VANCOUVER — Jill St. Louis, a former Vancouver bureau chief at The Canadian Press who thrived in a fast-breaking news environment and was a friend to anything with four legs, has died after a battle with metastatic lung cancer. She was 66.
St. Louis spent most of her career at The Canadian Press in Vancouver. She was first hired in 1975 as an editorial assistant and worked her way up to bureau chief before she retired in 2009.
She covered and managed some of the most complex news stories in B.C., including the rise and fall of former premiers Bill Bennett, Bill Vander Zalm, Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, and Gordon Campbell.
Wendy Cox, the Globe and Mail’s B.C. bureau chief who worked with St. Louis as news editor, said she has strong memories of St. Louis’s skills handling news copy and sense of where stories needed to go, but it was her big heart that came first.
“When I think of my time working with Jill, the first thing that comes to mind should be her quiet competence with an edit; her low-key ability to point out something that didn’t make sense; her dry sense of humor, usually on pop-culture things that made zero sense to me; her ease with her colleagues and with the editors of member papers all over the province,” said Cox.
“But that’s not what I remember first,” she said, recalling the day a horse saddle arrived in the newsroom from Italy.
“So when this thing came out of the box, it took my breath away,” she said. “It was the creamiest of caramel leather, hand-stitched, and smooth, a thing of beauty. It also was a level of luxury Jill St. Louisnever appeared to be interested in.”
The saddle wasn’t for St. Louis, and it was for her daughter Teresa, said, Cox.
“I learned a lot from her journalistically,” she said. “I learned a lot from her, though, about family devotion.”
Jill St. Louis, who was born in Vancouver, had known difficult times.
First, her husband of almost 40 years, Richard West, died in May.
Then, in January 2006, her 18-year-old daughter, Lisa West, died in a car accident in Richmond, B.C., killing two other teens. The accident occurred the night before her daughter was to leave to compete in equestrian competitions in the United States.
Horses, equestrian competitions, and anything to do with animals was passions St. Louis held deeply. The family home in Richmond and recent years in Langley in the Fraser Valley was glorified stables, say, friends.
This week, her obituary in Vancouver newspapers mentions her predeceased family members and survivors, including two grandchildren. It also names several animals, including horses Eddy and Doc; dogs Ollie, Fanny, and Charlie; cats Thunder and Lightning; and donkey Ron.
Donations in St. Louis’s memory can be made to the B.C. SPCA or Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities.
Co-workers and colleagues described St. Louis as a fast, calm, and thorough news editor who kept copy flowing on pressure-filled deadlines but also enjoyed cracking jokes and knew the latest comings and goings of the professional wrestling world.
“She was dedicated, hard-working, and she had a kind, big heart and a wicked sense of humor,” said retired Canadian Press photographer Charles (Chuck) Stoody, who worked with St. Louis for more than two decades.
“She loved the news,” he said. “She loved the desk and working the desk and the bureau.”
Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham said she recalled St. Louis as calm in all situations, including bizarre newsroom incidents that involved strange dogs bounding into the office from the street.
“I also loved the laconic sound of her voice,” she said. “She never seemed to be stressed, although heaven knows she had reason to be.”
A former editor at the Kamloops Daily News, Susan Duncan, said St. Louis cultivated relationships with newsroom managers throughout the province.
“Whether she was talking to the editor of a large daily or a small city newspaper, Jill St. Louiswas inclusive, fun, and respectful,” said Duncan. “Regardless of size, all news outlets were important clients to Jill, and all the reporters were valuable.”
She said their client meetings often went beyond news talk as St. Louis was fascinated with hearing about the many dramas occurring in small-town B.C.
“Some people stay in your heart years after you have lost track of them,” Duncan said. “Jill was one of those people.”