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Shirley Newhook interviewed Margaret Trudeau; Vera Lynn; Kenny Rogers; ballerina Margot Fonteyn; anthropologist Dr. Elliott Leyton; and a very young and very shy Mark Critch.CBC Still Photo Collection

Shirley Newhook’s popular television program Coffee Break debuted in 1974 and was on the Newfoundland and Labrador airwaves for 17 years.

The half-hour talk show ran four days a week. Its spritely synthesized theme music would introduce Ms. Newhook and her guest, seated by a coffee table. For years it was shot live. Always prepared and cordial, Ms. Newhook could segue with aplomb from discussing the history of Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Extension Services (a community outreach program), to previewing new investigations into the Lizzie Borden murders.

She interviewed Margaret Trudeau; Vera Lynn; Kenny Rogers; ballerina Margot Fonteyn; anthropologist Dr. Elliott Leyton; and a very young and very shy Mark Critch, the Newfoundland comedian who would find fame on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. For a segment on unusual pets she wore a boa constrictor around her neck, and pressed on as a monkey swung from the studio light fixtures.

Comedian and pianist Victor Borge appeared several times. He told Ms. Newhook’s producer she was “an absolute treasure” and “absolutely fabulous,” and the feeling was mutual.

“She found [Mr. Borge] warm and informal,” Ms. Newhook’s daughter Susan said. “He once pulled the rug out from under her, I think on air: He told her he had a gift for her, a diamond pin, and he handed her a box. When she opened it she found a dime soldered onto a safety pin. She loved it, she had it for years.”

Her genuine warmth and humour aside, Ms. Newhook was also open to tackling topics that were controversial at the time, such as drug and alcohol addiction, and her weekly Ask the Doctor segment often featured women’s health issues.

Putting on her show took an enormous amount of work. She didn’t simply show up and ask scripted questions. “She had a production assistant to help her keep track, but she chased, researched, booked and greeted every single guest herself,” Susan said of Ms. Newhook, who died April 3 at St. Luke’s Home in St. John’s.

“People saw someone beautiful and poised, but not how smart she was. She was smart as a whip,” Susan said. And through her show, “Mom was a conduit for Newfoundlanders to talk to each other.”

Each of the hundreds of guests received a signature coffee mug, often treasured for years.

Then in 1990 CBC axed 11 stations, 160 programs and 1,100 employees; in Newfoundland and Labrador, all local programming was cut except the suppertime news show Here & Now. When CBC president Gérard Veilleux announced the news on Dec. 17, Coffee Break was in the middle of a cycle of Christmas shows. The next day Ms. Newhook had to call all the guests she had scheduled to tell them the show was off the air.

After the CBC cancellation, Ms. Newhook and some colleagues produced Shirley’s Place for Atlantic Cablevision (now Rogers TV). She also returned to writing and joined St. John’s-based The Telegram with a society column titled The Hectic Pace.

Shirley Ann Telford Newhook was born in Woodstock, Ont., on Feb. 27. She was very private about personal matters, including her age. Out of respect for her wishes, her children refused to divulge the year of her birth.

She grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her parents, William and Audrey Billings Telford, and younger brother, Bill, who was in the first graduating class of the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1959.

Her parents separated and her mother worked at a beauty salon. By age 15 or 16, Shirley was working as a model. She studied at Barbizon Modeling and Acting School and was employed as a sales rep at Jerell Juniors. She also took singing lessons, going “into the city” from Brooklyn to Manhattan for classes and to sing with choirs, which is how she met her future husband, Warren Newhook. They married on March 24, 1956.

Her father-in-law, William Newhook, who had moved to New York in the 1920s and worked with the British Mission office there during the Second World War, decided to return to Newfoundland in the 1950s, after Confederation, and in 1961 she and Warren followed, making the arduous trek from New York to St. John’s before the highway was completed, with two daughters aged three years and three months (their son arrived a few years later).

They thought they’d give it a year. But for her, St. John’s was love at first sight. “The day I arrived it was sunny and absolutely gorgeous,” she told The Telegram. “Everybody tried to assure me that’s the way the weather was in Newfoundland all the time.”

Still, there were adjustments.

She had brought a slip of yellow-flowered forsythia bush, which is the city flower of Brooklyn. Due to Newfoundland’s climate, each spring was a test of patience waiting for it to bloom, weeks or even months behind its Brooklyn counterparts.

“She also cooked a wide range of different foods that were everyday to her but unusual for meat-and-potatoes 1960s St. John’s, like spaghetti and meatballs,” Susan said.

But these small differences were outweighed by big pluses for the young family. They lived in a house, instead of renting an apartment, and the children could roam and play and ride their bikes. (The marriage, though, didn’t last, and she and Warren parted ways in the mid-1980s. He died last year.)

Eager to make connections, Ms. Newhook joined community organizations like the Jaycettes; performed with musical groups, including the Roland Whitten Singers; and started her column, called Over The Back Fence, with St. John’s-based The Daily News in the early 1970s. She also, with Paul Sparkes and Pamela Karasek, published What’s Happening in Newfoundland, an events periodical distributed through hotel rooms.

In 1969 she became fashion co-ordinator for the Water Street Mall, which transformed the downtown street into a temporary pedestrian mall (a much-loved initiative revived under COVID-19 restrictions). There were fashion shows, concerts and games. “It was a fascinating thing. I loved it,” Ms. Newhook told The Telegram.

She was instrumental in many organizations, including the Quidi Vidi Rennie’s River Development Foundation, where she helped launch the great rubber-duck race; the volunteer-run radio station VOWR; the Status of Women Council; and she was the first woman to join the St. John’s Rotary Club. She was much in demand as a live event host, with gigs ranging from fundraising pageants to the NTA Christmas Concerts.

“Mom was a great one for saying yes when people asked for her time,” Susan said. “She was a freelancer. I’d suggest applying for a job in management but she loved meeting lots of people, she liked having a lot of things going on.”

Along with setting such an example of energy and work ethic, she taught her children to bake and cook, and hosted wonderful Christmas parties.

Still it was a family joke that her most common saying was: “Hang on, let me get my appointment book.”

Ms. Newhook leaves her daughters, Susan and Tracey; son, Chris; and five grandchildren.