The granddaughter of a Vancouver Sun sportswriter, Ms. Blatchford gravitated quickly toward the sports beat when she joined The Globe and Mail as a reporter in 1972, when she was still a journalism student at Ryerson University. Within three years, she had inherited a long-running sports column from Dick Beddoes, promising that she’d be “more of a jock” than he was. Her first column, on Oct. 27, 1975, focused on Bobby Hull’s refusal to play in a World Hockey Association game, an act of protest against violence in the sport:
You gotta hate a little to be one of the great competitors. For years, non-hockey people have failed to understand the hate, just as they find little beauty in the sound of a body hitting the boards, just as they see no magic in a man on the ice, all alone, playing with the puck. It is unreasonable to suggest that Hull, a magnificent competitor, does not understand. It is not unreasonable to suggest that after 18 years as a pro, at 36, he may be tiring of it.
There is madness in sport. ... That’s our game, guys. A tough combination of bravado and bravery, some phony machismo and some real meanness. It’s the only game in the world we play as well as anyone else. But if we aren’t careful, the people who make the decisions are going to take the guts and hardness out of hockey and they will do it because they think it is what we want.
On Terry Fox
Ms. Blatchford quit The Globe in 1977 in what she said in her 2016 memoir was a “snit” over how the sports department handled her copy. At the Toronto Star, she discovered a passion for crime reporting (more on that later) but also covered one of the defining sports stories of that era: Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. In 2005, as she prepared to run in a charity marathon, she wrote about how his story continued to inspire her and Canadians:
And so, from this mewling vale of tears, I remind myself of Terry Fox.
He lost a leg to bone cancer. He ran, in his inimitable hippity-hop manner, more than halfway across our country. ... The last week or so of his Marathon of Hope, he was running with fear in his heart – he was feeling unsettling pain in his chest, which, on some level, he knew was bad news.
It was about that time, in a little Northern Ontario town called Terrace Bay, that I met Terry. Only about a week later, when it became unbearable, even for him, did he 'fess up and call it quits. I was working then for The Toronto Star and, at the news that Terry's cancer had come back, this time to his lungs, flew back up north to see him. The change was shocking: Where such a short time before he was so gorgeous and fit I thought he'd surely live forever, now he looked small. As he formally announced the end of his run, a lazy Northern Ontario fly made its way across his lovely face, and Terry was too weary to swipe at it.
Unusually, for our country, the memory of this wonderful young man has been kept fresh, and almost a quarter-century after his death, he remains as inspirational as he was all those years ago.
On crime and justice
Covering courts, crime and politics brought Ms. Blatchford to the Toronto Sun in 1982, the newly launched National Post in 1998 and back to The Globe in 2003. One of the cases she kept coming back to was that of Jeffrey Baldwin, a five-year-old who slowly starved to death in 2002 while in the neglectful care of his grandparents. She pieced together a definitive account of the events leading up to his death and how children’s aid officials failed to act. In 2006, when the grandparents had been convicted of second-degree murder, she reflected on how Jeffrey’s story had changed her:
I have been writing about Jeffrey Baldwin off and on for more than three years, since shortly after his miserable death in his prison of a room in an east-end Toronto house on Nov. 30, 2002. In that 42-month period, I knocked on the front door of the house, this in those early days before his grandparents were ever arrested, and was chased away by his obese, glowering and remarkably entitled grandmother, who later called police to complain about me; broke the story of how the Catholic Children's Aid Society had agreed to give custody of Jeffrey and his siblings to the grotesque grandparents without even checking its own files that detailed the pair's earlier, separate convictions for child abuse; covered much of the grandparents' criminal trial (they were found guilty of second-degree murder and will be formally sentenced on May 30); attended a tender memorial, organized by strangers, for the dead boy; and read and wrote about a searing report written by an external consultant, who described in crisp prose the ways the CCAS had failed Jeffrey.
For the longest time, I had a picture of the little boy on a wall of my home office and, later, a T-shirt with a blown-up version of the same photo. I took them down a couple of weeks ago. Jeffrey’s grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, are likely to pass the rest of their lives in prison - second-degree murder carries an automatic “life” sentence with only the parole ineligibility period still to be decided by the judge – but, as an outcome, this is so profoundly unsatisfactory as to evoke despair.
When Ms. Blatchford returned to The Globe, the Afghanistan mission was still in its early stages but would take an increasingly heavy toll on Canadian soldiers and the Afghan people. In 2006, she spent almost six months embedded with Canadian forces there. Her dispatches about soldiers’ daily lives were the eventual basis of her 2008 book, Fifteen Days: Friendship, Life and Death From Inside the New Canadian Army, which she would later say was her best work. Here’s an excerpt from a 2006 Q&A she gave with Globe readers from Kandahar, in which she spoke candidly about the realities of life in Afghanistan:
I'm not really all that experienced a war correspondent, Jim, except for being in Tel Aviv in the first Gulf War, which was scary as hell (we didn't know which kind of Scuds would fall, regular or poisoned, so you always had a choice of two shelters to go to . . . talk about a rock and a hard place). For the rest of it, I was in Qatar, where the Canucks were based, and that was interesting but pretty damn safe. Aside from that, and the first summer of the war in the former Yugoslavia, that's pretty much it . . . lots of folks who really know this stuff.
I didn’t realize, before I got here, how much I would like the country, or how stricken I’d be by the poverty and miserable lot that is the ordinary Afghan’s life . . . I haven’t spend much time in developing world countries . . . very tough seeing all these beautiful kids, begging on the streets . . . they’re so damn smart, and resilient, but what lousy luck, you know.
In public, Ms. Blatchford prided herself as an alpha-dog persona, but at home, it was Obie the English bull terrier who was really in charge. Obie kept her company for more than 13 years, including her final stint at the National Post, until he died last fall. Here is Ms. Blatchford’s Globe column from when she first adopted Obie in 2006, in which she said it gave her a new appreciation for parenthood:
He is so handsome (brow furrowed in concentration, white eyelashes visible against his cheek, usually one or another of his ears turned inside out) and strikes such charming poses (rolling over onto his back to expose a pink, fat belly, or, when on his tummy, sticking his legs straight out behind him, like a tadpole) that I can't bring myself to move him and can barely take my eyes from him.
And that's why I got nothing done this week. I am being held hostage by a 20-pound bull terrier with black-and-pink lips and a chesty wiggle, and all I can think is, Stephen Harper is out of his mind if he thinks that paying parents a pittance to stay home with their youngsters is the only way. What parents need is choice, choice and more choice.