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Losing a dedicated writer and kind friend

Friends and colleagues remember the bred-in-the-bone writer, and a warm and gracious friend.
Chris Zdeb was a devoted mom and grandmother, visiting with her three sons whenever she could. Photo submitted

Alberta Prime Times, and all of Edmonton's journalism community, lost a talented and dedicated writer a few weeks ago. The sudden passing of Chris Zdeb, 67, leaves a void for our paper, where Chris has been a regular freelance contributor since 2016. Her features have been many and varied, covering everything from the Fort McMurray wildfires, advance care planning and senior's driving issues, to man-on-the-street interviews and chats with Santa or the surfing Rabbi.

A theme emerged when speaking to those who knew and worked with Chris: Warm, kind, curious, considerate. A talented wordsmith. And surely, she was all those things. In her 35-year-plus career at the Edmonton Journal, Chris covered city hall, crime, health and was an assignment editor before finishing up at the paper in 2016 writing a 'This Day in History' segment.

Whatever the subject, Chris had a way to find the humanity in the story, and often the humour. A former colleague recalled a story Chris once wrote about factory workers and issues with management around use of an employee bathroom. Chris' lede? 'To Pee or Not to Pee. That is the Question.'

Fellow Alberta Prime Times freelancer Gary Poignant remembers Chris from back in the day, as a "great reporter and an even better person. As competing crime reporters back in the early 1980s (she was Journal and I was Sun) I recall how Chris' low-key, friendly demeanour was quite successful when vying for trauma-related quotes from strangers."

Former Journal staffer Willy Grant also recalls Chris' compassionate side, describing her as a "class act. She always had a kind word for everyone; always willing to help. She will be deeply missed by her former colleagues."

Edmonton city councillor Scott McKeen said "In my 24 years at The Edmonton Journal Chris stands out as one of the really good ones. Journalism can be overly egotistical and competitive. Me? Guilty. So it was such a blessing to work with someone like Chris who was kind, funny and interested in how I was doing ... not as a journalist, but as a person, a dad, a husband.

"Though I haven't seen Chris in ages, I'll miss her. Too few people in this world are so naturally interested in making another person's day better. She did that for me on too many days to count," he said.

Chris was more than a writer, of course. She was a mom, grandmother and--not as well known--a great cook. Kathy Engman, a former Edmonton Journal colleague, knew Chris as a 'bred-in-the-bone' writer, but as a friend too. The pair's kids knew each other while they were growing up, and Engman knew well Chris' talents in the kitchen.

"She was a devoted mom and 'babcia', and a stellar friend--we talked constantly during the pandemic. But no one mentions what a gourmet cook she was. I mean delicacies like Peking Duck and of course, the Polish Wigilia, twelve meatless courses for Christmas Eve. She was a proud Polish-Canadian," Engman said.

Good friend and former Journal colleague Cathy Lord called Chris an "excellent cook, birthday cake-baker and decorator. One time when I went over to Chris' west-end house for brunch, she put out a feast fit for royalty--pancakes, frittata, sausages, cinnamon buns, fruit bowl--you get the idea. It was as if a group of chefs had whipped up the meal."

"And Chris was like an oasis in the (at times) stressful newsroom. In our later years there, she was anchored at her desk with her plants and piled-high resource materials and it was nice to visit when we could catch a breather for a minute or two," Lord recalled. "Chris had the gift of the gab and was also a good listener." 

"I was looking forward to seeing her now that COVID-19 restrictions had eased up. It's going to take time to get over it, if you ever really do."

See obituary in the August issue of Alberta Prime Times.