Joy Roberts-White


ROBERTS-WHITE, Cecily Joy Hugh

For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains.

On January 3, 2013 Joy passed peacefully at the age of 102. Born in England, Joy led a wonderful life full of exciting travels and adventures, dear friends and colleagues.

Joy was predeceased by her husband Frank (1949) and later immigrated to Canada (1954), where she was granted citizenship in 1966.

Journalist and correspondent, author and producer, editor, broadcaster, playwright, instructor, entrepreneur: all careers Joy embraced with energy and enthusiasm. Joy worked as a reporter and feature writer for Reuters and BBC in London, where she travelled through Europe and Africa. She also owned a public relations firm in London, representing Deborah Kerr and others.

In Edmonton, Joy managed the Studio Theatre (U of A), produced at CFRN-TV, taught at NAIT, interviewed guests at CBC, edited in Hansard (Alberta), researched at ACCESS TV, opened a store (Pandora’s Box), published countless articles and reviews, entertained and supported Edmonton’s arts community generously. She will be missed by all those who were fortunate to meet her.

A Celebration of Joy’s Life will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at the Anglican Parish of Christ Church, 12116-102 Avenue, Edmonton.

For condolences, please visit
Andrews-McLaughlin Funeral Home
Downtown Chapel
780 488 0121

Published in The Edmonton Journal on January 12, 2013

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‘She liked women who got out there and did things’

Joy Roberts-White 1910 – 2013

By Jodie Sinnema, Edmonton Journal
January 25, 2013

EDMONTON – When Joy Roberts-White walked into the palace room in Addis Ababa, there sat Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie on his throne, two live lions on either side.

Her heart must have hiccupped.

As a reporter for Reuters between 1937 and 1945, Roberts-White landed the exclusive interview with the emperor because she was the only correspondent who could speak fluent French.

“When I said she had a lot of courage, she really did,” said Roger Thomson, estate executor and friend to Roberts-White late in her life. “She was a very courageous woman, very strong, very educated and well-informed. She loved to share stories.”

Stories about interviewing American movie star Jimmy Stewart while he was a member of the United States air force during the Second World War. Stories about representing six-time Academy Award nominee and star of The King and I Deborah Kerr while Roberts-White was the owner of a public relations organization in London from 1948 to 1953.

Roberts-White — a woman of impeccable style, a widow since age 39, immigrant to Canada at age 44, a writer and owner of a local accessories and hat shop, playwright and theatre reviewer — died peacefully Jan. 3 at the age of 102, holding the hand of friend Maureen Bedford, a dedicated visitor assigned to the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre by the Anglican Church.

“She was very strong-minded. She was feisty,” Bedford said of her friend, born in England on March 29, 1910. “She wasn’t hoity-toity at all, but she had certain standards. … She didn’t suffer fools gladly.”

Bedford said Roberts-White never considered following the career path most common for women in her day: working as a nurse or a teacher, or for Marks & Spencer or Boots The Chemist, a pharmacy chain in the United Kingdom that has since been renamed.

“She was certainly unusual for that day and age,” Bedford said. “She just took it for granted.”

Sure, Roberts-White wrote about fashion and health — one undated article described a fashionable grandmother who indulged in “at least two new outfits a year … with no fussy trimmings” — but she also hitchhiked north in the 1960s to the Distant Early Warning Line, or DEW line, to interview Canadian troops guarding radar stations set up to detect Soviet bombers during the Cold War.

Family legend has it she may have been one of the first white women to venture that far north, said Frank Chennells, whose father was a cousin of Roberts-White.

“She was clearly an A-type personality,” said Chennells, 60.

“She was fearless,” said his wife, Wendy Lawson.

Roberts-White was in Berlin for the 1936 Olympics and covered tennis competitions at Wimbleton for Reuters.

“Because of the war, there was the opportunity for a woman to take that job,” said Lawson, 62. Roberts-White was too educated and skilled to work in the munitions plants, since her family had sent her to private school. She could speak French and had a working knowledge of Spanish and German.

Decades later, she toured behind the Iron Curtain to see “people living under the shadow of the Kremlin” in Poland, Russia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, East and West Germany, Austria and Holland, she wrote in a 1966 article for The Edmontonian.

Over the years, she worked for the BBC in London, then CBC, CKUA and CFRN (now known as CTV) once she came to Edmonton. She taught radio and TV arts at NAIT, managed Studio Theatre at the University of Alberta in its early years, edited Hansard, the official record of the Alberta legislature, co-authored a book and contributed to theatre and style publications. Roberts-White was a proud member of the Canadian Women’s Press Club, which folded in the early 2000s.

“She liked women who got out there and did things,” said Dixie Bullock, a music specialist and teacher who met Roberts-White at All Saints Anglican Cathedral. Bullock envied Roberts-White her independent life of adventures. Roberts-White, in return, took incredible interest in and had great love for Bullock and her children.

“She was a very accomplished woman as a single woman and she had great faith in other women,” Bullock, 73, said. “She doesn’t coddle you. She doesn’t baby you.”

And Bedford refused to coddle Roberts-White, even toward the end.

Bedford urged Roberts-White to stop moaning and complaining about living in the old Edmonton General for the last six years of her life, and instead laugh at her own foibles.

She had a tremendous sense of humour, an immense curiosity and a unique giggle, Bedford said. When Bedford rolled her friend to the legislature grounds this past summer to bask in the sunshine, Roberts-White — always the reporter — insisted on finding out about the rally happening nearby.

An Anglican who attended the monthly eucharist services at the Edmonton General, Roberts-White insisted to the end on having her lipstick applied just so beforehand, her face lightly powdered, her hair coiffed, her handbag at the ready. When she celebrated her 102nd birthday, she held the cluster-of-pearl earrings close to her dimming eyes to ensure they were the right choice.

“She always wanted to look her best and she was of the generation that you put your best things on when you go to church,” said Bedford, 78.

Roberts-White liked her tea served the English way, with the milk poured into the cup beforehand. She insisted every visitor be “announced” — even Anglican Archdeacon Michael Rolph. She hung her tiny room with Christmas lights year-round.

“She was a little more lively than pearls,” said Timothy Anderson, a singer, actor and writing instructor at Grant MacEwan University. “She was critical and thoughtful and brought a perspective that had known theatre elsewhere, which kept people on their toes.”

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