By Greg Price
Jean Bullock always enjoyed a good joke, and she played one last one in her passing this past Saturday.
A work ethic that was second-to-none, when I work my late Monday nights in page layout to ensure every page gets two looks in proofing the following Tuesday, churning out double-digit stories at times weekly, or attending all sorts of evening/night assignments and weekend detail, I’d like to think Jean’s work ethic rubbed off on me a little bit.
Dubbed a work-a-holic by many in her family and the business community, the running joke with Jean was that if you didn’t show up for work on a Taber Times production Tuesday, you better be dead, as being sick was not an excuse with how busy everyone was. No doubt about it, Tuesdays are humming with activity, be it covering court, M.D. council, Horizon School Division meetings, doing page layout, proofing pages, sending pages, grabbing a last-second obituary or classified — it can be mayhem in every single department.
Jean Bullock’s funeral was in a packed community centre auditorium of mourners — this past Tuesday of all days. Somewhere, Jean is up in heaven with a sly smile, keeping her word, the only time she would be away from the Taber Times completely on a Tuesday was with her passing.
I thought I knew Jean really well from working with each other, but as word spread like wildfire of her passing at the age of 74, stories emerged that I never knew.
I knew Jean had her superstitions, but never to the extent I was comprised of by her daughters Audrey and Kendra. Walking in and out the same door in a building, ensuring you had money in your wallet as the calendar turned to the New Year to ensure prosperity, nary crossing the path of a black cat — to the point of almost causing a car accident. Another one that stood out was Jean’s aversion to Fridays.
Traveling on Fridays meant bad mojo and Jean wanted to be buried three days after her passing. Having some ailing health in her later years, Jean still managed to steer clear of her Friday superstition, holding on until early Saturday morning before she departed this world.
That was Jean, tough as nails and an attitude just as tough — but fair, guided by a heart of gold. Look up blunt in the dictionary, and you’ll likely see a picture of Jean right beside the definition. But also look up the words integrity, loyalty and honesty, and you would see the same picture.
You hear many a story from people who first met or worked with Jean and the first emotion is often of intimidation but then soon followed by respect and admiration, knowing of the heart that was underneath as people got to know her more.
I was certainly intimidated by Jean when I first started working at the time with her, but that feeling quickly melted away.
We’d dish in the workplace on our personal lives every one in awhile in the workplace during short breaks. As she heard tails of my dating life (which has slowed to a near iceberg now), she’d scold me about how I should save that for marriage with no casualness in courting.
A late boomer, I advised her I waited longer than her to be deflowered, with her getting married at a very young age. Never shy about the odd blue joke (at least around me), we both chuckled, knowing we could give as much as we took with two personalities who have been known to never back down.
You always knew where Jean stood on a subject, where she was not one to mix words. For those able to take more R-rated words, Jean had no problem telling someone to ‘suck sh$t’ with all due respect, if she felt someone was totally in the wrong.
Certainly an admirable trait in the newspaper industry, where her tell-it-like-it-isness would make a reporter’s job so much easier with all their sources, instead of worrying what the town may think. I leaned on Jean heavily in getting contact numbers for sources — if I needed to get ahold of someone, Jean had the number for me. If a woman could be crowned Mrs. Taber, Jean would definitely be part of the royalty with how connected she was to the community.
Jean cared about Taber like few others, always trying to promote it while also realizing as an entity, it can always strive to do better at the same time.
Jean could sell an ad like no other, but also respected the separation between advertising and editorial. I’m sure there were times some of her clients were none too happy with some of the more controversial stories that were printed, or a certain name showing up in the court news. But she knew not to ask for stories to be buried or held based on who advertised and who didn’t. A big criticism of ‘corporate’ media today is perceived slants by whoever is driving the money is driving the content. With Jean being old school, she never believed in that.
Passionate about issues of the day even in retirement, Bullock participated in the Letter to the Editor process. Jean also sat in on meetings when the controversial fire hall decision was made, waiting patiently in the hallway for further clarification, when it was discussed behind closed as I sat with her as it was being discussed in-camera. Stubbornness is an admirable quality when used in the right avenues.
I always thought if Jean were to have entered the political arena at a young age, it would have been one of two extreme outcomes. She would have either have been an one-and-done politician with the electorate not giving themselves a chance to adjust to her bluntness, or she’d be a beloved politician with a career as long as her Taber Time tenure.
That attitude got things done in whatever Jean pursued, whether it was a successful career in advertising given the page counts she was able to churn out, Cornfest or various other fundraising, helping the hand-bus, Taber Police Commission or Ladies Night Out.
As I type this column just prior to attending her funeral, I think back to the last time I laid eyes on Jean. I was attending the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce awards dinner, and when I was leaving, I just happened to walk by the Heritage lounge. There was Jean, playing her beloved VLTs.
I’ve seen that scene a million times and simply walked past, but this time I decided to stop in. The conversation was nothing earth-shattering in our reminiscing, as we played on machines side by side, where I lost money and she won big. I never realized at that moment that I would be losing something much bigger mere days later, than a few bills in my wallet.
With Jean being bigger than life in the influence she had in Taber, you get the feeling she was immortal — that she’d always be there as a familiar face. It’s maybe something we all take for granted as we age over the years. As Jean was laid to rest on Tuesday, it served as a reminder to me to appreciate the people who help shape our communities for the better, while also taking stock in our cherished family and friends who will not be on this earth forever.
In telling it like it is — Jean cared about something bigger than herself in her decades upon decades of influence in the town she proudly called home. While Taber became richer in her life, it is now poorer in her passing. The Taber Times now has a hole that can never truly be filled, and I hope in some small way I can continue to do her proud.
All of us as Taberites can honour Jean’s memory in trying to make this community better than it was the day before in all our ways, both big and small. Hopefully, Jean is as blunt with the angels as she was on Earth. I don’t think God would have wanted it any other way.