Mary-Ann Barr’s introduction to newspapering was a painful one.
Fresh out of SAIT’s journalism program, she showed up eager and ready to put the weekly Assiniboia Times on the map as an editor.
In those days, Assiniboia Times still relied on hot type presses for its obituaries. Hot type needs molten metal and Barr learned the hard way that it’s best to steer clear.
Being burned by hot type had its up side. It gave her a good story and certain bragging rights to newspaper longevity.
“I can say I’ve been from the hot lead stage to whatever the heck it is today,” she said with a chuckle a couple of hours away from meeting her last deadline before taking a well-earned retirement.
“In that first job I learned to chase fire trucks, cover council, take photos, lay out the paper, etc.,” said Barr. “I also wrote a terrible column then called “City Slicker.”
After three years, she left Assiniboia for the Grande Prairie Herald-Tribune, where she stayed for seven years, leaving as city editor, before joining the Advocate in 1986 as one of three assistant city editors. Over time, Barr became the only assistant city editor, the job she held for most of her years at the Advocate, along with regular column-writing duties.
“I really enjoyed writing, but just as much, I also enjoyed the feedback. I think one of the columns I got some of the strongest reaction to ever was about gun control. I wrote in favour of it.
“Oops. Here come the letters again! “
“I also wrote a column once about what a waste it would be to preserve the old CP Rail bridge in Red Deer. Of course, as a columnist, you have to be prepared to eat your words every now and then, and sometimes change your opinion,” she said.
“We all know the bridge is now a wonderful piece of city infrastructure.”
As newsrooms shrank, Barr went back to full-time reporting two years ago.
“Truly, the writing that meant most to me over the years have been the stories I was able to write about people’s trials and tribulations and tragedies, their personal stories that they shared through tears sometimes.
“It was an honour to be trusted that way. Thing is, sometimes their stories made me cry too.”
For the past eight years, Barr has played an active role in the Media and Communications Workers of Alberta, the union that represents Advocate union staff.
“That’s been my “volunteer” service work essentially, and involved a lot of simply helping and listening to people. That’s also been very rewarding and I will continue a bit longer with that.”
Barr leaves with fond and lasting memories of her newspapering career.
“A total of 40 years in the business. Over the years, I’ve worked with some true professionals. I’ve been lucky.”
“There isn’t another job you can have where you can meet anybody in the world, talk to them about anything in the world, and then write about it later.”
As a columnist, Barr got more than her fair share of “fan mail.”
She kept many of the letters, including this one from 1992: “If you call yourself a so-called journalist, then you’d better get your facts straight! Stop putting your bias opinions in your columns.”