With a pen as sharp as her knife, food writer Judy Creighton carved out space in the headlines for everyday Canadian fare.
Over decades working for The Canadian Press news wire, Creighton covered the concerns that hit closest to home with rigour and relentless curiosity, tracking cultural trends and whetting Canadians’ appetites for homegrown cuisine.
In the wake of the 81-year-old’s death last week, journalists and culinary tastemakers are calling Creighton a “beacon” who burst the confines of the “women’s section” to bring meat-and-potatoes issues to the front pages of Canada’s newspapers.
Creighton died on May 4 of pneumonia complications at an assisted living facility in Burlington, Ont., according to her family.
Peter Creighton said his mother suffered from respiratory issues in her later years, noting that she tested negative for COVID-19 a week before she died.
When someone asked him how his mother passed, Peter Creighton said he offered his own diagnosis.
“She probably died of a concussion from slamming your head into a glass ceiling her whole professional career.”
Born in Vernon, B.C., on Oct. 16, 1938, Judy Creighton grew up in Victoria and studied at the Norfolk House School.
After graduation, Creighton got her professional start in the late 1950s as a reporter at a local paper in the B.C. capital.
She worked for the London Free Press and the Toronto Star before joining The Canadian Press in 1975 as a reporter-editor.
As the first editor — and sole member — of the “family” department, Creighton was tasked with producing fodder for the “women’s section” of newspapers, which for the most part comprised of recipes and housecleaning tips.
But Creighton was determined to make the file more than that, said former CP colleague and supervisor Patti Tasko.
Creighton met with newspaper editors across the country in effort to persuade them that female readers were interested in more than just domestic advice, said Tasko.
In a male-dominated industry that dismissed stories outside current affairs as “fluff,” Tasko said Creighton brought a journalist’s eye to the substance of people’s lives, reporting on parenting with the same diligence and tenacity that one would apply to covering the prime minister.
“She was a hard news journalist in a soft news world,” Tasko said. “Maybe it wasn’t about a resignation or something going on in Ottawa, but it was equally as important in a different way.”
Tasko said Creighton also served as a mentor to the slowly growing cohort of female journalists coming up behind her.
In 1975, Creighton became the first woman elected to the board of directors of what was then known as the Toronto Men’s Press Club, prompting the organization to change its name.
“She didn’t take guff from anyone,” said Tasko. “It was man’s world, and she didn’t let that slow her down.”
Over her decades in the lifestyles department, Creighton covered social issues shaping the day, from the rising tide of feminism to the aging of baby boomers.
But Tasko said Creighton was first and foremost a “foodie,” years before the term came into vogue.
Her gastronomic interests extended from making the most of Thanksgiving leftovers, to how researchers at the University of Guelph came up with the Yukon Gold potato variety.
Even after she officially retired in 2000, Creighton wrote a weekly freelance food column that was faithfully published by newspapers across Canada.
Her writing was also embraced by Canada’s culinary community. In 2009, Creighton won the Founder’s Award from Cuisine Canada recognizing her contribution to the coverage of Canadian cooking and food journalism.
University of Guelph food laureate Anita Stewart said Creighton championed Canadian cuisine before most of the country recognized its distinct palate, with many eaters dismissing local delicacies as “secondary” to more exotic flavours.
“We looked everywhere else to justify our existence, whereas she believed that what we were doing here was valuable,” said Stewart.
“Canadian Living” cookbook author Elizabeth Baird said Creighton had a knack for picking up on emerging culinary trends, advocating for cooks to use homegrown ingredients years before buying local became a movement.
Baird called Creighton a “beacon” who not only helped Canadians see themselves reflected in the media, but gave them the understanding to make their lives better.
“Because of her love of food and her smarts, she knew what people wanted,” said Baird. “She was adding to the knowledge of the readers and respected them.”
Creighton is survived by her two children and two grandsons.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.
Adina Bresge ~ The Canadian Press