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Remembering Patricia Williams: a DCN trailblazer and steady industry presence

Vince Versace
Remembering Patricia Williams: a DCN trailblazer and steady industry presence
FILE PHOTO — Seen here in this 2008 photo, Patricia Williams receives a certificate from Mark Casaletto, ConstructConnect Canada president, marking her 40th anniversary working at the Daily Commercial News.

Thank you Signorina Williams.

That is how I typically thanked long-time Daily Commercial News (DCN) staff writer Patricia Williams after we talked shop the way editors and writers do. I am of Italian heritage, she had travelled to Italy and we both appreciated a good vino. So, it was easy for me to use the playful Italian version of ‘miss’ when we talked or emailed because editing can be a slog and sometimes the catalyst for bottomless wine we would say.

After receiving the news of her sudden passing on Thursday, Feb. 6, the entire DCN team was left dumbfounded and I’m left with the honour of trying to encapsulate for you, our loyal readers, friends and family of Patricia, her 46-year career with the DCN. She was 74.

Well, Patricia was never one for big flair and jazzy presentation if it wasn’t at the theatre.

When it came to reporting she was proud to be about the facts and that is how I’ll build this tribute to her — just the facts.

It is an odd position to be in to pen this. Thirteen years ago I stepped into the DCN newsroom as a staff writer and sat down six feet away from Patricia and got to work. To think I’d be writing her memorial column while reminiscing on the long journey the two of us had, to get to this point, is bewildering.

Patricia marched to her own drummer and never regretted it. In an era when female reporters were scarce, let alone female reporters covering construction, she was a trailblazer.

She carried that same drive in her personal life, travelling alone to Europe and across North America when she wanted and doing it fearlessly. Pat was unassuming in many ways, dedicated, loyal and did not suffer fools well.

The journey we endured together, from co-working adversaries, to co-workers, to staff and boss, to retirement and then to freelancer and assignment editor was not always smooth, at one point we did not speak to each other for six months when we were both staff writers. Yet, we both acknowledged a couple of years ago that it sure was “neat”, as she said, that we had grown into a friendship.

When Patricia retired in 2014, she was ready for the next phase in her life where she could make her own hours, not travel on public transit to work and to finally step off the daily newspaper downhill ski run. She knew she would miss the construction, engineering and architecture industries she so dutifully covered. The DCN was the only place where she had plied her trade, the only professional world she had known. The industry, its varied stakeholders and myriad of acronyms were her home and she loved it all.

To learn about who Patricia was, just look at how she went about her work.

Patricia was not about flowery, inflated prose — she was about the straight facts delivered clearly, concisely. Patricia’s work was about being accurate and uncomplicated. She wouldn’t write a three-part, in-depth feature but she would deliver the tightest, clearest, 650-word story which gave you all you need.

The strength in Patricia’s work which, in turn, was telling of who she was, is that it was dependable, consistent and to the point. What more could an editor ask of one of their reporters? What more does a reader need from a story? Most importantly, what more could one person, one team, one newspaper ask of a friend, co-worker or employee?

When our long-time DCN Construction Corner columnist and former editor Korky Koroluk passed away two years ago Patricia and I talked about legacy and the work we leave behind as journalists.

She knew the colossal challenge I faced writing his tribute column because he was someone I considered a mentor and friend. She gave me kudos on the column and now, as I sit here, sometimes watching the cursor blinking, begging me to push forward, I struggle.

The struggle is not in finding something to say because I have endless things to share about Patricia. I know there are industry stakeholders and co-workers who knew her for decades who have plenty to share about her too.

The struggle is a simple one and it is one that belongs to those of us who lose someone suddenly…it is a struggle in finding yourself talking about that person in the past tense. It is a struggle in acknowledging that someone you interacted with weekly…at a set time…at a set date…will no longer be there at that time and date.

Patricia’s passing marks an interesting chapter in the history of our publications the DCN and the Journal of Commerce (JOC). Over the last two years we have lost Korky, former JOC staffer and Sid cartoonist Frank Lillquist and Brian Martin, the remarkable long-time publisher and editor of the JOC. Now Patricia joins that unfortunate roll-call.

As I sit here, watching the blinking cursor, one thought screams through my mind — that is one hell of a construction newspaper newsroom in heaven staffed by Korky, Frank, Brian and Patricia. Meanwhile, here on Earth, our readers and the construction industry those four passionately immersed themselves in are better off thanks to their efforts and excellence.

Thank you Signorina Williams for that cackling laugh which filled a room, your willingness to share travel stories and tips and for being the best copy editor I have ever known.

Lastly, on behalf of all the co-workers who miss you, an industry which was spoiled by your 46-year, North Star-like presence at the DCN and those of us who considered you a friend…thank you.

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William Conway Image William Conway

Vince, your words are an appropriate valentine to a remarkable woman.

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