As Thompson ages as a community, we find ourselves as a newspaper producing a gradually increasing number of obituary stories every year it seems marking the passing of prominent or noteworthy residents or former residents.
While always sad to write, often those we commemorate this way have had the privilege of leading reasonably long lives.
Obituaries are important because it is how we say goodbye. Reporters are always trying to balance respecting a grieving family’s privacy considerations against a compelling community interest in the person who has died. Where to strike the balance varies from person to person and is often more of an intuitive art than an exact science. We try and take our cues from family and friends. Sometimes those who you would think least likely to talk are actually eager to share in an almost cathartic way about their loved one, while others who have lived their lives in the public eye prefer to exit quietly.
Even the way death is described varies from paper to paper. In the Northwest Territories a few years ago, it was wryly noted by observers more than once while the euphemism “passed away” was often used in the Yellowknifer, the same person had “died” in News/North: Same publisher, two papers, two different copy editors. We here for the most part prefer the latter more direct approach, although we realize the two words “dead at” can seem very direct in a headline sometimes.
Last week, however, we saw something different again that had less to do with reporting and writing style, but more to do with the relative youth of the two people we featured in our obituary stories. Trilok (Troy) Anand and Shelly Wright were both in their 40s. Reporters have been known to describe such deaths with prose that includes such descriptions as “tragic” or “untimely,” although many old-school editors will red-pencil such words out of the copy, noting that in truth almost any death is “tragic” and “untimely” for the deceased and their families and friends.
Still, it’s hard to not think in those terms when one thinks of the deaths or passings, whatever you prefer to call it, of Wright and Anand.
Shelly Wright, the daughter of Grant and Joan Wright, owners and operators of the Thompson Citizen and Nickel Belt News prior to selling them to Glacier Media Inc. of Vancouver 5½ years ago in January 2007, died June 19 at Saint Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg at the age of 49, succumbing to infection after a long battle with numerous health problems. While relatively young, Wright’s death in an odd sort of way perhaps harkens to back another era – the pioneer Inco era in Thompson history – breaking a historic link that started when the Wright family became the second newspapering family in Thompson in March 1961, following W.H. “Duke” DeCoursey, who had started the Thompson Citizen in June 1960, by starting the competing Nickel Belt News, first published out of The Northern Mail in The Pas, and later on Kelsey Bay, underneath what is now the front entrance of the City Centre Mall.
After graduating from the University of Manitoba with a bachelor's degree in political science, Wright returned here to the family newspapering business, eventually becoming editor. Fiery editorials that often roiled public controversy were Wright’s stock-in-trade. Diana Hiscock, the office manager of the Thompson Citizen and Nickel Belt News for 30 years under the Wright family's ownership, said last week, “No subject was not touched. If she felt that there was a reason to write an editorial and she wanted it out there, she put it out."
Recalled Blake Ellis, who served as a reporter and editor with the Thompson Citizen and Nickel Belt News for nine years from 1998 to 2007 and the end of the Wright era, leaving within months of Glacier buying the papers: “Some of them were controversial which is always a good thing to have in an editorial." Ellis, who spent his first five years at the papers actively working with Shelly Wright, said of her editorials. "It makes people think and gets the conversation going."
Conversations often got going when Shelly Wright was at the newspaper, Ellis recalls.
"She liked to debate those local issues," said Ellis. "That led to a lively newsroom. We'd often debate issues here at the paper."
"She really was one of a kind, very opinionated, but backed up what she had to say," Hiscock says. "She certainly made her presence felt in Thompson, whether it made people happy or unhappy. She was a great writer and a great person."
Troy Anand, 44, who also died at Saint Boniface Hospital after a short illness just three days after Wright, was as different from her temperamentally as night is from day, yet both left their mark on Thompson and the community is a better place because of them both. If Wright was the consummate controversialist, Anand, known simply as “Troy” to almost everyone in Thompson, was the exact opposite personality type and one of the truly nice guys who couldn’t do enough for his adopted city. Anand grew up in Sitarganj in northern India, where he attended G.I.C. Sitarganj School in the Udham Singh Nagar district of Uttarakhand. He later attended Kumaun University Nainital in Uttarakhand. He opened the Robin’s Donuts franchise here in November 2002. While he was best known for his passion to clean up litter in Thompson in the annual spring clean-up, there was no good cause Anand wasn’t willing to help out in some way with either with a cash or in-kind donation.
We are paradoxically both richer today for Wright and Anand having been among us while at the same time poorer for their departures.