Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Bye: Trudy Eagan

Remember when the Toronto Sun knew how to say its goodbyes to parting vets? A time when the tabloid had heart and an appreciation of the contributions made by its employees?

We do.

From June 26, 2002: Columnist Mike Strobel bids adieu to Trudy Eagan, a 28-year vet who rose from secretary to executive vice-president and chief administration officer.

By Mike Strobel
Maybe Trudy Eagan's crash through the "glass ceiling" has taken its toll, I think as I walk into her office.

Blood is oozing from the back of her head.

It is Trudy's last week at The Sun, after 28 years. She is our chain's executive vice-president and chief admin officer.

So indeed, she has busted that legendary ceiling, that barrier to women at work.

But blood?

Well, she took a tumble getting out of the shower an hour earlier and the wound has re-opened.

Our lawyer, Al Shanoff, tries to staunch the flow with paper towels. He's on the line to our doctor, Bernie Gosevitz.

"Cold and pressure," Al says, impressively.

Trudy's blond curls sport a new red streak. Dark stains creep over the collar of her turquoise pantsuit.

"Hiya," she grins at me.

Sheesh, I'm thinking. Tough broad. I'd be passed out.

"Ewww, you gonna go to the doctor?" asks Kerry Johnston, her assistant.

"Naw," Trudy says. "It'll stop."

Tough indeed.

We have written much lately about Trudy, 56. She won a Women of Distinction Award from the YWCA. She got an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia. There will be a Dr. Trudy Eagan lecture hall at St. FX.

And she's leaving us.

For two hours, we reminisce. She holds a compress to her head.

Back we go.

She joined as founding publisher Doug Creighton's secretary in 1974, one of 110 merry staffers in the Eclipse building on King St. W.

"It was just a wonderful adventure," she says. "Incredible excitement and spirit."

Doug knew talent and by 1983, she was on the board of directors.

"I proved that I was smart, that I knew the business, that I wasn't just brought along for decoration."

The day of the announcement, her dad cried. He owned a grocery store back in St. Stephen, N.B.

Doug and a few other guys on the board took her to dinner at Winston's. A cabbie strolled in with an envelope from her parents. In it was a cheque for $500. Spend it on yourself, said a note. Trudy still has the cheque.

Not that she needs it, now. The former $100-a-week secretary made millions when Quebecor bought the Sun chain in 1998.

It has not been a painless path.

Trudy was diagnosed with arthritis when she was 22. She was told her future was in a wheelchair. Not me, she said.

She gave up skiing only when she could no longer do up her boots. A new drug, Enbrel, has fixed the pain. But her tennis days are long over.

"It's made me really tough," she says. "I've always gone that extra mile to prove I can rise above my arthritis."

In her office is a sculpture by Andrew Benyei called Obstacle Course. It is a woman reaching for that ol' ceiling of glass.

Years ago, Trudy looked around the corporate table and saw only men. "I started by being loud, because I thought I had to be loud to be heard.

Cliche or not, that gives you a reputation as being strident, being a bitch.


"Then I learned that if you do your homework and you talk not just to talk, you quickly have your place at the table."

I saw Trudy at that table a few times in my editor days. She earned her reputation as "the conscience of The Sun." Staff actually use that phrase for her.

She's a beacon of the old Sun culture and spirit, too. One of the last, some around here say.

"I've had that conversation 100 times in the past month," says our departing conscience. "But we'll only be able to maintain that spirit if everyone believes we can.

"The worst thing that can happen is if we all sit around and lament that it'll never be the same, whoever we blame."

Her head stops bleeding.

Tonight, 50 suits will gather to fete Trudy Eagan. There's a staff farewell in the parking lot tomorrow.

Then, she will go off to chill out, crank up the country music, write a book and seek new chapters. She will do so with a long list of contributions to business, charities and academic institutions.

My favourite memory of her is a bit earthier.

It's a few years back. Senior staff are at a retreat at the Horseshoe Valley resort.

Things get out of hand one night. I find myself bare-chested and lying on my back on the stone patio.

In flickering light, I look up at a circle of colleagues' faces.

At the time, "body slams" were popular in certain circles. You licked salt off someone's neck, then downed a shot of tequila. I think a Madonna movie started the fad.

Anyway, there's the director of promotions, a demonic light in her eyes, shaking salt on my chest, then pouring tequila in my navel.

And there's vice-president Eagan, leaning over, big grin on her face. She holds a candle high, so all can see.

With growing fear, I watch the wax begin to spill . . .

The rest is a bit hazy.

But I know this: Few among you can say your V-P has dripped hot wax on your chest hairs.

Take care, Trudy."

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