British Columbia political columnist Jim Hume took much pride in having never missed a deadline in 70 years. He missed his first one April 9 when admitted to hospital in Victoria, where he died four days later at age 98.
“Jim always said he wanted to die with a pen in his hand,” recalls Joan Sawicki, who knew Mr. Hume first in the mid-1960s when she was a young server in a Victoria pub and much later when she was a politician.
They met as Mr. Hume was beginning his decades-long reign as a political columnist at the Victoria Times and its successor, the Times Colonist. Ms. Sawicki jokes that he gave her the same advice as a server and, 27 years later, a new MLA.
“He’d give me little lectures about how I deserved better than to be slinging beer in a pub. He was such a good influence,” Ms. Sawicki says. “When we next met after I was elected to the legislature in 1991, he told me the same thing. Jim Hume is one of my favourite people.”
James Hume – no middle name, a family tradition he followed by not giving any of his own six sons a middle name – was born in Coventry, England, on Dec. 27, 1923, the fourth of five children.
Mr. Hume’s father, Thomas Dodds Hume, and mother, Ann (née Startin), met after Thomas was badly injured in the First World War’s bloody Gallipoli battle, says Stephen Hume, James’s son, who has documented several generations of the Hume lineage. Ms. Startin was a young nurse at the Coventry hospital where Thomas was recovering.
Jim Hume was deeply affected by his father’s war history and resilience in managing lifelong disabilities, his son says. Jim’s years as a conscientious objector during the Second World War followed a childhood of living with a father who rejected the annual tradition of wearing a poppy as a “feel-good for the people who were never there.”
Jim Hume was “very interested in the now” right up to his death, says Vancouver Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer. His seven-decade run of commenting on current affairs through the lens of history and his own life experiences lives on in Canadian newspaper archives and the blog he kept from ages 90 to 98.
“When people can marshal history to make a point about now, it’s not just to reminisce,” Mr. Palmer says. “The knowledge of history, Hume’s passion for research, the degree he embedded his own personal experiences – he brought that together. He was a stretcher bearer in the bombing of Coventry. His dad was injured at Gallipoli. Hume was there for all of it.”
Mr. Hume had a job delivering bread in Victoria when he interviewed the first of what would ultimately be 13 B.C. premiers, spanning from Boss Johnson in the early 1950s through to the current incumbent, Premier John Horgan.
One of his customers happened to be Mr. Johnson, who was charmed by the delivery boy’s request for an interview. A journalist was born.
In those years, Mr. Hume was married to the late Joyce (née Potter) Hume, the mother of his first five sons. Like his own parents, Mr. Hume and Ms. Potter had met when he was in hospital and she was a nurse, though in his case he was recovering from an appendix operation.
They married in Coventry in 1945. Son Stephen was born a year later; with baby still in arms and Timothy on the way, the couple left Coventry the next year on a quest for a new life in British Columbia. Jim worked whatever jobs were available but dreamed of becoming a reporter.
His wife had set her sights on British Columbia after eating a B.C. apple while in hospital delivering Stephen. Soldiers in the hospital were so pleased to learn of a civilian birth, they raised money to buy her a fruit basket. Moving to wherever those apples had come from was on her mind when talk turned to leaving England.
Arriving in Halifax in 1948, they bought a ticket to travel as far west as they could go, which turned out to be Victoria.
As was common for reporters, Mr. Hume and his family moved frequently once he became a journalist. He loved sports-writing as much as politics, believing sports to be “the arena for the working class,” Stephen Hume says.
Mr. Hume freelanced first, then went on to stints at newspapers in Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Penticton and Edmonton. He started at the Victoria Times in 1964.
His years there encompassed a divorce in the late 1970s, a second marriage in 1981, to Candide Temple, and the birth of their son, Nicholas, in 1982, when Mr. Hume was 58 and Ms. Temple was 38.
When Ms. Temple died in 1995 of pancreatic cancer, Mr. Hume was suddenly a single dad at 71. Young Nic was not yet 13.
Nic Hume remembers that even before his mother died, his father worked hard to balance parental and professional responsibilities. “But after her death, it became clear that raising me to adulthood was now the priority. I never felt I came second to his work.”
Journalists working alongside Mr. Hume in those decades recall a man who despised “pack journalism” and wasn’t shy about providing sharp but deserved criticism of any political coverage that he found underwhelming.
“I always felt that with Jim, journalism school was always open,” Mr. Palmer says.
Globe and Mail reporter Justine Hunter still appreciates Mr. Hume’s long-ago advice to do her own digging.
“The idea that you could go away from a scrum and make your own inquiries was something I took to heart,” Ms. Hunter says. “There was one piece of advice I did not take from Jim, however. Years back, I visited him with my fussy little newborn and his advice was to dip the baby’s soother in Scotch.”
Scotch comes up often in recollections of Mr. Hume, though as a younger man he spent many years as an abstaining Christadelphian.
Middle age brought a love of both Scotch and cigarettes. The latter led to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which likely contributed to his death from pneumonia.
The critical eye that Mr. Hume cast on political coverage extended to his own writing. His views on Indigenous issues shifted dramatically over time as the ugly history of residential schools emerged, his son Stephen says.
University of Victoria professor emeritus Hamar Foster recalls frequent wrangling in the late 1980s with Mr. Hume on his viewpoints. Twenty years later, Mr. Hume wrote “a most favourable review” of a book on aboriginal title co-edited by Mr. Foster.
Bob Plecas knew Mr. Hume through his own years as a B.C. bureaucrat and deputy minister. Mr. Hume’s years as a conscientious objector shaped a man so sure of his values that he could be considered a trusted friend even while publicly scrutinizing your work life, Mr. Plecas says.
Beyond political writing, Mr. Hume is noted for 12 years of volunteering as a crossing guard at St. Michaels University School, starting when his youngest son was in Grade 1 and continuing years after the boy had moved to the junior school.
He founded and led the Velox Rugby Club in 1969 after son Mark and his teenage friends asked for his help. In 1994, he received one of B.C.’s highest journalism honours, the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jack Webster Foundation.
A favourite memory of son Nic is being age 15 on a trip to Australia with his father. Wanting to linger on the Gold Coast with friends, Mr. Hume gave his son an allowance, warned him that he’d “call the cops” if he didn’t get a daily call, and sent the boy off on his own for several weeks to scuba dive at Cairns.
Nic Hume recalls that trip as significant not only for his first lessons in how to drink, but for the gift of his father’s trust.
Mr. Hume’s last blog post cast a critical eye on the war in Ukraine. Long-time friend and colleague Brian Kieran has helped edit the blog since Mr. Hume launched it in 2014 after the Times Colonist ended his column.
“He did not want to be the last person in B.C. to know it was time to hang up his quill,” Mr. Kieran recalled in his newsletter for former MLAs, Orders of the Day. “He asked us to edit him weekly, and be the first to tell him it was time to retire. We never came close.”