Remembered for his work as a writer, broadcaster, environmentalist and councillor
A beloved environmentalist, humanitarian and journalist, Ken Meeker died this week at the age of 83.
Ken Meeker (left) and his brother Howie, the former NHL player and hockey analyst. Ken Meeker died earlier this week. he was 83. — Submitted photo
Many people in this province will remember him as a gentle, upbeat and kind journalist who had an uncanny skill forming bonds with his audience.
Meeker first moved to Newfoundland in 1961 after serving with the Royal Canadian Dragoons in Korea. He began his career in journalism as editor of The Herald when it was little more than a tabloid newspaper before moving on to CJON and then to CBC’s “Here and Now.”
“Ken was a terrific friend and a terrific journalist,” says longtime friend and colleague Bill Kelly, who first met him when Ken was the news director at CJON in 1967.
“He was a different kind of journalist. He was unique journalist with a unique approach to life, and that was reflected in the kind of work that he loved to do. I think he was groundbreaking, in a sense, although he’d never say that. I don’t think he thought of himself as such, but he had a special way of dealing with people. He was very laid back — on air. He wasn’t laid back in person.”
In front of the camera, says Kelly, he was captivating.
“He took the job very seriously. He worked really hard at it.”
Kelly remembers some of the assignments he covered with Meeker while working at CJON one of them being “The Great Liberal Renewal,” an initiative mounted by former premier Joey Smallwood.
“We weren’t just co-workers, we were personal friends.”
Years later, when Kelly began working at CBC, he was also hired soon after. “We worked together there for a long time. He was also a good friend.”
Since their retirements the two lost contact a little but Kelly says his friend was never far from his mind.
“I was at his 50th wedding anniversary several years ago and I hadn’t seen him then for a while.”
Kelly says despite the lapses, the friendship never faltered, and when they saw each other it was as though no time had passed at all.
“And that’s the way it was.”
Kelly says Meeker was a very private person and didn’t let many people know he was sick.
He wishes he could have had a chance to say good-bye.
“I just feel sad today, really sad.”
Meeker was well-known journalistically for his coverage of the Churchill Falls project, the seal hunt and the end of the Smallwood government.
He was also well-known for his anti-smoking campaign, his Collect-A-Wreck and litter cleanups and his volunteerism with the SPCA.
Normally the one behind the scenes, he made headlines as a city councillor in the late ’90s.
His son, Geoff Meeker knows his dad was one of a kind.
“As a former journalist, I can say with some authority that Ken Meeker was damn good at what he did. He had an easygoing, warm and natural style that drew viewers in and made them want to watch,” Geoff says.
“If you see him in action on old video clips, you will see what I mean. It’s a timeless skill and many journalists today could watch and learn from his technique — or, rather, lack of technique. He was himself, all the time, on TV or off, and I think people picked up on that. It’s impossible to measure his full journalistic impact, but I think we do have a cleaner province and more environmentally aware populace because of his work, especially the Collect-A-Wreck and litter-clean-up campaigns.”
Geoff says the impact his father had has become clearer since his passing.
“I miss my dad terribly already,” he says. “But I take some comfort in knowing that he had a full and long life. Based on the outpouring of well wishes that our family has received, Ken Meeker seems to have touched the lives of countless people in this province, as a journalist, environmental activist and volunteer. His impact on my siblings and I was profound.
“He taught us so much about life and how to live it. In terms of career, he was the reason I became a journalist. I saw how much fun he was having, and just had to leap into it myself. I was largely self-taught so, in my early days as a freelancer, his advice on writing and matters of ethics meant everything to me.
“He was always larger than life, the rock of the family, and we’re still trying to comprehend a world without him in it.”
Mount Pearl city Coun. Lucy Stoyles also remembers Meeker as warm, compassionate, and thoughtful person.
Stoyles served on council and several committees with Meeker on council from 1997 to 2001.
“The first thing when you think of Ken Meeker, you think of the environment because Ken believed so much in the environment and looking after everything,” she says.
“He made sure everything was pristine and clean. He always looked out for the well being of the environment, animals and people. That was Ken Meeker.”
An environmentalist before it was really en vogue here in Newfoundland, she says when he was running for election in ’97 he had just one election sign.
“He didn’t believe in wasting paper and giving out brochures or any of that stuff. …
“Ken had a great sense of humour, he was always kind to people and willing to help and do whatever he could in the community, even when he left council he was still involved,” Stoyles says.
Earlier this fall during the municipal election, Stoyles stopped by Meeker’s home to pay him a visit.
“He seemed to be in good spirits but he knew he wasn’t well.”
Longtime journalist and author Ron Pumphrey is also going to miss Meeker’s kind-hearted and adventurous personality.
“Ken and I are about the same age. I’ll be 83 soon. When he came to Newfoundland he and I buddied very easily. We got along very very well.”
Pumphrey says Meeker was known by most as a journalist but to many he was also known as “The Bird Man.”
“He had a little make-shift hospital in his garden for birds. People would bring him birds that were hurt,” Pumphrey says.
“Marilyn, my wife, found a pigeon with a broken wing struggling on the side of the road. She called Ken Meeker and he said ‘bring that bird in,’ and he took it very gently and brought it into his little hospital (in a greenhouse). He had several birds in there that he was trying to heal.”
Meeker leaves to mourn his wife, Jean, and their four children: Steve, Geoff, Sue, and Tom. He also leaves behind his brothers Howie and Tom.
A funeral service is planned for Monday.
“It was cancer that took my dad, but I suppose he was lucky — it was quick and he didn’t suffer a lot of pain,” Geoff says.
“He was sharp as a tack right to his last few hours. In fact, he died the way he lived — with humour, dignity and pride. He was a class act and there will never be another like him.”