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'A real go-getter': Remembering Jackie Pierce, longtime publisher of The Whitehorse Star

Jackie Pierce, longtime owner and publisher of the Whitehorse Star newspaper, died this month at 83. She got her first job at the paper she loved 50 years ago.  (Submitted by Jackie Pierce - image credit)
Jackie Pierce, longtime owner and publisher of the Whitehorse Star newspaper, died this month at 83. She got her first job at the paper she loved 50 years ago. (Submitted by Jackie Pierce - image credit)

Melanie Pierce says there were two big things in her mom's life, and they left little time for anything else: her family, and the Whitehorse Star newspaper.

Fortunately, Jackie Pierce — the longtime publisher of the Star who died this month at 83 — always seemed to have plenty of energy and ambition to handle those two big commitments.

"She was just a real go-getter," Melanie said.

"You could just see the energy in her, and the get-up-and-go. I don't know where she got it from, but she always had it."

Jackie originally came from Hayward, California, but like many others before and after her, she fell in love with the Yukon on her first visit.

It was 1967 and she and her then-husband Mike had decided to leave California and head to Alaska. They packed up their dogs and kids and made the drive north, but vehicle trouble meant they were waylaid en route in Whitehorse.

Submitted by Jessica Pierce
Submitted by Jessica Pierce

They eventually made it to Alaska, but soon decided they liked Whitehorse better. From then on, the Yukon would be home.

Jackie took a job at the Star in 1972, mostly just "to make ends meet," according to her longtime friend and Whitehorse Star editor Jim Butler.

A few years later, she was the paper's advertising manager — a "one-woman department," says Butler — before taking over as managing editor in the early 1980s. In 2002, she bought the business.

Butler calls her his professional role model, a woman with a formidable work ethic and a "steely determination to conquer all obstacles."

"She always counselled ... that if you remain calm in the face of adversity, you can succeed. I mean the flare-ups and the challenges running a small business are awesome in scope," Butler said.

Vince Fedoroff/Whitehorse Daily Star
Vince Fedoroff/Whitehorse Daily Star

"You've got the rising cost of newsprint and ink and press parts, and you know, the unending need to maximize your advertising to keep your revenue streams healthy. She had all of this to concentrate on — as well as raise a very large family."

A 'supermom'

Jackie's daughter Melanie — the oldest of five kids, all of whom still live in Whitehorse — was often in awe of her mom. Somehow, Jackie managed her demanding career without sacrificing her family life.

"I always thought she was a supermom," Melanie said.

Submitted by Jessica Pierce
Submitted by Jessica Pierce

Jessica Pierce, the youngest, echoes that. Jessica remembers her mom going to work everyday at the same time, and returning home by five to cook dinner and take care of the household.

"I can remember her starting to cook dinner and she'd still have her winter boots on," Jessica laughs.

And for all her hard work and determination, Jackie still knew how to have fun, Jessica says. She remembers her mom dancing to old favourites like Burton Cummings or Billy Joel.

But the Whitehorse Star — founded in 1900 — was always a mainstay for the family. All the kids have worked there at one time or another, though Jackie never pressured them to make careers there. She always wanted people to follow their own paths.

Now, Butler says, things won't be the same at the paper. He says it was "jarring" to see Jackie's office empty last week.

"Think of the Starship Enterprise without Captain Kirk. Well, that's us now. It was a very quiet and gloomy atmosphere, putting out papers last week," Butler said.

"It's the passing of an era."

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC