Before Colleen, I was stingy with love.
It lived a full life in my heart, enthusiastically expressed in action but rarely in word. Reserved only for romance.
A couple years ago, Colleen hugged me and said she loved me.
I didn’t say anything back.
She did it several more times after that and each time she did, I felt my heart open a little more.
The first time I finally told her I loved her back was in January, before I knew she would be leaving The Citizen.
Because I’m a coward, I told her in a text and she was in Vancouver for corporate meetings.
“I’m pretty blessed to have a boss that loves me and cherishes me as much as you do,” I wrote. “Not too many people have that so I feel incredibly fortunate and I feel bad that I haven’t told you nearly enough how much I love and appreciate you too, especially over the last year.”
Her response was a keeper.
“You just made me cry, my friend. I love you so much and am so grateful to have you in my life. Thank you so much these beautiful words. We are a great team. I am so fortunate to have you in my life.”
I’ve since told her in person and I’ll keep telling her I love her as long as I live.
In case it isn’t already clear, this isn’t romantic love. This love between us comes from seeing each other at our best and at our worst but still remaining devoted, boosting each other up, holding each other accountable, making each other better.
It is a love that means we answer each other’s call, no matter the time, prepared to do whatever is needed.
It is a love that means showing our vulnerability to each other because we know the other’s love is there to draw on when we need it most.
It is a love that means I would follow her into any battle, knowing she would always be the fiercest fighter, the leader most loyal.
We’ve known each other for 20 years but we barely spoke for several of those early years. We worked opposite shifts on opposite sides of that wonderful old ink-soaked building at 150 Brunswick.
When I did see her, I would watch my male colleagues flirt shamelessly with her and admire how artfully she would navigate those situations with her killer smile and infectious laugh.
I wasn’t one of those men because she intimidated me.
Beneath the warmth and charm but as clearly on display as her stylish clothes was the polished steel of a natural-born leader. It was no surprise to me to watch her move through the ranks and into management.
She would come back to the office during the evening to check in with her night crew. Once in a while, she had to formally discipline an employee and she would ask me to take notes during the meeting. I learned what tough love looked like and why it had to be done. I would quickly type those notes up before the end of my midnight shift so they were waiting for her in the morning.
When she got sick and nearly died, I went to see her once in the hospital out of respect and concern. She was so thin and weak yet that core Colleen-ness – beauty, kindness, strength, resilience – shone bright.
Years later, I was laid off from The Citizen in a round of budget cuts.
Despite my anger and fear, I didn’t let that stop me from doing one more thing for The Citizen. I had worked with Colleen and her team for several years on the annual spelling bee, serving as one of the judges. The spelling bee was a month after I was let go and I showed up to do my part.
Colleen hugged me at the registration table but it wasn’t a hug of pity. When I went to let go, she just gripped me harder and then whispered in my ear: “when I’m the publisher, you’re coming back.”
I thanked her for the vote of confidence but I didn’t believe her.
Two years later, I was working at the library and Colleen was named interim publisher.
Then Matt, the paper’s beloved tech manager, was killed with his entire family in a horrible highway crash. That night, I went down to the paper to proof the pages of my former colleagues because I knew they had to work through their sorrow and part of that work was a front page story about Matt. I couldn’t sit at home in shock and sadness. I had to be there.
I came by the next day to see the rest of the devastated staff but really I went for Colleen. They were all looking up to her now for consolation and leadership. Plus her phone was ringing with interview requests from local, provincial and even national news media outlets.
I told her she was the absolute right person in the right place at the right time, to speak about what Matt meant to The Citizen and to everyone who worked there, to guide and manage the staff through their grief.
She thanked me for the vote of confidence but she didn’t believe me.
Of course, Colleen promptly proved me right.
Weeks later and no longer interim publisher but the first female publisher in the 100-year history of The Citizen, she kept her word about me coming back, this time in management, as her editor and her right hand man.
I would never have gone back to The Citizen for anyone else but Colleen. I was happy at the library and although I missed being in the middle of the action of journalism, Bill Phillips had graciously taken me on as a columnist at the Free Press. I knew I was giving up an easier, more comfortable and more secure job for the uncertainty of an industry in transition, trying to find a new path and relevancy in a rapidly changing world.
I wanted that challenge but I only wanted to take it on with someone who bled ink as hard as I did, with someone as invested in The Citizen and Prince George as I was, with someone I would learn from and be inspired by, with someone I trusted and believed in as a leader.
Our last eight years together have been so rewarding but often painfully difficult. Too many times I lost faith, in myself and in her. I have made more than a few bad decisions in my professional life but I am most ashamed of those dark times when I stopped believing in Colleen.
She deserved better.
If she ever wavered in her devotion to me – and I certainly gave her enough opportunities – she never showed it.
And now she’s leaving because it’s the right thing to do, because she deserves a new adventure and because she believes with all of her heart that I’ll be just fine without her every day.
As always, she’s right.
And as always, I know she’ll be in my corner.
Because she loves me.
And I love her back.
Thank you, my friend, for everything you’ve taught me and all the support you’ve given me.
I hope you’re mortified by all of the old pictures I dug up.
I hope you’re more than a little embarrassed by my words and the words of others in the community on these pages but I also hope they fill your heart and let you know how much you mean to so many people.
Please don’t be mad when I call or text late asking for your advice, likely as soon as tomorrow.
Still love me, right?