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lives lived

Steven Gibb: Photographer. Painter. Newspaperman. Single father. Born April 2, 1948, in Brooks, Alta.; died Aug. 3, 2021, in Saskatoon, of an unknown cardiovascular event; aged 73.

Steven GibbCourtesy of family

Steve grew up on the dusty edge of Rosemary, Alta. The youngest of six children, he lost his father at 11. His mother, Nella, eked out a meagre existence by selling eggs from their farm, where they did not have indoor plumbing.

When Steve was 7, he and his two brothers slung a rope over the barn hay pulley as a poor man’s elevator. Two boys jumped from the hayloft while the third got the ride of his life – two storeys up from the barn floor. That is, until the rope broke and Steve shattered his arm.

Steve had even less success in school. His principal took him aside and said, “Listen Gibb. You have one of the highest IQs in the school and you need to get off your butt and start working.”

Steve realized there might be more out there for him. He decided to study journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

An artist at heart, Steve began his newspaper career as a photographer, first in Swift Current, Sask., then Cambridge, Ont. At the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, he ultimately became the paper’s longest-serving editor-in-chief. He led with humour, grace and fair-mindedness. When new owners clamped down on opinions, he fought for his writers. He cared deeply about his team, his readers and the integrity of his newsroom.

Steve dreamed of writing late-night comedy, but as a single dad with two young children, he settled for dry and often ribald one-liners and other creative pursuits: writing humour pieces; a weekly newspaper cartoon; and inventing board games for his children, Sheila and Brian.

At home, breakfast was eaten over the newspaper and Blue Jays games were the soundtrack of summer. Steve made banana ice cream and fruit slushes at any hour, and had a knack for picking the sweetest and juiciest watermelons.

He loved to take Sheila and Brian hiking in the badlands, near where he grew up, to look for dinosaur fossils. He would park on the side of the highway and descend the steep slopes, often stopping for the perfect photo at the edge of an eroding cliff, leaving his children terrified they might have to hike out alone.

Steve travelled with his children, taking them along to national newspaper conferences. He dragged them to innumerable art galleries, boring them to tears but instilling a lifelong love of art.

Steve had diabetes and strokes at a young age, but that did not define him (nor his ice-cream habit). In his youth, he raced motocross. He skied and played hockey, fastball and tennis. He also ran, getting through Prairie winters at the indoor track.

Twenty-one years ago, during one such run, Steve suffered a massive cardiac arrest and was kept on life support so his children could say goodbye. He nearly gave his ICU nurse her own cardiac event when he abruptly began communicating. Steve marvelled at the fortuitous events that helped him skirt death: the track staff had just been retrained on the defibrillator; the defibrillator was nearby for a heart rehab class; a top cardiologist was running alongside him.

After that, it felt a bit like Steve was on borrowed time. He made the most of it, teaching himself to paint. His colourful bison and bears in Prairie landscapes were popular, and he sold many pieces across Canada.

After retirement, Steve was rarely without his beloved dogs and his camera. He photographed local historic buildings to inspire their preservation. He could capture beauty in a grasshopper.

Steve considered himself a “shy and quiet kind of guy.” He bore difficulties stoically and privately. Most recently, Steve was a devoted caregiver for his second wife, whom he married later in life and who suffered serious long-term illness. He did not complain, or accept offers of help. He was a gentle soul, a calming influence and, as his 10-year-old granddaughter said during his last visit, “a cool guy.”

Sheila Gibb is Steve’s daughter.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide