When I first met Stuart Burnside, it was in a cramped little room off the front of the Coast News office in Gibsons.
There were four of us in that tiny room barely big enough for a coat rack, and we squeezed around a table with overflowing ashtrays. Three of us Pat, Joel and Stuart were chain-smoking. Those were the days you could smoke in a newspaper office.
While the room was small and low-ceilinged, Stuart was long and lanky what they used to call a "tall drink of water." He was wearing his fedora, something that might have been ridiculous on many others, but seemed perfectly natural on him. Stuart was only a couple of years older than me, but he seemed to belong to a different era.
As editor of the Coast News and later a columnist for the Coast Independent and the Sechelt Express, Stuart was one of the last of the old-fashioned newspaper men. His desk in the Coast News office was in a raised alcove from which he could look down at the page flats, where copy was still cut with a knife. It was before the days of the email barrage and the constant hum of the Internet. Newspapers were still newspapers rather than "products" then. And after we'd put out another edition, everyone went to the bar.
Stuart came by his newspaper roots honestly. His father, John Burnside, had for years owned the Coast News, which lasted almost half a century on the Sunshine Coast.
Stuart admired the way the stories written by the "scribes" in the early days were marked by a near libelous poetic licence and an intimacy "achieved through being on a first-name basis with an entire town."
Stuart was the type of writer who used words like "scribes." He despised jargon and had a passionate interest in language.
"Butt is replacing bum," he remarked in another column about the march of American culture into even the most intimate of Canadian places. "Couch is usurping chesterfield "
Stuart had no great love for authority. He could be short on diplomacy, too. Once, receiving a fax accusing the paper of pro-environmentalist leaf-licking sensibilities, Stuart scrawled a note telling the writer what he could do with his thoughts and where exactly he should place them, before faxing it back to the man's office. Years later, long after Stuart had left the paper, we were still apologizing for that one.
He was intense, and he called it like it was. Old ladies and old dogs adored him. He and his dog Boomer could often be spotted trotting down the lanes of Lower Gibsons both of them quiet and resolute with a bit of a wild streak.
Stuart's writing celebrated the place he'd grown up with, looking back with the smallest hint of nostalgia.
He wrote about his first game of pool at the Legion, about "a boat blow so big" it blew out the windows of waterfront homes in Gibsons.
He recalled a hot afternoon on the wharf when he was 10 and Bruno Gerussi gave him a two-dollar bill to buy them both Fudgesicles.
He wrote about how he liked the rain, how the June rain was different from the November rain. He talked about those lighter areas of gray in an "otherwise muted sky; a faint reason to hope, and that's all we can really ask "
Stuart left us far too soon. It would be nice to sum the whys neatly, but that would be a lie.
Instead, I'll think about him when I'm walking down near Armour's Beach where he used to swim as a kid or near the dock where he used to fish enjoying the rain and looking for those lighter breaks in an otherwise gray sky.