R.I.P. Cynthia Brouse

Going into fourth year, we had been warned by older students that our copy editing and fact-checking instructor Cynthia Brouse was a little strange — her obsession with Paul Gross, an (overly?) honest admission to the previous year’s group that she lay somewhere between fag hag and celibate — but for a nascent feminist such as myself, totally intriguing. Of course, it turned out that I loved her. She had a dry, self-deprecating sense of humour — sometimes flapping her hands around when she really got into whatever story she was telling. Her Miss vs. Ms. rant and meticulous copy editing symbols resonated with my inner semiotic nerd. She ribbed me for falling asleep in many of her classes, but she forgave me when I turned in decent results on all my copy editing assignments.

When it came time before fourth year, my eligibility for the editorship of the Ryerson Review of Journalism was in the air because of my concurrent editor’s position at McClung’s. Until that point, I don’t think anyone had ever run a student publication in addition to running the RRJ masthead, because of the amount of work it involved. But she vouched for me, a tardy, narcoleptic girl who slouched in the back row, and for that I’m really thankful, because I’d likely be on a radically different career path and in a less stable job if it wasn’t for her seal of approval.

I last saw her at the National Magazine Awards last year, when she received a much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. Got a couple words in with her outside the bathroom, while I sat on a couch stuffing my face (so elegant!) with mini slider burgers. By that point she was bald-headed and walked with some difficulty, but she seemed genuinely thrilled to be there, not just to accept her own award, but to see that her past students (self included) and many colleagues had been nominated. When she accepted her award later that night, she read from her prepared speech too fast, and flapped her hands, and was self-deprecating as she accepted her award on behalf of all the copy editors and fact-checkers in the industry.

I don’t do much copy editing or fact-checking these days, but her little “Are you checking sure?” voice always comes to me instinctually. Her brilliant blog chronicling her treatment (her cancer reappeared around the same time my dad was going through his treatment) was immensely comforting and helpful to see how it was from a patient’s perspective. Maybe that’s why I got so teary when a friend called me when the news: my dad’s cancer is in remission, which makes it all the more difficult to understand the random nature of the disease… who it takes, who it spares.

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