by Nancy Flight
Editors and writers across the country were saddened to learn of the death of long-time EAC member John Eerkes-Medrano, on June 15, at the age of 64. Born in Groningen, the Netherlands, he spent his early years in Edmonton and later worked in Toronto and then Victoria.
John made many important contributions to EAC, serving as national vice-president, chair of the long-range planning committee, chair of the publications committee, and chair of the committee to re-examine membership criteria, which in 1990 recommended that salaried editors be accepted as full members of FEAC (the Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada), as EAC was then called. Past president Heather Ebbs, who served on the national executive during this time, recalls that the executive “agreed to pursue the idea of dropping the ‘F’ from FEAC, largely as a result of the stellar work of John’s committee. John’s was the first voice to say we needed to ensure that all members discussed this long and hard and persistently, because it was such a sea change for the organization. I feel honoured to have had the opportunity work with him on the national executive.”
When John moved from Toronto to Victoria, he helped create PEAVI, the Professional Editors Association of Vancouver Island. Says Fran Aitkens of PEAVI, “He was a dear man and, as one of the founding members, helped make PEAVI the great association it is now.”
John was also a superb editor who won the respect and loyalty of every author he worked with. He is the only editor to have twice received the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence—first, for his work on A Vast and Magnificent Land: An Illustrated History of Northern Ontario, edited by Matt Bray and Ernie Epp (Ontario of Ministry of Northern Affairs/Lakehead University/Laurentian University, 1984), and again, for his contribution to Adventuring around Vancouver Island: Beachcombing to Bungee Jumping, by Sue Lebrecht and Susan Noppe (Greystone Books, 1997).
Like many other authors John worked with, Rick Antonson insisted that John edit all of his books. “I recall a remarkable man,” Rick says, “one of immense talents … Personally, it will be difficult to undertake a new book’s shaping and birth and evolution without his tutelage and humour—and his patient, steady hand helping to guide the journey.” Rick also remembers a comment John made partway through the editing of a manuscript that perfectly illustrates John’s grace and gentle humour: “Rick, we still have room for fewer words.”
Similar tributes have poured in from other authors, including this one from Samuel Thomas Martin, which Martin posted on his website:
“I wonder if John knew that to me he was an elder. Not in a church, of course. But in that tribe of writers Margaret Laurence once famously spoke of—the CanLit tribe. He welcomed me, he let me share his fire—his keen-eyed insights, his brilliance. He celebrated with me when our book was nominated for an award. (What would other editors say if they saw how many exclamation points he used in that email?)”
John is also remembered as a teacher and mentor. “John was a gracious and gentle person,” says Jane Billinghurst, who taught with him at the Simon Fraser University summer publishing workshops. “Always calm and unfailingly polite, but with a lovely line of underlying humour.”
John leaves his wife, Laura, and his daughter, Dafne, as well as his many family members, friends, authors, and other clients. As Laura said in her obituary, “John touched us all and made a lasting impression in many lives.” We will miss him.
Images provided by John Eerkes-Medrano