Wonk Down

As many of you heard, the Canadian media industry lost one of its own over the weekend when Alan Sawyer passed on after a 9 month struggle with cancer.  I won’t make any attempt to summarize his life but just wanted to share some thoughts.

I first met Alan through evaluating Bell Fund applications and meeting to review the evaluations.  After a while I started playing Scrabulous with him.  He loved his words.  Then it was running into him at digital media and television conferences and cocktail parties.  Then came Twitter.  Alan was one of my first Twitter friends (3rd in fact).  We both really took to twitter and enjoyed talking about the daily wonky events in Canadian media.  A group of like-minded tweeters started to form.  It was inevitable that we would start to drink together.

Mary Henricksen, Cam McMaster, Alan and I met for drinks in March or April 2010.  We had so much fun talking about wonky things that no one else in our ‘real’ lives enjoyed talking about – policies, hearings, politics, media developments, gossip . . . . oh and shoes but that might have just been Mary and me.  We decided that we needed to do it again and bring others.  In no time we became a monthly gathering of those who love wonky conversations about Canadian media:  Mary, Cam, Alan and I plus Joanne Deer, Sasha Boersma, Bram Abramson, Suzanne Keppler, Cynthia Lynch, Reynolds Mastin (special dispensation to attend though he doesn’t tweet), Peter Murphy and Ottawa chapter wonks: Jason Kee, Mario Mota, Jeff Lieper.   They became known as Wonktaculars and Alan was the creator of the monthly password (ostensibly to keep out wannabe wonks but really just to amuse us greatly).

Alan loved #wonktacular.  Except maybe when we talked about spas or shoes.  But other than those topics he had a wide ranging set of interests as did we all and he enjoyed talking about whatever was going on in the media world or the greater world, poking fun, being controversial, drinking craft beer.  He challenged our ideas and asked ‘but why?’  He celebrated our successes with us and we celebrated his with him – an Emmy!  He was very excited about transitioning away from wonkery and into interactive production but still loved wonky conversations.

Somehow, between drinks and giggles over NMBUs and serious work conversations that went behind and under the powers that be, we became a tight knit group of wonks.  In the past year a number of us have had challenges to deal with and turned to the others for support but nothing challenged us more as a group than Alan’s illness and nothing made us see what we had become as a group more than Alan’s illness.

We asked him what he needed, he said distraction – and we gave it to him.  We got him out to industry functions and parties and made sure he always had company.  We met for drinks as often as he wanted.  We laughed at his jokes even when they got really, really dark.  When he was tired he would just sit and listen.  We were a safe and comfortable crowd.   He was grateful for our company.  I know that because he told us.  And we were grateful that there was something that we could do for him when there was nothing that we could do about the cancer.

I really respected the way that he handled this challenge.  Alan went public very early on and kept anyone interested informed through a blog (which he wished he had the energy to fix – it just didn’t work the way that he wanted it to!).  He rediscovered his love of writing and was really good at it.   The result was a huge wave of ongoing support for him and through the blog he was able to tell us all how grateful he was for that support.  The last time that I saw Alan, in late April, we compared notes about blog writing.  He really enjoyed it, but he felt that he had run out of things to say.   His last few posts were sparse and he ended up having written his final one in early April.  I kept on top of what he was up to through his Foursquare checkins.  I’d start to worry if he hadn’t at least checked in for schnitzel once in the previous week.  Other wonks who weren’t on Foursquare would ask me if he’d checked in lately.  We had found each other through social media and we kept an eye on each other through social media.  With Alan at the centre of it.

We knew this day would come but we all thought Alan, and we, would have more time.  He was getting more and more tired whenever we saw him and started cancelling social gatherings because he just wasn’t up to it.  But still, it was a shock and we are all still processing it.

Mary has some last words that pretty much sum up how I think we all feel: “He was a good guy, a sharp wit, a curmudgeon and a friend deeply missed.”

Thank you Alan.   Kim, you are in our thoughts.

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One thought on “Wonk Down

  1. Pingback: The Alan Sawyer Memorial Award | Butter Tarts and Brown Drinks

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