For two generations Deb Hope had been one of the most iconic faces in B.C.
She read the news at noon, 5 p.m. and ultimately at the station’s top-rated flagship newscast, BCTV — now Global — News Hour at 6 p.m., usually alongside Tony Parsons.
She also had a famous laugh. When weatherman Wayne Cox or sports anchor Squire Barnes would make funny, she would lose it, with one of the most wonderful guffaws anywhere.
And the laugh was real. Deb was one of the most genuine people you would ever meet — warm and always interested in everyone and everything.
She may be one of the best known people in the province, but there was never any ego — self-belief, yes, but no TV princess here.
Deb retired six years ago, when she was just 59 years old. But even before she retired, there were signs of the Alzheimer’s that sent Deb into a terrible decline.
Today, she is a shadow of herself, living in a nursing home, unable to recognize even her husband Roger or her two daughters Katherine and Roxanne or her stepdaughter Leah.
Her decline has been rapid over the past few years. She lived at home for several years, with Roger and her daughters supporting her, before she went into a care home.
“It’s been a heartbreaking journey,” said Roger. “I mean, she’s still Deb. Still wonderful, loving, gorgeous. But she’s not the real Deb and she’s not with us any more. And that’s breaking all our hearts.”
Deb has lost a significant amount of weight. And she rarely laughs.
When she was still reading the news, Deb had begun to stumble over words or names. She would ask her producers the same questions about a story or about the subject she was to interview.
She was always a meticulous journalist, always wanted to get it right. Deb had never missed a beat. But now not everything seemed to be in sync.
Some in the control room said they were worried Deb seemed to be losing the plot. But she was still young, and Alzheimer’s never entered anyone’s mind. We wondered if she needed eyeglasses to see the teleprompter properly.
Deb came in a couple of days later and said, “Hey boss, good call. I need new specs. It’ll all be fine now.”
Like the rest of us, Deb was in denial.
For her BCTV/Global family, Deb was more than what you saw on the screen. Much more. She was, in many ways, the life of the station. You often heard her before you saw her.
Former news director Steve Wyatt said Deb was a tough and determined journalist but never failed to bring balance, fairness and truth to every story she told.
“Deb was the best guardian of everything the Global newsroom was built on,” said Wyatt. “An unwavering commitment to good pictures, well-edited as the foundation for impactful storytelling.
“And in all the years we worked together, Deb was singular in making sure she never ‘became the story’ at the expense of the content and every one of her colleagues who worked so hard alongside her.”
And she could deliver great moments of joy to the audience.
Wyatt said he will always remember the beautiful moment when she followed up with a family who had decided to have their baby girl, born deaf, receive cochlear implants, which were new and controversial at the time.
Deb and her camera operator captured the second that baby heard her mother’s voice for the first time.
“Pure magic. Pure Deb,” said Wyatt.
While she is known for her decades as an anchor, she was a highly successful, award-winning reporter for much of the 1980s before she made the switch to anchoring.
Deb grew up in Trail and went to the University of B.C., where she began to immerse herself in journalism on the campus radio station. She abandoned her early plans to become a lawyer because she thought journalism would be more fun.
She started out with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, where one of her first assignments was a puff piece on Prince Charles, who was in town at Rideau Hall. In the middle of the interview she realized that the prince was hitting on her. When she went out the front door to leave, he followed her outside and accompanied her down the drive. She said that it wasn’t until his handlers came to her rescue that she was able to make her escape.
In future years she would twice have dinner with Queen Elizabeth while working for BCTV. One of those dinners was on the Royal Yacht Britannia. Later, she would win an award for her coverage of the Queen’s visit.
Deb was at game seven of the Stanley Cup Final in 1994 in New York. She ended up watching the game with Vancouver Canucks owner Emily Griffiths. When the Canucks lost, Deb started to cry and Emily turned to her and said, “Don’t worry dear, there will be other years.“
Tireless work for charities
There were so many stories — from crime to politics, from hard-nosed breaking stories to features — and she had the ability to cover them all.
Her first anchor job was on the Noon News. Soon after, she made the cover of TV Guide for the first time. Her husband Roger, a cameraman at the same station, walked into a store and saw Deb on the magazine cover beside the cash register.
He hadn’t known she was going to be on the cover.
“I thought, OK, one for me, one for her, one for her mother, and one for my mother. So, four TV Guides. Now, the girl at the cash register sees me throw down four magazines and says, ‘So, do you watch a lot of TV or what?’ I was totally embarrassed so I said, ‘No, she’s my wife.’ Then she said, ‘Yeah, you wish!’ ”
Shortly after Deb retired, an executive from Mining B.C. sent her the five stories from a mining series that she had done 20 years earlier. He also sent a big thank you. He said those stories had helped save the mining industry in B.C., and they wanted her to know it.
But it was her tireless work for charities that will be forever remembered. Deb was the face of Variety Club for BCTV for over 20 years, and worked for the Courage To Come Back Group, and the Down syndrome Foundation.
And that’s Deb. Full of joy. Full of fun. Full of generosity. And love.
It’s time her own story was told. She may have trouble remembering much these days. But many in this province will never forget her.
Squire Barnes will pay tribute to Deb Hope on Global’s News Hour tonight.
Clive Jackson and Ian Haysom were, respectively, managing editor and news director of BCTV and later Global News in British Columbia.
Donations in Deb Hope’s honour can be made to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. by visitingalzbc.org/donate. For information and support, please call the First Link Dementia Helpline at 1-800-936-6033.