Longtime Ottawa broadcaster Lucy van Oldenbarneveld is leaving the CBC. Her final local broadcast as co-host of CBC Ottawa's supper-hour newscast will be June 30.
This is not a retirement. Anyone who has tried to keep up with LVO knows she remains a force to be reckoned with as a journalist, playwright, moose hunter, cyclist and cross-country skier.
"I love CBC. I love my colleagues. So it seems like a crazy thing to then say, OK, well, I'm leaving. But there's something else I want to do. I'm not exactly sure what that is yet, but I'm going to take some time over the course of the summer and try and figure that out."
Van Oldenbarneveld has been working on a creative side-project, a one-woman show called Me, Vivien Leigh and the Roller Rink, a hilarious romp through LVO's feathered-bangs-and-Jordache-jeans adolescence that will be live streamed on June 3, and will be performed live at the Undercurrents Festival next February.
Arrived in 2003
Van Oldenbarneveld came to Ottawa in 2003 to work as a writer-broadcaster and host of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, after reporting for Deutsche Welle in Germany. Prior to that she worked at CBC Whitehorse, and spent a year working in China.
But the peripatetic van Oldenbarneveld found something special in Ottawa that made her stay.
"The outdoors. The politics. The arts. It was a perfect combination for me," said van Oldenbarneveld, who, along with her partner and former CBC Ottawa coordinating producer Andy Clarke, is raising her late sister's 16-year-old daughter.
Colleague Alan Neal admired van Oldenbarneveld's renowned ability to riff "like … the best improv theatre partner," recalling one time when she had him in stitches live on CBC Radio.
"I just lost it. I was laughing so hard I was crying. I just remember thinking how lucky we were … to have someone at the station who was willing to play, who was willing to risk, to just be fearless in her freewheeling," said Neal.
"My heart hurts when I think of the station without her. But, just like when she was on the radio shows, I can't wait to see what she's going to do next."
Move to TV
In 2006, van Oldenbarneveld left radio for the bright lights of television, becoming the host of CBC News at 6, where she was eventually joined by co-host Adrian Harewood.
"I can think of countless occasions on set where she just really carried me … because she's just so good at improvising," said Harewood. "She's one of the best breaking news journalists in the business…. She shines when the pressure is on."
I didn't want to leave during the pandemic because people were relying on us to tell the pandemic story. - Lucy van Oldenbarneveld
Among the more intense breaking news stories van Oldenbarneveld covered was the Parliament Hill gunman and two fatal collisions involving OC Transpo buses, one in Barrhaven in 2013 and another at Westboro station in 2019.
"It's at those moments you realize how connected you are to your viewers and how important our news program … is to people in moments of crisis and tragedy. It's been such a privilege to be part of that," said van Oldenbarneveld, who credits the team behind the scenes.
"Everybody pulls together in moments like that. Everybody's rowing in the same direction and ultimately so focused. That's when you see what an unbelievably skilled team we have."
CBC TV colleague Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco remembers van Oldenbarneveld making her mark at a potluck when she brought her own moose meatballs that she and a group of other women up North had hunted.
"I was like whoa, OK, she's super cool," he recalled thinking.
Then there's her Hollywood connection. Van Oldenbarneveld often portrayed journalists, as she did in the 2019 movie Long Shot, starring Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron, and in the 2016 film Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.
"I'm in Ecuador with my grandma watching a movie and … there's Lucy on the screen. I looked over at my grandma and said, 'I work with her every day.' My grandma now thinks I'm incredibly famous in Canada," said Dabaghi-Pacheco.
Van Oldenbarneveld's most intense struggles were personal. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2015 but got through it. Her younger sister Tracy was given a similar diagnosis, but didn't survive. It was a devastating blow that van Oldenbarneveld shared publicly.
"Through that time, people at work supported me. They were there not only to bring soup to my doorstep, but also just to support me as I supported my family," she said. "It meant everything. That's the kind of stuff that you'll never forget."
Van Oldenbarneveld still keeps a box of cards and letters sent by viewers while she was undergoing treatment, offering support, advice and inspiration.
There's a link between these transformative challenges van Oldenbarneveld has faced and her decision to leave CBC.
"Those events have also told me that if there's stuff you still want to do or if there's something nagging at you that you feel you need to do, you should go and do it because life is short and you really don't know what's around the corner," she said.
"So as intimidating as that is, you have to face your fears and plow ahead, because regret can also be a really corrosive thing."
Pandemic got in the way
In fact, COVID-19 may have kept van Oldenbarneveld on the air a little longer than she expected.
"I didn't want to leave during the pandemic because people were relying on us to tell the pandemic story, but now that we are seeing a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel [it's] the perfect time to take the summer and try and figure out what I want to do for the next chapter," she said.
So why not stick around a little longer?
"People might be thinking, well, she's no spring chicken. Is that why she's leaving television? And the answer is no. That's one of the wonderful things about CBC. They don't push you off the air once you've hit milestone birthdays. But being 55 now, I am mindful that time is speeding up," said van Oldenbarneveld.
"I'm getting a call from my gut that I need to do something else. After you've been through cancer, you never take anything for granted."
CBC Ottawa News at 6 brings you in-depth and investigative coverage on local issues that matter to you. Following van Oldenbarneveld's final local broadcast on June 30, Adrian Harewood will continue leading the award-winning newscast as the host of CBC Ottawa News at 6p.m.