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Losing Another Friend

JOHN MORRISS

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

In the space of less than a week, the Co-operator has lost two of the farm voices that are so important to us and our readers. Last week we had to report Paul Beingessner’s death in a farm accident. On Saturday, we joined others in a packed hall in Fraserwood to celebrate the life of our much-loved contributor Glen Nicoll, who lost his battle with a brain tumour last week at age 53.

Back in the early 1990s, we were looking to expand the Co-operator’s livestock coverage and went in search of someone who knew cattle and might like to write about them. Glen’s name came to mind. I knew he raised cattle. I knew he knew something about journalism, because he’d worked as a TV cameraman. But could he write?

Glen didn’t know either, but he’d give it a try. Glen would give anything a try – including farming. Among the many things that made Glen unusual was that he wasn’t from the farm. He was the town kid who worked summers on his uncle’s farm, and fell in love with the land, the animals and the life.

So Glen started to write. That was in between raising cattle, running a grass-fed beef business, driving a school bus, driving what he called the “piggy poo” truck, running a bed and breakfast, being a 4-H leader, volunteering at the local fire department, and various other activities such as singing in a local choir.

Whether it was Glen or me who came up with the idea is lost to history, but we were looking to get cattle market coverage beyond the weekly statistics from the auction marts. What if someone actually went to a sale, and reported on the kind, weight and condition of the cattle? Glen would try that. And did it, week after week, for 14 years.

When my phone rings at work I always answer by saying my name, but after 1995 I could pretty much ignore that formality when I picked up the receiver and heard that unique combination of cellphone static and the sound of a truck with a few hundred thousand kilometres on the clock. I’d just answer, “Where are we headed today?”

Whichever auction mart it was, and whatever time of day it was, you could be sure he was almost there, having set off at some early hour after first checking the cows.

At the Co-operator, we attempt to maintain some semblance of standard journalistic news style. While accuracy was never in question – Glen was a stickler for that – let’s just say that we editors had the occasional discussion with Glen about the folksy writing style in his news stories.

But when it came to his weekly “cowlumn,” we just gave up. The journalism police would have never made it far into that arcane world anyway, with its talk of “slick 512-lb. Char-Simm-Lims” and how “the rat tail trimmed the bids on the 490-lb. smokie.”

All this may have been Greek to those of us who don’t habituate auction mart bleachers, but those who do eagerly turned to the cowlumn first thing when the paper arrived every week.

The cowlumn was a great source of pride for Glen, and over the past few months it was both a blessing and a curse for him and those who lived and worked with him. We would tell him that a brain tumour was a reasonable excuse for not filing on time, but it wasn’t reasonable as far as he was concerned. Glen could no longer do the farm work he loved so much, but he could try to write a cowlumn and do something to keep that restless mind busy.

If he couldn’t get to a sale, he’d try to get someone to drive him, or watch a sale on the Internet. One of the perverse symptoms of his disease was that Glen didn’t necessarily know what day of the week it was, but when he did manage to file a cowlumn it seemed to make sense – or as much sense as it ever did to us non-cattle producers.

That determination – or what Glen’s family freely refers to as stubbornness – could be an exasperating trait that family and friends cursed at times, but it was also one that kept him with us for a few more precious months. No one who saw Glen after his initial diagnosis last September would have imagined he would have lasted much longer. But he improved greatly and was able to spend the last few months at home.

Yet he was not stubborn in all things. Laura Rance and I flew to see Glen in Edmonton after his diagnosis last September, and when we left him he was in such terrible pain that we didn’t think we’d ever see him again. As we left I made some comment about “chasing cows.” Glen cracked a little smile and said, “Haven’t I always told you that if you’re chasing them, you’ve already lost the battle?”

That underlines that when it came to looking after his land and his animals, Glen believed in doing it well, and doing it right. We’ll try to remember Glen by maintaining that legacy in the pages of this newspaper.

Here in Manitoba Glen is survived by his wife Susan, stepchildren Matthew and Lexa, and her daughter Ariel. In his birth province of Alberta he leaves parents Frances and Leona, sister Lea and brother Mark, and his nieces and nephews.

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