Journalist. News junkie. Tennis fan. Foodie. Born Aug 9, 1946, in Toronto; died Nov 21, 2016, in Charlottetown, of cancer; aged 70.
Curiosity was Karen's energy drink, fuelling a ground-breaking career in journalism and an abiding interest in people.
Karen could start a conversation with anyone, anywhere. Before you knew it, she was deep into a conversation with a store sales clerk or the person in line with her, usually walking away with their life story.
The questions popped when she spotted something new: "I wonder what they are doing? How do they do that? Why?" Sometimes the queries brought out her silly side as she imagined bizarre scenarios sure to earn a laugh from those around her.
There was nothing silly about her commitment to journalism and the determination she brought, from the earliest days of her career in the 1960s, to smashing glass ceilings in a then male-dominated profession. Karen had to be mentally tough, resilient and better than average to be successful.
She was one of the first women reporters at CKTB in St. Catharines, Ont., before joining CBC Radio in 1972. After several years of general-assignment reporting, she became the network's first female national science and technology correspondent in 1979. Four years later, she won the prestigious Vannevar Bush inaugural fellowship for excellence in science and medical journalism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – an honour that meant she'd be working at the renowned university. After initial reluctance, CBC approved her leave.
Resilient and optimistic, she loved telling stories. In 1975, she covered the International Women's Year conference in Mexico City, sharing breakfast with Germaine Greer, Mother Teresa and female members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
As a science journalist writing for the Medical Post, the Lancet and University Affairs, she viewed her role as a translator who demystified the technical jargon of researchers for the public's benefit. In doing so, she also earned the trust and respect of scientists.
In 1984, she moved to Ireland to begin a freelance career, embracing the culture of a country that became her second home for 16 years. While there, she was joined by journalist Doug Payne, who became her partner for 20 years until his death in 2008.
Her curiosity extended to food, such as serving buffalo for Christmas dinner, but her gag gifts were even more impressive. For her brother-in-law's 70th birthday, she mailed him a box of 70 inexpensive, individually wrapped gifts. Then she connected via Skype to celebrate as Dave opened his presents.
After returning to Canada in 2001 and making Charlottetown her home, Karen continued her freelance career as a Canadian correspondent for the U.S. Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2013 and 2015, her stories in University Affairs earned the magazine gold medals in the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.
A political junkie, Karen knew a lot about some things and had an opinion on everything. As intense as her enthusiasm for politics was her love of tennis – she would rattle off statistics as others do for hockey or baseball.
Karen also had a gift for listening that made her a "go-to" person for advice. In our hearts, she remains a cherished sister and friend.
Tom Birchard is Karen's brother, Jennifer Lewington is Karen's friend.