Remembering Tracy Chappell, 1973–2015

Tracy, in many ways, was the soul of Today’s Parent. We're not sure how we’re going to publish this magazine without her.

tracy

On Monday night, our beloved senior editor Tracy Chappell died unexpectedly in her sleep. Tracy was 41 years old, wife of Sean, and adoring mom of daughters Avery, 6, and Anna, 9.

For details on the funeral service, visit Smith Funeral Home & Family Centre.

Sasha Emmons, editor-in-chief:
Many parents know Tracy through her blog, Tracy’s Mama Memoirs, which she wrote for nine years. I use the word “know” because the way Tracy wrote made you feel like you actually did. She was the wise-but-not-preachy mom friend you hope to make, the one who has smart advice but isn’t afraid to admit that sometimes she doesn’t have a clue either. She was exactly the same in person—sunny, down-to-earth and full of kindness. There wasn’t a bit of snark in Tracy; she rooted for people. Both moms of tween daughters, we frequently compared notes on how to keep our girls audacious, and fretted about the adolescent storms to come. I always felt better after talking to her.

Tracy was also an extremely gifted editor, though she never would have said so. There were certain stories that just had “Tracy special” written all over them—the emotional, nuanced ones that required an especially sensitive touch. This here is exactly the type of writing I would have run by Tracy because she would know how to get it right. This fall she taught a journalism class at Centennial College. I had the privilege of attending one of her classes, and she was in her element up there, passing on her brand of compassionate storytelling to the next generation of writers.

Late last year, Tracy decided to give up writing Mama Memoirs regularly, although she still wrote feature articles. Her daughters were growing up, and she was struggling to come up with material that wouldn’t make them squirm when they googled themselves later. She realized that, increasingly, their stories were not hers to tell. You understood it was exactly the right decision, even as you knew you were going to miss the glimpse into her life. In her last post, she wrote about what she wanted her daughters to learn about her when they read her words:

“I hope that, through this blog, they will learn to see me as not just ‘Mom’ but as a woman who had her own things going on—a career, relationships, dreams, struggles, goals—as I was wiping bums and making dinner and gently (oh-so-gently) brushing knots out of hair. I hope they’ll see the value in taking lots of pictures and marking special moments. I hope they’ll understand that parenting is really hard and also has great rewards. I hope they’ll see how much fun we had. I hope they’ll see that I recognized and appreciated their many beautiful, individual gifts, even if they thought I wasn’t paying enough attention at the time. I hope they’ll see how hard I tried. I hope they’ll see how much they were loved. I hope they’ll see how proud I’ve always been to be their mom.”

I’m so grateful they and we have nine years of her voice to re-read over and over, keeping her spirit and love alive.

As part of the Today’s Parent team for the last 14 years, Tracy had been around longer than anyone else, through many iterations and editors and roles. She was, in many ways, the soul of Today’s Parent. I’m not sure how we’re going to publish this magazine without her.

We’ve been flooded with beautiful memories and touching condolences from editors and writers who have worked with Tracy over the years. We’ll be updating the post below with these kind words as they come in.

Katie Dupuis, former managing editor:
There was a moment after I woke up this morning—I barely slept but I managed a nap—when I thought it was all a dream. And then the tears started all over again. What a mean trick my mind played on me.

I have lots of Tracy memories but I can see my favourite every time I tuck Juliette in. Last August I came to work one morning to a beautiful gift bag on my desk; inside was a soft blue, green and brown blanket for the new baby I was just days away from delivering. It was exactly the right colour for J’s room, but Trace didn’t know that (and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, but I thought it was neat). She wanted to make sure that this new baby had a blanket of her own, and not a hand-me-down from Sophie. And in the early days after Juliette was born, that blanket was magic; every time I put Jules down on it, she fell asleep. It still works to a point now—if she’s cuddled up in it, she relaxes a little easier. After I got the horrible news yesterday, I went to go look in on Juliette as she napped and burst into tears (again) when my eyes fell on the blankie over her.

But what’s more, Tracy—ever the thoughtful friend and incredible mama—also thought to include a present for Sophie. There was an adorable card to Sophie from Anna and Avery, and a couple of new books to ease the transition to big sister. It was just like Tracy to think of something like that.

I will miss my dear friend, and her words of advice and encouragement when I faltered as a mom. The song “For Good” from Wicked keeps running through my head: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” Truer words were never spoken.

Haley Overland, social media editor:
One of my favourite funny Tracy moments was just before her family and my family went to Great Wolf Lodge for a weekend press event to check out the new water park. She came to my desk to talk about prepping for the trip.

“Uh-oh,” she said. “Bathing suits with colleagues!”

We created her Twitter handle together and didn’t love it, but nothing else was available. Last week she told me she was going to make a point to tweet more.

We’re all remembering Tracy’s beautiful clear blue eyes. They were such a reflection of her kindness and mental clarity. Everything she said just made sense. Hugs to all…

Mandy Milks, deputy art director: 

At our TP cookie party last December. I was fretting over what gingerbread cookie I could give my daughter, trying to avoid the sugar tantrum and sorting out the sprinkles I deemed ‘appropriate’ and maybe I should cut it in half without her noticing… Tracy looked at me and said “give her the damn cookie” and then gave me a sweet knowing smile. It washed away my anxiety and Ada happily received an intact cookie. It was simple advice and made me smile. As Tracy always managed to do.

Amy Valm, assistant editor:
One of my favourite Tracy memories was getting stuck in a subway delay with her. I entered a packed Keele Station and heard a small voice calling my name.

“Amy! Amy!” she called.

I turned to see Tracy.

“I saw your bun,” she explained.

We spent two-and-a-half hours smooshed together on a stinky bus going across town that morning, but it only felt like 20 minutes. We swapped stories about our pasts, our presents and the things and people that meant the world to us.

I really wish she could swing by my desk to chat again. She was a great editor and friend.

Lauren Ferranti-Ballem, senior editor:
Typically I’m a pretty shameless work crier, but this is exceptional: I cannot stop the tears.

As we move into production, I’m gripped with loss. I’d often have Tracy give my stories a once over before they even went to layout. And after that she was always my preferred second reader. She is a thoughtful, fair, wise editor. I’ve been here a year but I never stopped hassling her. I think I was also just looking for reasons to be around her.

When I was in the throes of our kitchen reno, she drove to our house late at night to pick up a hutch we were selling. She was so excited to add it to her basement and she herself, with little help from Scott or I, hauled the big piece of furniture into the back of her mini van. She clicked the automatic door opener and laughed, saying something like: This is how we do it in the ‘burbs. Our house was a gutted mess but she still wanted a tour. And we sat on some dusty boxes and chatted about where everything would go and she told me how much she wanted to do the same with her kitchen. When our work was done she said I’d inspired her to go for it.

I cannot get beyond the unfairness of this. Not being able to see a new kitchen is one thing, but not being there for her girls is something too huge to comprehend.

I am lost in all of these thoughts.

Claire Gagne, senior editor:
I feel incredibly lucky that I got to meet Tracy. I knew her over email as an editor and she was just such a kind and encouraging person to write for.

When I started working here a little over a month ago I was so excited—and a little intimidated—to meet her. What was I doing, sitting next to such a talented editor? But of course, Tracy was just as positive and bubbly in person as she was over email, answering my million questions and making me feel right at home.

When our kids did the Cityline shoot together, my Ann and her Anna and Avery hit it off. They were asking to be neighbours and to have a barbecue together. Maybe we will one day, I thought. I felt our relationship was just beginning, and I feel for all of you who knew her much longer and much more deeply than I did.

Emily Piccinin, assistant editor:
Tracy oozed mother’s intuition, and we were ever so fortunate that she extended it to us, her work family. Every once in a while she’d pop over to my desk to ask how I was doing. She’d say, “Hey Em, I haven’t heard a peep out of you all day! What’s up?” And I’d never tell her if something was wrong, of course (for me, sometimes it’s easier that way). I’d tell her I was fine and that I just had a lot of work to do. But she’d give me a quizzical look with those bright blue eyes that bore into my soul and say, “Okay, well, I’m here!” and I knew she knew better. That look was one I knew all too well. How many times has your own mom given you the same look when she knew you were lying? And you know what? I always felt comforted after Tracy asked how I was doing. Because it felt like Mom checking up – not to pry, because Tracy wasn’t like that, but out of concern.

When I started working with Tracy on a Step story every month, she’d make me read my edits to her first. She’d burst out with a big, “Yayy! I thought that too!” every time our edits lined up. Tracy was genuinely happy to see me improve and succeed. She always asked how school was and what I plan on doing with my life. Her cheery reassurance and pats on the back made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I really could get a hang of this editor job-thing.

She taught me that when writing, it was most important to stop looking for ineffective colourful ways of saying things, and “just say it”. So instead of finding a colourful way to say this, I’ll just say it: Tracy, your mentorship and friendship has meant so much to each and every one of us here and your time simply came way too soon. It’s never going to be the same without you (I can barely look over my shoulder at your desk).

I will miss your smiling eyes.

Laura Grande, assistant editor:
For nearly four years, I edited Tracy’s blog (Tracy’s Mama Memoirs). I use the term “edited” loosely because her copy was always so clean, I barely had to touch anything. She was a natural-born storyteller. Through reading about her life once a week, I learned two things: 1) She had a gift for writing that few of us can match and 2) She loved her two daughters fiercely. She stayed away from huge “hot” parenting topics, instead favouring the smaller moments that made up her day-to-day life. She shared with us Anna’s First Communion, Avery’s first hockey goal and the loss of a family pet (a male fish named Angelina).

In writing about these events, she showed us what it was like to be a mom. I’m not a parent myself, but through her stories I caught a glimpse of the joy, fear and love that comes with raising children. She was honest, positive, lovely, sincere. She wanted to see everybody succeed and supported you patiently through countless edits, if needed. She pushed you to do better, encouraged you to try harder and, in the end, you were always better off for it.

She had the biggest blue eyes I’ve ever seen, the most easy smile you’d ever come across and an infectious giggle—she didn’t laugh, she’d giggle, and duck her head to one side. I’ve been thinking about that giggle a lot lately, it was unique to her. I hope I can always recall that sound when I’m feeling down because, even if you were in a terrible mood, it could lift you out of that cloud.

It’s hard to believe she’s gone. Nothing about this is fair. My thoughts are with her husband Sean and daughters Anna and Avery—both of whom I just met for the first time last week. She was so very proud of all their accomplishments and my heart breaks at the thought that they no longer have her.

Rest easy, Tracy. Know that your work family misses you.

Alyssa Ashton, mobile editor:
I always thought of Wednesdays as Tracy Day! She would come over to my desk to get ready for the morning news meeting. Inevitably we would start chatting about something else. Usually about her sweet girls who she loved so fiercely. Other times I would unload all my worries on her. In her calming Tracy way, she would tell me exactly how to fix my problems. Most importantly, she never judged me, she simply offered her unwavering support.

I’ll never forget the day Tracy told me my article had a few typos. No one, in the history of the world, has ever given criticism in such a sweet and supportive way. But that was so Tracy! Everything she did was full of love. She then imparted me with some wisdom I will never forget. She giggled her perfect giggle and told me I needed to slow down and take the time to look things over a second time. Now this may not seem like ground-breaking advice, but in today’s world there simply seems to be no time to slow down. Posts need to go up now, tweets must be sent and don’t forget to pin it too. But Tracy, wise wise Tracy, knew that there was always time. Those things can wait. We must get the post right the first time.

Thank you Tracy for sharing your wisdom with me. For listening to me ramble. For telling me where the bathroom was when I was the lost new kid. And most of all, for being my friend.

Cassandre Cadieux, former assistant managing editor:
Tracy and I had what she called an “unexpected friendship.” Here I was, practically a baby, just coming out of my internship, sitting right beside the senior editor who’d been at the magazine longer than anyone and who always reminded me she was old enough to be my mother (which I still don’t think is technically true). She has hockey games to attend, crafts to make and birthday parties to plan on nights and weekends, whereas my biggest concern was what show I was going to binge-watch next. Yet somehow, we just clicked. We bonded over books, music and travel, and she was always there when I had a question about my “big girl” job or what path I should choose next on the scary journey called life.

Those work conversations turned into constant text messaging and emailing, and the occasional phone call here and there. I knew I could always talk to Tracy about anything, and she’d always give me her honest opinion no matter what—and encourage me to just do it and follow my heart. When I started dating the boy that I very quickly knew would be the one, Tracy was one of the first ones to tell me that when you just know you know and not to think about it too much…to just enjoy it. She was the person I always knew would be there to tell me to do whatever it was I was on the fence about because life was too short. Little did I know those words were going to ring truer than I ever thought possible.

I could go on about how we were making plans to see musicals together soon, or how every time I read a good book, I was already thinking about how I could convince Tracy to read it, but really it was that inviting smile, those beautiful big blue eyes and that maternal instinct that knew I needed to talk—even when I insisted I didn’t—that I want to stay in my heart forever.

When I have kids, I hope I’m even half the mother that Tracy was to her beautiful girls, because, among many other things, they knew she loved them every single day. Heck, I was only part of her life for a few short years, and I knew she loved me every single day, too. And I hope she knows that love was reciprocated right back—now and always.

Jamie Piper, senior designer:
I am not a writer, an editor or even someone who can typically use words to create a proper sentence. I never have been able to get the words out in the right order or right way for people to understand what I am trying to say. To say I never had this problem when I tried to speak to Tracy would be an understatement.. I was always tripping over my words as I tried to explain the next crazy idea I had for the design of a story we were working on together or even just about day-to-day things. We would be discussing things and as I tripped over and over again she would giggle with me about it. So here I am, a non-words person writing a story about one of the few people who understood my crazy way with words just so I can hear her giggles in my head all over again.

Things always felt so natural for me around Tracy… the ease of speaking to her, the comfort of being around her.. I think it was because she reminded me so much of my own Mother. They share so many similar qualities, their big blue eyes, their honesty and their love for everything. It wasn’t long after I met Tracy that I started referring to her in my head as my “big city momma bear” as my mom lives in another city. I wish I told her that out loud, even though I think she knew. It was so warming coming into work everyday and knowing I had a mom not far away from me to smile and laugh with.

Tracy is the first person I have met who was so passionate about the happiness in other peoples lives versus the happiness in her own. She always urged me to take risks, even if it meant moving to the other side of the world where they speak a language I don’t even know. I remember vividly breaking the news to her that I planned to pack up my life and move over seas and with such sadness in her face there was so much happiness in her eyes…

“Are you scared?” She said.

I hesitated.. “More than I can begin to understand, which is why it’s crazy to me that I am going to go through with this.”

She laughed, “Good, you should be… I am mad that I will be away from you for so long, but I am happy you are going to go after your dream… Take risks, its always worth it.”

Even though I postponed my life changing trip, I promised her I would go eventually. So Tracy, you better believe I will be going sooner than eventually, for you first… And myself second. I’m not afraid anymore because this time, you’ll be coming with me.]

Nicole Chung, associate art director:
Whenever I saw Tracy come in and walk by my desk, I would always think to myself “Tracy’s here today!” in my limited excited way. I thought she made the day brighter just by coming in, and knew that her stories would be clean and ready to go. It was great brainstorming art ideas with her, even though she didn’t think she helped. I’ll miss our fun battles of how to art her Steps that we worked on together. But aside from all that, she always made sure to ask me how I’m doing and talk about life.

Tracy and I have had a long history at TP together, and we’ve seen a few losses of great people here…we’d talk about them and reminisce about the old days. I never would’ve thought that I would have to go through losing her. I’ve been in touch with some former TP’ers and they all share our sentiments about Tracy. It’s truly a testament of what an impact she’s had on people’s lives and how much she’s touched us all. I will miss her.

Cara Smusiak, executive editor:
I’ve only known Tracy for six months—barely long enough to really get to know someone, but Tracy had a way of making you feel like an old friend in minutes. After one conversation with her, you’d just know that she was the best kind of person—kind, generous, patient, loving, thoughtful and knowing. She was a gentle mama bear, always thinking of and advocating for her girls, and appreciating Avery’s and Anna’s uniqueness. And she adored talking about those funny little moments that make life so sweet. I soaked up so many lessons about life, and about being a patient, encouraging editor, just by being around her.

I’ve struggled over the past few days to put my feelings into words because they’re just too big. The memories are a jumble amidst the emotions, but the thing that’s set on repeat in my mind is our chats. Tracy would pop her head in the office for a hello and we’d just start talking about this and that—weekend plans, her girls, something interesting going on in the world. But what stuck with me, and what I’m already desperately missing, is that smile that lit up her whole face, her infectious giggles, the love and care for her family and our team. She never failed to brighten up the day.

Sun Ngo, art director

I’m having a really hard time closing our July/August issue. Every time I see the initials ‘TC’ beside a story, I have trouble swallowing and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry remembering all the times Tracy and I would ‘battle’ out Ian Mendes’ shirt colour. It was a monthly ritual for us, ‘why is Ian’s shirt always pink!’ she would exclaim. We never admitted it but I think we both loved the little tug between edit vs art. It was a fun tug because we both knew we collobrated well together (how many editors would be willing to add 4-6 extra sidebars to their story?!). What I loved most about Tracy was her calm voice, her patience, her smarts, her passion and her ability to do things effortlessly. This wasn’t seen just in her work life, this was seen in her everyday life.

I have four more years of being a mom than Tracy, but every time we shared stories about our girls, I keep telling myself…I need to be more like Tracy, more patient and more understanding. I will miss swapping stories about girl power, coding, puberty, sleepover camps and just letting go and living life.

I miss her little giggles, her sweet voice and her little shrug of the shoulders, “I don’t know but that’s what I think” she would often say leaving my office.

Erin McPhee, former designer
I’m shocked- I’m so, so sorry. Tracy was so kind and welcoming, and I loved working with her at TP. I remember talking to her in the office about how we were both from Sarnia, and she invited me to carpool with her and her family anytime I needed to go back for a family-visit or holiday. She’ll be greatly missed.

I’m saddened that I won’t be able to join you for the visitation on Monday- but I’m sending my condolences to her family, and the rest of the TP fam.

Davina Sinnatamby, former intern:
I met Tracy for the first time when she came to talk to my class about the magazine industry back in December. She made working at Today’s Parent sound so fun that I asked her if you needed to be a parent to work there and she told me that she started before she was a parent. I knew then that I wanted to work there too and more importantly I wanted to be like her.

I got to know her better when she was my teacher and then I was lucky enough to sit beside her everyday during my short time at Today’s Parent. She was both a mentor and friend. Tracy’s warm personality made me feel at home in the office. Her joy made me want to laugh every minute of the day. I can only hope to one day make someone feel as special and as happy as Tracy made me feel.

Julie M. Green, freelance writer:
My relationship with Tracy began back in 2011 when she assigned a feature—on post-birth pelvic floor, of all things. She was what you would call a “dream editor.” In every exchange, her enthusiasm shone through, as well as the passion driving the stories we were telling.

Over the years we worked together probably half a dozen times. She was a cheerleader, always rallying for my ideas in meetings. But her friendly, down-to-earth manner belied her incredible professionalism. She was extremely good at what she did, and even when meting out criticism she did so in a way that was fair and sensitive.

Her work came from the heart, and as a writer it meant so much to know that she cared as much about stories as I did. It wasn’t just about meeting deadlines and filling space; Tracy genuinely wanted to reach and help families. Over the years, our relationship evolved. We related to each other not just as professionals, but as moms.

And when I wasn’t able to attend Blissdom, we vowed to get together ‘in person.’ The fact that we’d worked together for so long without having actually met had by that point become laughable. But then she was in production, and I got busy too, and somehow that date never happened. There was no rush. We were set to work on another story together—one that she had championed for over a year—and we were both excited at the prospect. We had lots of time, lots of opportunity to connect. So we thought.

And now there’s a half-finished draft on my desk that I cannot bear to look at. I want so badly to do it justice, not only for all the families who will read it in the future, but for Tracy. My mentor. My cheerleader, who was so kind-hearted and generous to everyone who was lucky enough to know her.

Jenny Charlesworth, former mobile editor:
In her own words, Tracy Chappell “just couldn’t resist” making your day a little brighter with her thoughtfulness and cheery encouragement. She always had time (even when she didn’t) to crack clunky sentences and suggest clever fixes. She was a talented writer and editor, and was so generous with that gift.

I am so grateful for our friendship and for my special memories (our 8th floor hallway walks, lunches where she offered relationship advice because she had a beautiful marriage, and getting lost on the highway because we both feared GPS). When I left Today’s Parent she wrote to me in a beautiful card: “Be bold, have faith in yourself and breathe.” She was always a cheerleader for the people in her life.

Sweet Anna and Avery and of course Sean and all of your family, my deepest condolences. Girls, your mom was so very special to us. We are heartbroken. There really are no words. Just like her beloved Aunt Debbie, she added “love and sparkle” to everyone’s lives. Our wonderful friend Tracy will be dearly missed.

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk, Today’s Parent blogger/former intern:
I didn’t know Tracy well, but I worked with her, first as an intern and later as a writer. We bonded over both having daughters named Anna. When she’d post her Q&As with her daughters, I’d exclaim over how much our daughters had in common, and take notes for what might come (her youngest daughter Avery is a bit older than my only child, Anna).

As so many people have already said, Tracy was truly kind. She was the type of person you never heard a complaint about, even during stressful times. I think I thought of Tracy as so soft-spoken and gentle, that I was taken aback when she edited an article I wrote and I found out she was also a diligent editor—she was a challenge to write for in the best of ways. As an editor, in my brief experience, Tracy was thorough and detailed, taking no short cuts—her intelligence shone through in her editing. She was also extremely open to talking through her direction, and conscious of wanting to make sure I retained my voice.

Tracy, for me, was a testament to the reality that when you become a parent you start connecting with very different people than you might have otherwise. In many ways, Tracy and I are (were—it’s so strange to talk about her in the past tense) very different people, but I really valued her approach and perspective. When Tracy gave a compliment, you took it seriously. When she gave advice, you knew you could rely on it. When she showed concern, you knew it was genuine.

More than once I’ve had to stop myself from tweeting at Tracy for random parenting advice, realizing that she was not on-call for this. Which is to say, she was the kind of mom whose opinion you valued. She will be missed by so many and my heart goes out to her husband and daughters.

Anchel Krishna, Today’s Parent blogger:
I met Tracy exactly two times in person (once at a rock camp event and once when I came into the office with my daughter Syona for a photoshoot). The second time I met her, I was taken to her desk and she stood up to say hi. She recognized me immediately from my blog and we chatted about how we had met once, very briefly before. I then looked at her and said “I’m a hugger.” She replied with “Me too.” And that was it… that pretty much summarized it up for me.

What I didn’t tell her was how so much of her writing normalized my own parenting experience. As I read about her personal moments with Anna and Avery and her open communication about the challenges of sharing private joys with the public. She helped me do that, without even intentionally teaching me how. It was through her writing and sharing that I realized that I was able to share some of my most private, toughest, rawest thoughts, but that I needed some time to process them privately (or with my family) first.

I hold her family in my heart.

Jennifer Dawe, Anna and Avery’s former kindergarten teacher:
I taught Tracy’s two daughters in their kindergarten year. She was a wonderful person who would do absolutely anything for her girls. She came to me last week asking for my opinion on which teacher would be the best for Avery for her grade two year.

Over my 16 years of teaching, I have received many cards from families but have kept only a handful, one of which was from Tracy and her family. Her passion for her girls and her kindness is an inspiration. I will treasure the kind words she expressed to me in that card.

In September, I had written some tips to help ease children into school which was published in the back-to-school issue of Todays Parent. I remember Tracy bringing me a copy of the magazine and telling me I was famous!

I wanted to share some of my memories of Tracy with you all.

Ashley Metzger, intern:
I didn’t know Tracy for very long, I just started at Today’s Parent a few weeks ago, but in the time I did know her she had a great impact.

Tracy was the first person to make me feel welcome at TP. She was always making sure I knew what I was doing, and when I didn’t she would explain it to me in a way that made me feel like I was learning, rather than wrong. She was a natural leader, and one of the friendliest co-workers I have ever had. I will miss her genuine smile every morning at my desk.

Abigail Cukier, Today’s Parent contributor:
Tracy only edited a couple of my stories. But she always did it with such a keen eye and made suggestions in the kindest way.

When she replied to a few of my pitches—whether approving them or not—her feedback was very insightful and helpful. She just replied to one last week. It seems impossible.

I loved reading her blog. I really identified with so much of what she said and always thought she was able to say it so well. Many of her thoughts stuck with me.

I vowed to do the 20 questions with my kids every year and I always admired her for sticking with it. It will be a wonderful keepsake for her daughters.

Because we all read about her life and her family, we all feel this loss, but obviously not like her family, friends and colleagues. I wish you all comfort and strength.

Tracy was a wonderful person, writer, editor, mom and friend.

Jackie Gillard, Today’s Parent contributor:
I am a writer. I often read other writers bemoaning the dreaded “writer’s block” but for me, I have so many words and just not enough time to get them all out, albeit mostly of my own undoing.

Today, in the aftermath of a tragedy that I and many others can’t seem to digest, the only solace I am finding is to write about Tracy Chappell, my mentor, often my Today’s Parent editor and so thankfully, also my friend.

I am a writer because two years ago, I had a few people tell me I had a talent for it. I decided to attend a conference to see what I could do with my writing that might earn me some extra money. Naturally, the session entitled “From Blogging to Magazine Writing” peaked my interest immensely.

I went to the session with excitement; it was a hot-seller, booking up in the first few minutes of availability and I had been fortunate enough to snag a spot. I went with a notebook, pen, and sponge-like mind and heart, with zero expectations other than to learn something interesting.

What I got was nothing short of wondrous.

I knew a Senior Editor from Today’s Parent magazine was facilitating the session, but I had no idea who she was, or what she was like. I had never read her writing, but trusted that in her position, she would teach me a thing a two.

And she did. Only she taught me a thousand things or two about more than just writing.

Her session was brilliant, in her quiet, ego-less way. She even provided handouts to attendees. Such a thoughtful gesture, so we could truly listen and not worry about taking notes. I still have my handout from that day, with my little thoughts and questions scribbled in the margins.

It astounded me, a year later after we had become friends, when she shyly asked me if I thought her session was “good enough” to use the same material in that year’s conference session that she was again facilitating. So often she revealed how little she was aware of how tremendous an impact she had on others both professionally and personally.

I followed her on Twitter after the session and tweeted her my compliments on her session. Within minutes, she had followed me back (Me! Little unknown nobody me got a follow-back from a Senior Magazine Editor!) and thanked me. Manners, grace, class – that was Tracy.

A few days later in the post-glow of the conference, somebody suggested on a Facebook group for the conference attendees that a mentorship program be set up. Tracy was one of the first to respond and offer her services. My husband jokes that my smart phone never leaves my hand, but at that moment, it was my fortune that it doesn’t because I was the first out of the gate to respond to Tracy’s offer. She agreed and sent me a Facebook friend request (Me! Now Facebook friends with a Senior Magazine Editor!)

Our professional correspondence soon turned more friendly; we met for lunches. We talked about writing, about magazine publishing and how it all worked. I still feel red in the face when I think of all the naive questions I asked her and she answered so patiently, without a hint of criticism or condescension. She offered me a sample of her Swiss Chalet sweet potato fries, which I had never tried before, and will forever blame her for initiating my addiction to. We rarely met in fancy places – she was so dedicated to her work that the Swiss Chalet right by her office was most convenient for her. We rarely met for dinner or drinks because her beautiful family that she spoke of with such adoration were all waiting at home for her when she finished her work at the office.

She was the editor of my very first piece published in a print magazine. Her excitement for me was not what I would expect a seasoned Senior Editor to exhibit, but that was her – always so supportive and excited for other people’s accomplishments. She even made sure I got a copy of the issue by mail, despite my assurances that I already had a subscription.

She offered me work when she could, and edited my writing with such grace, apologetically letting me know that the magazine couldn’t give me an article to write every month because there were so many writers who wanted work. No expectation of gratitude for all she was already doing for me; just an apology. She was a true Canadian.

In all of the time I spent with her, I rarely heard her speak negatively of anyone, with sarcasm or otherwise. She often whispered it, if she did criticize, and dressed up her criticism in the fanciest cloak she could find so that I almost wasn’t sure that she truly was being negative.

We had daughters the same age, and oh, how she loved both of hers. Her beautiful eyes would sparkle when she talked about her beloved Avery and Anna, and while I often shared with her my frustrations in my own marriage, she never spoke poorly of her husband Sean. Ever. She adored him, respected him and from what she told me, he felt the same for her. How could he not?

She was fiercely proud of and loved her sisters and family, whom she spoke of often. She shared with me once the story of one sister’s life and accomplishments and told me how much she wanted to write about her but knew she couldn’t publish it at the magazine she worked for. I offered to write the story for her, but she politely declined with loving territorial ownership.

Tracy always started her correspondence to me with something positive, and ended it that way as well. Even if in between, she was shredding a draft of something I had written, she did it with grace and tenderness so that I never felt belittled or criticized, only educated. She always edited my work to a higher elevation, and believe me when I say that sometimes, there was quite a climb to get to that elevation.

Last year, as the BlissDom conference approached, she confided that she was always a bit nervous in social situations and wondered if I could be her “wing woman” at the conference. Tracy always had an open vulnerability that blew me away and made me feel comfortable with her from the earliest of days in our relationship. I often confided in her and never felt judged; in fact, she often gently chided me that I was too hard on myself.

Yesterday and today, as I read both public messages and private emails in response to the news of Tracy’s death, it makes me smile to think of her looking down on it all with her blushing cheeks and saying in her genuinely surprised, sweet, soft voice “All this for me?” She wouldn’t just be acting demure, either. I don’t think she was ever fully aware of how vast and deep her impact reached or how people just knew, even after only meeting her once briefly, that she was a special person.

Tracy Chappell was one of a few certified diamonds in a sea of cubic zirconium. I hope her infinite love and grace holds her family tight right now and carries them through the horrific tragedy of losing their extraordinary mother, wife, daughter, sister, and aunt. She inspired so many, not just with her work, but with her entire essence and inner light.

I only hope those of us who knew her can keep our spirits shining as brightly as Tracy demonstrated was possible.

Colleen Seto, contributor:
I was so shocked and sad to hear about Tracy’s passing. I was just going to send her a quick email for advice on feeding my picky boy as she is so helpful with… well, everything, not just editing, when I thought I’d just check the website first.

That’s when I saw the crushing news. My heart breaks for her family, her girls. Oh, those girls. She so loved them; that was so evident.

Tracy and I had been exchanging a lot of emails over the past six months as I returned to freelancing after having my second child. We were trying to find placements for my story ideas, and she was always so encouraging and lovely. We recently wrapped up a Steps and Stages piece, and she was, once again, a pleasure to work with.

Ironically, she emailed me last week to tell me that she was putting together a package on grieving, and that she wanted me to write a piece of it. I had pitched her previously about parenting through grief as I had lost my mother last summer, and found parenting through it beyond challenging. She was so sweet and compassionate in replying to my pitch. Even though we were just getting to know one another, I felt connected to her, and I felt like she really tried to understand what I was trying to say–a wonderful trait in an editor, and even more so, in a human being. Though we never got to meet, I feel like we “knew” each other a bit, and I am a better person for it.

I just wanted to share my thoughts about Tracy, and express my deepest sympathies. I am so very sorry for all of you at the magazine to have lost such a great leader, coworker and friend. Please do pass my condolences onto her family. And hugs to her girls, please.

Shandley McMurray, contributor:
I have not stopped crying all morning. I just learned about Tracy’s death and I am so heartbroken. How can life be this unfair? I can’t even think about her husband and daughters without breaking into a fresh bout of sobbing.

I only ever knew Tracy virtually as a kind, supportive and talented editor. She last edited my letter to Marley’s bullies and supported me throughout it all.

 

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