aren’t many artists Suzanne hasn’t interviewed, although she sometimes joked the younger rock musicians must have thought she was more like a grandmother. Here’s something I suspect many artists don't know about Suzanne: she was famous at CBC for working through the night. Very often. Because of course she frequently covered late-night events, and then she’d have to come back to the building and start cutting tape, writing scripts, packaging reports and sending feeds. She would make sure every possible show had a piece of the action. Our early morning crews were used to coming in at the start of their shift, and seeing Suzanne working away cheerfully, refusing to leave for another couple of hours. Her goal was to do justice to the actual event. Invariably, when quizzed if she was exhausted, she’d say, “I don't mind, I’m fine.”
Suzanne got her start in journalism at the Daily News. Her mother, Mary Donahoe, says that a Manpower job counsellor (remember them?) suggested Suzanne might like some on-the-job training there. The rest is history.
When I say we adored Suzanne, I am not kidding. In 2007, she received a national peer award from CBC. Her colleagues here wrote letters – many, many letters – explaining why Suzanne deserved the recognition that only a handful of CBC employees get each year. Suzanne was delighted with the award, and pleased that her mother could attend the ceremony. I believe Suzanne is the only employee in NL to win the honour to date.
Suzanne was only 60. We will miss her laugh – and I can't really describe it to anyone who never heard it, except to say it was a hell of a good laugh – her tenacity, her wildly colourful shirts with CBC logos on them, her love of her work, the fact that she was just a good person to spend time with.
Today our hearts go out to Mary, to Suzanne’s sons, Robbie and Andrew, and to her brother, Brian. And we’re thinking of you, too, Bob and Yvonne. and everyone else she was dear to.
Suzanne always signed her radio scripts as “SWOOL.” Rest in peace, SWOOL.
Ramona Dearing, Host, Radio Noon
In 2007, Suzanne Woolridge won the Peer Award, nominated by her co-workers. Following is the text of the story announcing that award, posted at the time at the cbc site:
She’s our hero!
Congratulations to arts producer Suzanne Woolridge
CBC Radio arts producer Suzanne Woolridge has received special recognition from her colleagues in Newfoundland and Labrador.
On Friday, Sept. 14, Suzanne became one of a handful of CBC employees across Canada to win what’s called a Peer Award. Coworkers nominate colleagues they believe go above and beyond the call of duty, and putting Suzanne’s name forward was a no-brainer.
She often works into the night, without complaint, and on her way out the door will offer people rides home.
Suzanne’s voice is well-known to CBC Radio listeners. She covers the arts with outstanding enthusiasm, and full journalistic rigour. She is a one-person production team, preparing endless items about the endlessly vibrant arts community in Newfoundland and Labrador, for all our programs.
Her co-workers are delighted she's getting the recognition she deserves. Congratulations, Suzanne!