The family of Karen Louise Birchard, an award-winning journalist, joyful story-teller, tennis enthusiast, loyal confidante, foodie and political junkie, sadly announce her passing, of cancer, on Nov 21, 2016 at the Provincial Palliative Care Centre in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Tim Lougheed, President CSWA
The story of Karen’s life captures elements that bind so many of us in the Canadian Science Writers’ Association: curiosity about the natural world and the people who explore it, a desire to build working relationships that make for superior narratives, and above all, a dedication to building bridges between the scientific community and the wider world that is served by that community. Her diverse career path was very much a reflection of the times, such that the routes taken by the next generation of science writers and communicators are bound to be very different. Nevertheless, the core values she instantiated within our organization should transcend any particular place and time, something Karen herself undoubtedly appreciated.
Ian Wilhelm, Chronicle of Higher Education
Karen Birchard loved to tell stories. As The Chronicle’s Canada correspondent, Karen talked often with me when I was the newspaper’s international editor; I usually tried to keep our conversations focused on whatever article I wanted her to pursue. But her almost encyclopedic knowledge of Canadian higher ed would come spilling out along with her ebullient laughter. She’d tell me funny anecdotes about university presidents she’d met, describe a new campus building she'd just toured, and then offer a sidebar on how high the snow drifts were in Prince Edward Island, her home.
I’ll miss those talks. Karen died of cancer this week at age 70. In the 18 years she worked for us, she wrote many, many stories, but a few stood out: a debate over changes in Canada’s science policy; how anti-intellectualism entered the country's politics; and a university’s focus on lobster research.
In this week of giving thanks, I’m thankful for Karen’s enthusiasm for telling stories. It was infectious, and it helped our readers — and me — better understand the world. —Ian Wilhelm
Born Aug. 9, 1946 in Toronto, ON and raised in St. Catharines, ON, she rejoiced in her 20-year relationship with her partner Doug Payne (Michael, Elizabeth, Sam) who predeceased her in 2008.
She was a cherished daughter of the late Thomas Michael and Kathleen Elizabeth Birchard. A beloved sibling of Thomas (Mary Anne) of Toronto and children Kyle, Meghan and Garrett; Monica Kington (Richard) of Burlington and children Andrew and Kathleen; and Keith (Diana) of Silver Spring, MD and children Alexander and Christopher. Karen was predeceased by her sister Maureen (2008).
Karen was a trail-blazer for Canadian women in journalism. She earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Detroit and worked for the campus radio, TV station and newspaper. She landed her first job at CKTB in St. Catharines, becoming one of its first women reporters.
She began working at the Toronto offices of CBC-Radio in 1972. There she was hired for general reporting and editing duties. In 1979, she became CBC-Radio’s first female National Science and Technology correspondent. In 1982-83, she was a recipient of the prestigious Vannevar Bush Inaugural Fellowship for Excellence in Science and Medical Journalism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One year later, she moved to Ireland to begin a new career as a freelance journalist and so began a love affair with a country she would call home for the next 16 years.
Relocating to Prince Edward Island in 2001, Karen continued her freelance career with various publications in Canada and the U.S. Stories she wrote for University Affairs in 2013 and in 2015 were recognized in gold medal wins for the magazine in the annual Canadian Online Publishing Awards. As a member of the Canadian Science Writers Association, she earned the trust of many scientists often wary of the media.
Over the years, she never lost her natural curiosity, a child-like exuberance for life, a gleeful sense of humour, a deep devotion to friends, a love of food and her enthusiasm for oddball presents much sought-after by nieces and nephews.
While the impact of Karen’s work was well known by colleagues and peers, her legacy is found in the friendships she formed and the bonds she made with people. Karen’s greatest accomplishments were the numerous friendships she made and kept with individuals around the world. We will miss her musical good wishes and Advent calendars that arrived via email regularly. Karen touched many lives and will be greatly missed by all who loved her.
Mentally-strong, optimistic and uncomplaining in the face of adversity, Karen was grateful for the unconditional support of family and friends.
Karen’s family and friends wish to thank staff from Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Provincial Palliative Care Centre for the high degree of compassion and care provided in recent months.