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Barbara McLintock Wove Facts to Defend the Powerless

She was legendary before she joined The Tyee. And journalism was just her first career.

Tom Hawthorn 29 Dec

Tom Hawthorn is a long time contributor to The Tyee who lives in Victoria. His book, The Vilest Rag You Can Imagine: The Ubyssey at 100, will be released by Harbour Publishing in 2019.

Barb McLintock knitted while listening to testimony in court. She knitted while sitting in the Legislative Press Gallery. She knitted during fiery speeches and raucous floor demonstrations at political conventions.

She knitted while listening to the bombast of Dave Barrett, the bafflegab of Bill Bennett, and the poppycock of Bill Vander Zalm.

She was never seen to write a note during a scrum, or a press conference.

When the politician Al Passarrell complained to other reporters about her knitting, which he found disrespectful, she coolly replied, “I don’t knit with my ears.”

McLintock, who died in the early morning hours on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, was the Madame Defarge of British Columbia politics, calmly doing her handiwork just like the Charles Dickens’ character in A Tale of Two Cities, one of the Fates acting as an unmoved witness to history.

McLintock had a long and successful career as a journalist before being hired as The Tyee’s first Legislative reporter soon after the site’s launch in November 2003. A month later, the RCMP raided offices at the Legislature, the opening to a BC Liberal scandal known as Railgate. She weighed in with perceptive reportage and analysis about the controversial sale of government-owned BC Rail.

A reputation for delivering scoops, first for the Victoria Daily Colonist and then for The Province of Vancouver, continued at The Tyee, where her presence helped provide this site with journalistic credibility in its early months.

“It didn’t matter how many years Barb had covered politics, she never was jaded,” said Tyee founder David Beers. “She always thrilled to the hunt. I remember her care and satisfaction as she exposed a plan by the BC Liberals, just a year after premier Gordon Campbell had been arrested for drunk driving, to soften B.C.’s drunk-driving laws. Media picked up on her scoop and then minister Rich Coleman hastily backed off the idea.”

From reporter to coroner

Even while covering politics for The Tyee, McLintock became an investigating coroner. In 2011, she became the first coroner of strategic programs, working to improve communications with the public. She retired from the post last year, though she continued to offer strategic advice on a part-time basis.

In a statement, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe praised McLintock for “her knack for storytelling, her incredible sense of duty and public service, as well as her kindness and thoughtful acts.”

McLintock died at 68 of complications from thyroid cancer, which was only recently diagnosed.

She was joined at bedside by friends, including Shirley Hunter, fellow horse lover Charley Beresford and Alan Perry, a radio reporter.

Her unexpected death brought a flurry of tributes from politicians and journalists alike. Premier John Horgan called her “a wonderful soul,” as well as a “superior journalist and public servant.” Sean Holman, a journalism professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, praised McLintock as a mentor who talked him through every step of his first major work of investigative journalism.

“She was always there to edit and counsel me,” he wrote in a heartfelt tribute posted on Facebook, “talking me down during those inevitable sleepless nights before a major story I had written broke.”

In return, he wrote, she asked only for him to do the same for other young reporters.

McLintock worked as a reporter in Victoria for more than 30 years. At just 24, she was acclaimed as president of the B.C. Legislature’s Press Gallery, becoming the youngest ever — and the first woman — to achieve the office. In annual photos taken of gallery reporters, she is joined by Marjorie Nichols of the rival Vancouver Sun as the only women in a decades-long parade of men. A trailblazer in her way, she never proclaimed herself as such. The only -ism with which she seemed comfortable to be associated was journalism.

Barbara Jean McLintock was born in Regina General Hospital on Dec. 10, 1950. She was the only child of the former Ruth Inez Houston, of Pilot Mound, Manitoba, and Peter McLintock, an immigrant from Glasgow, Scotland. Her mother was a kindergarten and Grade 1 teacher known as a stickler for grammar. Her father was a newspaperman with the Leader-Post who later became editorial page editor, executive editor, and editor of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Her career as a journalist was likely sparked at age seven on the night of the 1958 federal election, as she once told Shannon Moneo of Boulevard magazine. Her parents were going out for the night and her father asked her to listen to the radio because he expected a full report on John Diefenbaker’s electoral success when he got home.

McLintock was the top student at Vincent Massey Collegiate in the Winnipeg suburb of Fort Garry. In 1967, she was honoured at the Manitoba Legislative Building when the education minister presented her a Manitoba Gold Medal for scoring 89.6 per cent in her Grade 12 provincial examinations, the best score in her district.

At the University of Winnipeg, she majored in psychology with a minor in philosophy, though she liked to quip that she majored in student newspapers and minored in student politics. A stint as editor of The Uniter prepared her for a career in daily journalism.

A story from early in her career captures the unique role she would come to play in the British Columbia capital. An indefatigable reporter, she was working after midnight at the offices of the Garden City Ambulance company when a call came in about a fatal crash. She raced to the scene with the ambulance crew. Months later, she was called as a witness by Crown prosecutor Brian Smith and questioned about the appearance of the accused driver.

“He was pale… very, dazed, shocked, I would say, and bleeding from the lower part of his face,” she told the court.

After testifying, she returned to her seat in the public gallery, as she was covering the trial for the Colonist, a most unusual circumstance.

Later, she covered the prosecutor’s rise to attorney general and his unsuccessful bid for the Social Credit leadership.

Advocate for the young and vulnerable

In many ways, her career mirrored that of her father, though she was 34 years younger. As he rose through the ranks in Winnipeg, she did the same in Victoria, becoming Victoria bureau chief for The Province in 1974 before being hired, at age 26, as editor of The Times, an evening newspaper, in 1977. The Times belonged to FP Publications, headed by the Winnipeg Free Press, giving the chain two newspapers with a McLintock at the helm.

She was named in the infamous libel lawsuit when cartoonist Bob Bierman depicted cabinet minister Vander Zalm, a fellow Dutch-born emigré, cruelly picking the wings off five helpless flies. A B.C. Supreme Court justice found the cartoon to be libelous in a decision that outraged editorialists, not to mention cartoonists, throughout the land. The verdict was overturned on appeal.

The merger of the rival Victoria dailies bumped McLintock from the masthead. She wrote a column and did a stint in the Ottawa bureau for Southam News before being hired back by The Province as Victoria bureau chief in 1982. The paper was a broadsheet in those days and her files were filled with insider dope. After the morning paper went tabloid, she avoided the faux sensationalism indulged by some of her colleagues, offering crisp and informed accounts of the baffling goings-on at the Legislature, not to mention the sometimes shocking crimes under discussion in the nearby courthouse.

While unflinching in her coverage of the shenanigans at the Ledge, she was unsparing in exposing wrongdoings that afflicted the powerless, notably the young and the disabled. Her coverage of physical and sexual abuse at the Jericho Hill School for the Deaf in Vancouver led to victims receiving compensation, a 20-year odyssey the conclusion to which she covered for The Tyee.

McLintock won a B.C. Newspaper Award for best news story for her 1995 coverage of the criminal investigation into the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, an NDP scandal known as Bingogate. The following year, she shared in a Canadian Association of Journalists investigative award with Province colleagues for a series on youth and the justice system.

She wrote two books — Anorexia’s Fallen Angel, a critical look at the Montreaux Clinic for eating disorders (HarperCollins, 2002) and Smoke Free about Victoria’s implementation of an anti-smoking policy (Granville Island Publishing, 2004).

In 2002, she was named an honorary citizen by the city of Victoria for her volunteer work with community groups that assist children and youth.

Outside of her reporting (and knitting), McLintock was an avid ornithologist, a Girl Guide supporter, a member of the Gettin’ Higher Choir, a collector of juvenile fiction featuring horses and ponies, and a lover of all things equine. She volunteered at horse shows around the continent and made an annual pilgrimage to the Circle Z guest ranch outside Patagonia, Arizona. She was to have co-hosted with Beresford a horse clinic with trainer Carlos Tabernaberri in Victoria in February.

At work or play, she maintained an inscrutable demeanor, often looking away as she addressed someone. She was meticulous in the practice of journalism or needlework, less so in matters of wardrobe. She suffered all manner of nonsense from cub reporters but was withering when she heard obfuscation from a seasoned politician. Her sense of humour was wicked and her knowledge of the city unsurpassed.

McLintock knew where the bodies were buried long before she became a coroner.  [Tyee]

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