Richard (Rick) James Ouston: Journalist. Crusader. Brother. Friend. Born Sept. 11, 1955, in Vancouver; died sometime near the end of August, of causes owing to chronic alcoholism, in Vancouver, aged 64.
Once, Rick went to a wedding in a spiffy new suit after having hemmed the pants with Scotch tape. As the evening progressed, the hems fell down, trailing the tape across the dance floor. He didn’t care. He didn’t care what other guests thought. He just danced, smoked and danced some more.
That was Rick all over. He was gruff with a heart of gold, a brusque journalist with a chip on his shoulder, a cackle of a laugh and small, dark eyes that perpetually scrunched up in both suspicion and delight. When he spoke, his words were terse and carefully enunciated, probably to cover up a stutter he’d had since childhood.
Ask anyone who knew Rick and they would surely have a story. In 1983, he conducted one of the earliest investigations into a new condition sweeping Vancouver’s gay community: AIDS. When editors insisted on using a Grim Reaper graphic with his story, Rick insisted that his byline be removed – a measure journalists use to protest editorial decisions. It was. But Rick still wanted readers to know who’d written the piece, so he took out an ad in the paper that same day, announcing that he was the author.
Getting the goods and getting the facts right were of paramount importance to him. He covered the Clifford Olson killings, exposed dirty doctors, brought four Nazi war criminals living in Canada to justice and waged a journalistic campaign against those who were prostituting children in the city. In a way, he was a champion of the dispossessed because he himself felt that way. Adopted by Fred and Anne Ouston, the little brother to Sharon and Lorraine, he was loved by his family as he grew up in south Vancouver, but always wondered who his birth parents were and why he’d been abandoned – as he saw it. Typically dogged, he set out to investigate, eventually finding his birth mother and sister. The search became a book called Finding Family, published in 1994.
Another book, Getting the Goods: Information in B.C. – How to Find It, How to Use It, was a must-read for both students and experienced journalists.
Everything about Rick screamed gumshoe reporter. He wore trench coats and black leather bombers while he named his beloved cat Lou Grant, after the gruff newsroom director on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
He taught journalism at Langara College, wrote for Vancouver Magazine, was a TV reporter and an assignment editor for the CBC, a convergence editor with Global TV and finally, because newspapers were his first love, an assignment editor upon his return to the Vancouver Sun.
One of his last pieces, written in the wake of Robin Williams’s suicide, was an angry treatise on the right to choose when to die. It might as well have been his epitaph.
In the end, Rick’s demons – drink and an insistence that he didn’t need help, professional or otherwise – got him. After the death of his partner, Christina, in a catastrophic fall down some stairs, he went into his own dark spiral, occasionally surfacing to reach out to people he had loved and respected to tell them so. And then, he was gone.
Lisa Fitterman is a friend of Rick’s.
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