As the sexual-assault trial of CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi unfolded in February, 2016, most of the reporters packing Courtroom 125 at Toronto’s Old City Hall spent their days focused on what the complainants and lawyers were saying. Covering the trial for Maclean’s, the journalist Anne Kingston did that, too, but she also homed in on what Mr. Ghomeshi’s lawyers said without speaking. In a sharp, insightful piece that ran halfway through the two-week trial, Ms. Kingston illuminated what she called “the optics of taking control,” placing the fashion choices of Mr. Ghomeshi’s lead lawyer, Marie Henein, under a microscope.
Swooping from Ms. Henein’s “almost architectural hair … reminiscent of the black crest of a red-whiskered bulbul,” to a discussion of “toe cleavage” at the Memphis Bar Association, Ms. Kingston offered up a brief history of the high heel, from its use by male warriors in 10th-century Persia to their adoption by women in the 1600s, including Elizabeth I, and on up to the TV show The Good Wife.
“No one was writing about those ‘vertiginous’ [Anne’s word] shoes for fear of being branded sexist, but Anne could,” noted Alison Uncles, now the editor-in-chief of Maclean’s magazine. “In the midst of a sexual-assault trial, she delivered a brilliant analysis of gender, optics and power in her trademark way, pulling threads – including shoe architecture and history – that no one else thought to consider.”
But then, with decades of experience in daily journalism covering a wide array of subjects and two books to her name, including The Meaning of Wife, a probing 2004 chronicle of the persistence of inequality in marriage, Ms. Kingston had the bona fides to pronounce on whatever subject she chose.
She died on Feb. 12, only a little over a month after finding out the cancer with which she had been diagnosed in early December was more aggressive than doctors had initially thought. She was 62.
Anne Elizabeth Kingston was born in Toronto on Nov. 5, 1957, the first child and only daughter of Alan, an employee of The Globe and Mail, and the former Margaret Mitchell. When she was seven years old, her father died. Her mother, by then with three children, went back to school and became a public-school teacher and librarian, offering young Anne an early model of self-sufficiency.
After graduating from the University of Toronto’s Trinity College, Ms. Kingston worked in public relations for Dominion Securities, which brought her up close to some of the more toxic elements of the world of banking and finance. “She would talk about the sexism and the rivers of money that everybody was dipping their toes into,” said Beppi Crosariol, The Globe and Mail’s erstwhile wine critic as well as Ms. Kingston’s partner for more than a decade, beginning in 1990. “She reserved a particular loathing for those wolves of Wall Street.”
After crossing the street to journalism with a job at the personal finance magazine Your Money, Ms. Kingston moved to the Financial Times of Canada. In 1992, she began contributing to Saturday Night magazine as well as The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine, where she quickly expanded into the politics of personal finance – writing about such uncomfortable subjects as money strife in marriages – while also crafting long, impressively reported pieces about companies on the front lines of 1990 trends: gelato makers, craft brewers, health-food purveyors.
She used that gig as a launching pad for her first book, The Edible Man: Dave Nichol, President’s Choice & the Making of Popular Taste, which won the 1995 National Business Book Award.
Three years later, editor Ken Whyte recruited her for the launch of the National Post, where Ms. Kingston penned the Modern Life column in the Arts & Life section, opining on such pop culture artifacts as bottled water, nail salons, newly ascendant pinot noir and “the ultimate fashion accessory [for women such as Cherie Blair, the wife of the then-British Prime Minister, Tony Blair] … a baby born after 40.”
If the subjects struck some readers as lightweight, Ms. Kingston’s observations about their role as social signifiers added impressive heft. She took the same approach in turning her focus increasingly to the field of gender politics, such as a 2005 column about “betrayed husbands and the politics of adultery,” and another that same year about the need to banish the myth of single women living large à la Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. She explored the subject deeply in The Meaning of Wife, a comprehensive survey that a Globe reviewer praised for its “considerable intelligence and objectivity” and said provided “a historic perspective that elicits anger, sorrow, and belly laughs.”
(The book was also praised for its cover art, an image of a woman’s clenched fist with a raised fourth finger displaying a diamond ring, which was created by her brother, Robert, a gifted advertising man.)
In private, Ms. Kingston was more open to marriage than her work might have suggested. In the early 1990s, she began discussing marriage with her then-partner, Mr. Crosariol. On a road trip through Rhode Island one summer’s day, Ms. Kingston spotted a roadside wedding chapel boasting “Walk-Ins Welcome!”
“ ‘Do you want to?” she asked Mr. Crosariol. “Let’s get married!’ ”
“She really meant it. She wasn’t about big productions, obviously, so this kind of speaks to her loathing of the Disney version of a wedding.” But when he failed to catch the trial balloon she was floating – his eyes were on the road, he insisted while recalling the story this week – her mood instantly soured. “She could be like a little girl sometimes. She was like: ‘[Pause] You didn’t want to, did you?’ ”
Many years later, as their relationship was foundering, Mr. Crosariol says Ms. Kingston reminded him of that moment on the road.
In 2005, Ms. Kingston joined Maclean’s as a writer, where her work included epic-length profiles of Michael Ignatieff and Elizabeth May, liberation therapy for multiple sclerosis, a cover story on childless-by-choice couples, and the Bill Cosby trial.
Her most lasting legacy, though, may be the work she did in the last few years of her life.
“Anne covered #MeToo before it was #MeToo,” Ms. Uncles said. “She assigned herself to the Jian Ghomeshi story, and then trial, because it engaged everything about her, including her curiosity about how institutions respond to allegations of sexual abuse. She had been covering these issues – and thinking, and reading – for decades, so when the public’s engagement starting catching up to hers, she was ready, and she delivered.”
In covering the Ghomeshi story, she befriended Kathryn Borel, a former co-worker of the radio host, whose complaint about his workplace behaviour formed the basis for a charge of sexual assault that Mr. Ghomeshi settled in May, 2016, with a peace bond and a courtroom apology.
“She was such a compassionate voice of reason, kindness and professionalism during a time when nothing made sense in my life,” Ms. Borel wrote in an e-mail this week. “Anne Kingston respecting the complexities of what I endured with Ghomeshi, and being curious about them, was what led to a larger understanding of what had happened to me. Weekly dialogue with her kept me alive. Every stable part of my life fell apart between the years of Ghomeshi being fired and me appearing on the courthouse steps. And well after I was Anne’s source and exclusive interview, we were friends.”
Over the past number of years, Ms. Kingston was working on a book that challenged the medical establishment’s stand on alternative therapies for multiple sclerosis. “She felt she was fighting the good fight with that book,” said Peter Boyd, a sommelier and musician with whom she was romantically linked from about 2010 to 2017. “Unfortunately, now it looks as if it will never see the light of day.”
Jessica Johnson, the executive editor of The Walrus, worked with Ms. Kingston when the two were at Saturday Night magazine. Last fall, the two taught an undergraduate course at the University of Toronto on #MeToo and the media.
“I don’t think she was a social justice crusader. The one thing about Anne is that she was very suspicious of dogma. She wanted to find the flaw in every person’s argument. She was always questioning and examining, and I think that’s why she had a hard time meeting deadlines or just letting stuff go. The interrogation never stopped.”
Ms. Kingston leaves her two younger brothers, David and Rob, their wives, Beth and Gwendolyn, three nieces and one nephew.