She would creep in the rear entrance of the Picton Gazette, quiet as a church mouse.
Mrs. Jean Morrison, publisher of Canada’s Oldest Community Newspaper and the Napanee Beaver, was on a stealthy mission to see what her crack team of reporters and the advertising whizzes were up to on this random work day.
And work was underlined.
“Hello, does anybody work here?” or “Did I catch you asleep at your desk again?” were her go-to lines as she poked her head into the newsroom and announced her presence.
Let it be known a reporter would only get caught staring off into space once by our Mrs. M, this little tiny spark plug of a woman whose frame belied her stature in the journalism industry in this region, the province and Canada.
Work would be found in a heart beat the next time the back door of our office would creak open. A hot lead, a late breaking story or even the most recent house league hockey scores could be punched at no matter if they were already completed. There’s always something to do when Mrs. M is in the building.
A legacy, an institution, a pioneer. These are appropriate labels we extoll as Jean Morrison is remembered in today’s edition.
With her family by her side, this woman of grace and fire, of courage and determination, passed into that goodnight on Sunday morning at her home on the banks of the Napanee River. She was 97 years old.
Your humble scribe first met Mrs. M in 2005 while I was cutting my teeth as a cub reporter under the guidance of then-editor Ross Lees. Boss Ross had instructed me a day prior to be on my toes as the publisher was coming down for a visit. It was as if the creator was descending down through the clouds via the Skyway Bridge and we all better be sharp-especially the new guy.
I wish I could recall that first visit with more precision but I think I tried to make a good first impression.I distinctly remember Mrs. M gave me a side glance and sly smile as if to say “Let’s see if you can last six months”. Which would have been three months longer than the person I was replacing. The journalism game isn’t for everyone.
But there was something that always made me want to do my very best for Mrs.M. The way she carried her self, the way she would share a laugh and enjoy a humorous story from the field or a tale from the good old days of linotype and photograph plates.
Most of all, I found inspiration in the way she was able to pick up and carry on after the untimely and sudden passing of her husband J. Earl Morrison. She more than likely could have sold her newspapers and found something else to do. In that time of the late 1970’s, the Kay Graham’s of the world were few and far between. But Mrs. M soldiered on. Charted her own path, wading into the male-dominated fray of the publishing world. And she succeeded.
It wasn’t always days of wine and roses ad infinitum under Mrs. M’s tenure but really, what work place is completely void of tension, difficult decisions and misstep? Most assuredly not a newspaper. But those of us that kicked around in this office long enough were able to really get to know the true Jean Morrison and appreciated her. She was one that was dedicated to her mission as a fiercely independent voice in a sea of conglomerates and chains.
When it came time to make a decision as to my future with Canada’s Oldest Community Newspaper, Mrs. M had already handed over the day-to-day operational control to her children. But it warmed my heart and made my choice to accept the role of editor easier after it was explained Jean Morrison endorsed my promotion to this critical role whole heartedly. After all, if such a person of great magnitude had faith in me, how could I doubt ever myself?