Elaine O’Farrell, 1961-2022: “feared and revered” speechwriter and ex-editor

“She lived life to the extreme, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love her.”

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Despite her short stature – “Five feet and a figure”, she used to say – Elaine O’Farrell was blessed with an outsized personality and wit, a gregarious firecracker and storyteller who lit up rooms when she entered, always leaving them with more friends. only when he arrived.

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A former journalist and editor for, among others, the Ottawa Citizen, the Province of Vancouver, the Edmonton Sun, the St. Albert Gazette and Maclean’s magazine, and most recently a speechwriter at Health Canada, O’Farrell died on February 19 in a drowning accident while snorkeling among stingrays in the Caribbean Sea off Puerto Morelos, Mexico, south of Cancun, where she was vacationing with her family. A celebration of life will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at the British Hotel in Aylmer/Gatineau.

“She lived to the limit,” says her husband, Doug Hoover, “and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love her.”

Even as a youngster, Ottawa-born O’Farrell knew she wanted to be a journalist, telling her family and Grade 2 classmates at Hawthorne Public School about her plans. After graduating from Canterbury High School, she attended Carleton University School of Journalism, where she graduated with honors.

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It was while working as a journalist in Edmonton in 1990 that she met Doug Hoover, an equally gregarious law student at the University of Alberta. The couple announced their engagement three weeks later and married in 1991, on the summer solstice. They then moved to the Ottawa area, where their two daughters, Samantha and Zoe Hoover, were born.

In 1994, O’Farrell established the company Wordstruck Communications, providing speeches and other written materials to many government departments. In 2011, she joined Natural Resources Canada as a Senior Speechwriter, then joined Health Canada as a Senior Communications Strategist and Speechwriter in 2014. She worked at Health Canada until her death. .

As editor, she was both feared and revered, earning her the nicknames ‘Little Hitler’, ‘Pen Elaine’ (she was a Beatles fan) and ‘The Irish Butcher’.

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Outside of work, she was an avid reader, especially of contemporary fiction.

“The greatest gift I ever gave him was when I built a nine-foot floor-to-ceiling bookcase with a rolling bookcase ladder,” Doug recalls. “It made him cry.”

The gift, he jokes, wasn’t entirely altruistic: it helped declutter the house from the many piles of books and was a reminder that regularly lifted him out of bad books on occasions when he fell out of favor. with his wife.

“It’s been a get out of prison card for 15 years.”

Passionate about gardening, kayaking and cycling, her favorite activity was simply going out to meet friends and make new ones.

“She would walk into a room and go out with 10 new friends,” Doug says, “and she would stay in touch with them.”

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Elaine O'Farrell, right, with her children Samantha Hoover, left, and Zoe Hoover, center.
Elaine O’Farrell, right, with her children Samantha Hoover, left, and Zoe Hoover, center. Photo by photo provided /courtesy of Doug Hoover

She also loved music, live and recorded. He played wherever she was, and she frequently attended gigs and introduced friends to musicians and bands they didn’t know, including the Bahamas, Reuben and the Dark, Jim Bryson, and Whitehorse.

“Music was a very important part of our friendship,” says Danica Steadman, O’Farrell’s best friend. “We went to shows in all kinds of places and we had epic dance parties in the kitchen. Sometimes there were only two or four of us, but that didn’t stop us. And she was playing a mean air guitar.

“But you can’t be as funny and as quick to laugh as her without wearing your heart on your sleeve,” Steadman adds. “People who are like that are often quick to cry, and she was no exception. Even saying, ‘Are you not going to cry anymore?’ would make her cry, not out of sadness, but because she was grateful and proud.

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She was also thoughtful, Steadman says. “She was always thinking of her friends. I love Food & Wine magazine, and every season I found it in my mailbox.

What bothered O’Farrell was the food that wasn’t spicy — her office at Health Canada wasn’t littered with pens, but bottles of hot sauce — and people were posting pictures of her on social networks that she did not initially OK . She also hated semicolons, backslashes, and titles and subject lines without verbs.

“The reporter in her never died,” says Erin Seller, a friend and O’Farrell’s manager at Health Canada. “His dedication to history never died.

“And I always hated editing or revising his speeches because I always thought I was just making mistakes.”

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She was never punctual, nor concerned about it, and could instinctively tell when Doug, in an effort to be on time, lied to her about when they were expected at a party.

“We would have big parties at our house, and she would be 45 minutes late coming down the stairs.”

Mackenzie Scott describes her aunt Elaine as a mentor who encouraged her own career as a journalist and her recent move to study communications.

“She had a charismatic personality that made you just want to talk to her. She was a storyteller who brought that to everything she did, and even in my classes now, I want to text her and ask her things. .

“And she and Uncle Doug weren’t just married,” Scott adds. “They were still so in love in their 60s, like they were in their 30s, and you could tell. This is definitely the type of relationship I would like.

It was definitely the type of relationship Doug and Elaine wanted. “I had it for 30 years,” Doug says. “Three hundred wouldn’t have been enough. I was very lucky, hitting well above my weight class.

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