Remembering Margie Philp
I met Margie at The Queen’s Journal in the 1980s. It was a place of all-nighters, bad coffee, stale donuts, and deep and lasting friendships. Working on The Journal changed our lives and for many of us, set us on our career paths. But few of us had as clear an epiphany as Margie.
The tribute that Margie’s colleague and friend Lisa Priest wrote in The Globe and Mail had a lovely and true headline: that as a journalist, Margie gave voice to those who had none. I think she found her own voice at The Journal – her writer’s voice, to be sure: smart, curious, probing, and empathetic. But also her personal voice: what mattered to her, her talent, her passion.
Margie thrived at The Journal. She was a natural leader and an exquisite writer. By the early hours of the morning, when the rest of us were incoherent and exhausted by lack of sleep, she would still be at the computer, writing. She had a quiet intensity and a remarkable air of concentration. She was also a lot of fun – always ready for a debate or a party.
It surprised none of us that Margie – who had been such a fine co-editor-in-chief of The Journal in her final year at Queen’s – was snapped up by The Globe. Initially a business reporter, her deep interest in social policy led her to feature writing. She won a National Newspaper Award for a series on Toronto’s street people, and an Atkinson Fellowship in 2001. Her fight with cancer – which she chronicled with openness and honesty – prompted Lisa Priest to write about the drug Herceptin, which led to it being made widely available in Canada. In her writing and in her life, Margie made a difference.
Nothing mattered more to her than her children, Christian, Hannah, Maya, and Charlotte, her husband, Martin Mittelstaedt, and her family and friends. It was for them that she fought so fiercely. She took a journalist’s approach to her treatment by asking questions, immersing herself in the subject to find answers, and seeking different viewpoints. Through her iron determination, she gained precious years. And she lived those years well, going on a family camping holiday just days before her death.
Margie’s memorial service on the Toronto Islands, where she lived, was a celebration – sorrowful yes, but sparked with warmth, humour, and remembering. Hundreds of people attended. There were a bunch of Journal alumni there, and we found solace afterwards in sharing the old stories. Margie would have loved it. She would have told everyone about the time she was the only one left awake to finish the paper, or when, over a beer, she took on a lion of Canadian journalism in a debate, or when she hosted a particularly rowdy party. Then she would have thrown back her head and laughed that warm, easy laugh.
As always, Margie was an inspiration, and she brought us together.