An infectious laugh silenced

Dave Bartlett
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CBC arts producer Suzanne Woolridge dead at 60

Suzanne Woolridge was a long-time arts reporter and producer at CBC radio in St. John’s. She died Tuesday after a battle with ALS, also known as Lou gehrig’s disease. — Submitted photo

She was known for her enthusiasm and dedication. A big laugh that matched her larger-than-life personality, and for her trademark blue and orange CBC “exploding pizza” T-shirt.

Suzanne Woolridge’s death has left both the province’s arts community and the local CBC in mourning.

Woolridge died Tuesday following a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was 60.

Born Suzanne Clarke in April 1951 in Fredericton, Woolridge moved to St. John’s in the 1970s.

She worked at The Daily News before starting her career with CBC in 1977.

She worked with the broadcaster on and off for 26 years.

Woolridge produced the “St. John’s Morning Show” from 1979 to 1982. After that she worked on the “Weekend Arts Magazine” (WAM), was regional arts producer for the national network and for the last decade was back at the “Morning Show” as arts producer.

She had been on sick leave for about a year.

Besides covering the arts, Woolridge was instrumental in organizing CBC events such as its annual pancake breakfast and gift-of-song Christmas carol contest.

Glen Tilley, the executive producer of arts, entertainment and music for CBC radio in the province, brought Woolridge to the arts department in the mid 1980s to dig up stories for “WAM.”

“She was a dog on a bone,” Tilley said of Woolridge’s tenacity.

He believes she may have been the inspiration for Mary Walsh’s warrior princess character.

“I saw senior bureaucrats, senior arts administrators and musicians and actors running across the room to get away from her and she’s coming after them with a microphone in hand, as a sword,” he said with a laugh.

Tilley noted Woolridge introduced many local artists to a national audience and covered inaugural events which have now become staples in the local arts community, including the Sound Symposium, Festival 500, and the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.

When Tilley was with Rising Tide Theatre, he remembers hoping Woolridge would be in the audience for the troupe’s latest comedy because her laugh would infect all  the people sitting around her.

When Diane Humber — the former regional director of CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador  — began her career at the corporation, Woolridge was her boss as producer of the morning show.

“She was really known for helping young (journalists) when they came in,” Humber said.

Nurturing and encouraging are two words Humber uses to describe her late friend.

But she said Woolridge was also always determined to get to the bottom of a story.

“If Suzanne wanted the story, she was going to get the story, but always in a way that was charming and gracious,” said Humber.

“Her love of her work and her great big, larger-than-life laugh were certainly her trademarks.”

Host of CBC’s “Radio Noon,” Ramona Dearing, said Woolridge was always cheerful, and loved what she did.

“She loved talking to artists. … She loved their personalities,” said Dearing.

Several colleagues talked about showing up for work in the early morning hours to find Woolridge still hard at it, cutting a story from  the previous night’s event.

“One of the most vivid (memories) would be of her at her desk, having worked all night long and still being excited by the tape she was working with, and kind of giggling — a little punch-drunk because she was so tired — and people would say, ‘You must be exhausted,’ and she would say, ‘No, I’m fine, I love it,’” said Dearing.

Sherry Banfield, the current producer of the “St. John’s Morning Show,” sat next to Woolridge in the CBC newsroom for several years.

“She is the hardest-working person I have ever known,” said Banfield.

“She never complained about anything. She just loved her job and she centred her life around her job.”

Banfield said Woolridge also loved her two sons, Andrew and Rob — both in their 20s — and spoke of them often.

On the job, Banfield said Woolridge gave equal consideration to each story she told.

“It didn’t matter who she was interviewing, whether it was Bill Cosby, or Russell Crowe or a group of kindergarten students about their first day of class. She gave every story equal attention,” said Banfield.

“If the world could be filled with people like Suzanne, it would be a much better place. She was just so kind and thoughtful.”

Based on those comments, it’s no wonder Woolridge won a CBC Radio Peer Award from her co-workers in 2007.

But it wasn’t only her colleagues who loved working with Woolridge.

Michelle Bush, the director of the Eastern Edge Gallery, was sad to hear of her passing.

“What was great about Suzanne was her, sometimes off-the-wall energy,” said Bush.

“When she came in the gallery to cover any events or activities, she jumped right in.”

Bush said Woolridge had a critical eye, and asked questions which would get unique answers.

“We’re going to miss her a lot,” said Bush.

Theatre producer and writer Sara Tilley met Woolridge as a high school student after winning a junior Arts and Letters award.

Even at that time, she said Woolridge treated her seriously as an artist.

“She was a very, very warm personality and she followed everybody in the arts community so closely. She was at everything,” Tilley said.

“She wasn’t just a reporter. I think she really was part of the fabric of what makes the St. John’s arts community so vibrant.”

 

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: CBC, Humber, Daily News Rising Tide Theatre Eastern Edge Gallery

Geographic location: Fredericton, Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • S
    February 02, 2012 - 11:02

    also read: Geoff Meeker's column http://www.thetelegram.com/Blog-Article/b/21386/Remembering-Suzanne-Woolridge Suzanne made the arts accessible to everyone with a radio tuned into CBC & promoted our arts & culture & made us want to attend shows. Thank you, Suzanne.

  • Bobbie Brennan
    February 02, 2012 - 10:27

    I knew Suzanne for many years. She was larger than life but at the same time, what life should be - large and full and joyous. She had a child's inquisitive, gleeful nature and a mature woman's understanding. But her qualities will live on in our memories and, perhaps, make us a little better as persons.