It was with shock and great sadness that staff at the Journal Argus learned of the passing on Thursday of St. Marys Independent newspaper reporter Dan Rankin. Dan worked here for a few months at the beginning of this decade, prior to commencing his post-graduate degree in Journalism at Western University in London.
It wasn’t so much the fact some of us had worked with him, though, that pulled at our heartstrings. Like so many in this community who had come to know him — or who simply had known him all their lives; he was, after all, born and raised here — we felt such pain for his family and close friends. It is a great tragedy that, at 29, he was taken from us.
Why, though, would this newspaper treat Dan’s passing differently — with a tribute of this prominence, on the Editorial page — than similar tragedies we have endured over the years? I think of the single-vehicle crash near Motherwell that took the lives of not one but two young born-and-raised St. Marys residents just last summer. At that time, this newspaper made brief mention of the fatalities and relayed the information that had been provided to us by the Ontario Provincial Police about the collision.
But I distinctly recall the decision at that time that, although we felt compelled to offer some sort of support for the families in print, it would be better to let the families grieve in private and try not to cause them to relive details due to the newspaper feeling they just had to get every detail into the story. People in the community who knew the families already knew who had been killed in that accident. If they didn’t know the families, there was no need for them to learn of the identities through the newspaper.
With Dan’s death though, a different decision has been made. His name was put on the front page of this newspaper, under the headline “Crash claims life of reporter.” And I write in tribute here.
Staff members from the Journal Argus, if they felt comfortable doing so, have already paid respects to Dan’s family and friends. As with the crash last summer, there was no strong compulsion to do so in print, though our grief and good wishes are surely sincere.
What compels this tribute, though, is the very real possibility that it could have been me. Those among us who are called on a daily basis to attend events, take photos, report on proceedings are reminded how everything can change in the blink of an eye. How fragile we are.
Dan was doing his job, as we do here — en route to South Perth Centennial School to take photos of the students’ Christmas concert. It is almost unfathomable to think that those students and parents and teachers smiled and sang with joy as such horror unfolded not far from the school’s door.
Plus, this is where Dan lived, and breathed. His story was unfolding through the stories of others, in black and white on newsprint. So he deserves a tribute here.
Please stay safe over this holiday season, and keep close in your minds those among us who are grieving. A New Year brings new hope, and to the Rankin family I pray you may find some with the passage of time.