Whitehorse Daily Star

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REMEMBERED FOR HER STRENGTH OF CHARACTER – Jackie Pierce holds her great granddaughter Milah Stuckey in her Star office in May 2019. The veteran publisher died Wednesday at the age of 83.

Star’s pioneer publisher passes away at 83

Jackie Pierce, the Star’s owner and publisher since 2002, died Wednesday at Whitehorse General Hospital. She was 83.

By Whitehorse Star on March 3, 2023

Jackie Pierce, the Star’s owner and publisher since 2002, died Wednesday at Whitehorse General Hospital. She was 83.

Pierce’s ties to the newspaper go back more than half a century, and she blazed a unique trail in the Canadian newspaper industry.

In 1967, with two big dogs, a nine-year-old daughter and a toddler and baby, both in diapers, Pierce and her then-husband, Mike, made the move north from Hayward, Calif.

They drove the Alaska Highway in a ’65 International Scout and a flatbed truck with a hand-built camper on it. Destination: Alaska.

Along the way, they were held up in Whitehorse, awaiting the arrival of parts for their truck. There were job offers left and right, and the people were very friendly to the travellers.

When the truck was fixed, they carried on to Alaska. After about a week, they decided to return to the small Canadian town they fell in love with – Whitehorse, becoming landed immigrants several months later.

With a completely new lifestyle, using a wood stove and hauling water, they survived the first winter, and made Whitehorse home.

In 1972, with four kids at home and another winter coming, Pierce decided it was time to go to work.

She knocked on then-Star publisher Bob Erlam’s door and convinced him he needed her – and would not regret hiring her on the spot.

He added her phone number to the “hundreds and hundreds” of others he had written up on the wall, and she left the building thinking she would have to begin her job search once again the next day.

“I thought, ‘there’s no way this guy is going to hire me,’ ” she said.

Instead, she received a phone call the next day that saw her become the Star’s manager of advertising – the only person in the department at that time.

As the years passed, Erlam became a mentor as she watched him run the business. He passed on plenty of advice – which, admiringly, she didn’t always take.

He had his own way of telling people what he thought, Pierce said, recalling him saying at one time how much he could get done by coming to work at 5:30 a.m.

“That was his little hint,” she said.

As she told him at the time, she came into work on Saturdays. Through the week, she had to make sure her kids got to school, and she couldn’t make it to the paper until 8:45 a.m.

Suggestions were also made to the reporters, and in some cases, they were harsher than others.

In 1979, Pierce was offered a 25-per-cent share in the company.

In 1982, she took over as managing editor when Erlam and wife Rusty decided to move south, trusting Pierce with the day-to-day operation of the business.

Erlam was always supportive of Pierce’s decisions.

She recalled in the mid-1980s, as the economy was starting to pick up following the 1982 closure of the Faro lead-zinc mine, Erlam gave her the go-ahead to purchase $200,000 worth of computer equipment for the Star.

“We had to do something to keep up,” she said.

In 2002, Pierce bought out Erlam to become the only woman in Canada to be the sole owner/publisher of an independent Canadian daily at that time, when there was just a handful of independent dailies left in the country.

She had purchased a newspaper that’s been publishing in three different centuries.

Always hands-on, keeping up with ever-changing technological advances, Pierce was once told by a Star sales representative: “Jackie, you are the most tech-savvy great-gramma I’ve ever met!”

She had a lot to be proud of, grateful for the dedicated employees who kept everything going, even in the most difficult circumstances.

The Star has a handful of employees who have been on staff for 35 to 45 years.

The late newspaperwoman was always proud that the Star never missed an issue “come hell or high water”; the paper had to get out.

One day in the 1980s, that meant the pressman being long-distance on the phone to Chicago for several hours, trying to sort out the repairs to a breakdown. There was a Star that day, albeit late.

Pierce always viewed the task of delivering the current news and events to her community as a profound responsibility she never wavered from.

She liked to proudly boast about her large, growing family.

Her five children went on to add 16 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, most of whom still reside in Whitehorse.

In 2020, Pierce offered some reflections upon the paper’s 120th birthday.

“In my 48 years at the Whitehorse Star, I have seen six editors and countless reporters, advertising staff members, production personnel and paper boys and girls pass through our doors,” she said.

“I’ve been at the Star since 1972, and have gone through a few economic booms and busts over the years. Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is another one.

“As far as surviving goes, it’s been rough, but we’re doing our best under the circumstances, and, during this time, so is everyone else.

“I commend all of the employees at the Star for making it possible to stay safe at their jobs while continuing to put the newspaper on the street. They’ve all handled the COVID situation very well.”

As her immediate family describes her, Pierce was a strong, independent woman, determined to live life on her own terms, right to the end.

Jim Butler, who Pierce appointed as editor 35 years ago this month, said his easygoing relationship with the longtime publisher was one of the elements that has kept him with the company for 42 years.

“Like all editors with their publishers, I often pestered her for more resources for editorial purposes over the years, but I can honestly say we never had a major quarrel in all those 42 years,” he said Thursday.

“I worked with media managers with a very exaggerated sense of self-importance during my Quebec days, and it was a breath of fresh air to make the transition to someone who had no ego and was so down-to-Earth.

“We were always in complete agreement on the importance of publishing as much local news as possible for the community we serve, and in making Friday’s op-ed section a fiesty forum for a wide spectrum of sharply divergent views, no matter how we may have personally regarded those opinions.”

The Star family, Butler added, “is in mourning, because we’ve lost the type of true leader and strong, dedicated newspaperwoman you simply won’t see anymore in the evolving social media world of 2023.

“It takes absolute grit and determination to manage a company in such a turbulent industry, in such a remote and high-cost location, with so many incredible economic challenges in the territory over the decades.”

In a personal sense, Butler said, he always admired Pierce’s fierce devotion to her family, adding he will miss her unassailable sense of humour and their discussions of historic and contemporary U.S. presidential politics.

“We were so saddened to hear of Jackie’s passing,” Bob Erlam’s son, Paul, and his partner, Maryann Campbell, said Thursday.

“She was such a central figure in so many people’s lives. Proud matriarch of the entire Pierce clan, of course, but she also played a pivotal role at the Star.

“Over the years, she touched the lives of countless up-and-coming young people,” the couple added.

“Budding journalists, graphic designers, sales agents, pressmen … she gave them all a chance to learn and progress.

“We have so many great memories of working with Jackie back in the day … early mornings, late nights, bad coffee and lots of laughs.

“And always, Jackie projecting her calm but resolute, ‘let’s get this done by deadline’ vibe. I think we just thought she would be there forever.

“She will be missed by everyone who knew her.”

Former Star production manager Linda Burns began working with Pierce in the early 1970s.

“Jackie was from California and looked the part … some sort of hybrid hippie earth mother, laid-back Bay area girl,” Burns said today from Vancouver.

“She was a young mother with four of her five children by this point and a long braid down her back. Later, she cut her hair, and the intact braid hung above her desk at the Star for years.”

The pair would often lunch together at Mimi’s Pizza across from the old Star building on Main Street.

“She would amuse me with her stories of her teenage years when she worked in a carwash and hung out with a crowd her folks were not particularly fond of,” Burns recalled.

“I would often stop for coffee at her home at the Carcross Cutoff, which was fairly chaotic with kids and dogs and other pets running around. She shared tales of driving the Alaska Highway in the old International Scout full of kids and ‘throwing bottles into the back seat’ for them.”

In 1978, Burns and Pierce travelled to Honolulu together for a vacation.

“Despite having four sisters of my own, Jackie was an honourary fifth,” Burns said.

“Jackie became an owner of the Star and grew both the business and her family over the years. Counting partners, spouses and friends, our slow-pitch team always had enough players.”

Burns left the Yukon in 1988 and returned for a visit in 2009.

“I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Jackie,” she said. “It was just like old times … we picked up right where we left off.

“I will always remember Jackie fondly, and my heart goes out to her family and all who knew her,” Burns said.

Former Yukon News owner Stephen Robertson and his late father, Dave, were “friendly rivals” of the Star for many years.

“It is the end of a very long and admirable career in a very difficult and challenging industry in what is often a very difficult and challenging community,” Stephen said today.

“In business, we competed vigourously, but I have great respect for Jackie’s endurance in the newspaper business.”

The Star was founded in 1899 by the publisher of the Bennett Sun, Percy Scharshmidt.

Upon the completion of the White Pass and Yukon Route railway from Carcross to Whitehorse, he was prompted to move to Whitehorse, which became the transportation hub of the North.

Although he published both the Star and the Sun at the same time, the Sun finally ceased to exist.

Bob Erlam died in 2009.

The 123-year-old Star will continue to be owned and operated by the Pierce family.

Illegitimus non carborundum.

Comments (18)

Up 4 Down 0

Groucho d'North on Mar 9, 2023 at 9:24 am

I will echo Mr. Alcock's comments and add my praise to Jackie and the leadership of the Whitehorse Star for providing a platform for the average citizen to voice their opinions and concerns about what they feel is important. In a time when media is being bought by governments to manage the message and speak no evil, I admire those who demonstrate what real journalism is by providing a forum for unbridled discussion of the days' events as reported.
Rest well Ms. Pierce, I have every confidence that the Whitehorse Star will continue to follow your lead and ensure the Yukon community has a voice in matters important to them.

My most profound condolences to the Pierce family and Jackie's many friends and associates. She was an inspiration in many ways.

Up 4 Down 2

SH on Mar 7, 2023 at 2:07 pm

Condolences to the family.

Great article - thanks for sharing.

Up 25 Down 5

Al Alcock on Mar 6, 2023 at 1:11 pm

Thank you Jackie for maintaining an independent newspaper. Unlike some of our media, the Star always has allowed the presentation of all points of view and made great efforts not to take political sides. In this day and age that takes a great deal of courage. You and Jim made a great team!

You have been stellar member of our community and I thank you. Rest assured your memory will continue on.

Up 21 Down 4

Christopher Wheeler on Mar 6, 2023 at 12:58 pm

Very saddened to hear of Jackie's passing. Having worked at the Star many years ago, I remember her fondly as a tough, hard-working and fair minded person. I never had cause to regret my decision to work for her at that wonderful newspaper where reporting the news really was considered a privilege and a responsibility. My condolences to her family, her friends, and all who knew her. I can't help but feel that this town will be the poorer for her passing.

Up 24 Down 4

Geof Harries on Mar 6, 2023 at 9:50 am

When I first met Jackie in the late 90s, she scared me,

After a few more encounters, I realized she was instead a warm and generous soul, and it was merely her confidence that had first unnerved me. That confidence, a beautiful smile and a mischievous sparkle in her eye; Jackie was one of a kind.

I built 3 versions of the Whitehorse Star website, including the one I’m typing this comment into today. Through these experiences, I’d like to think Jackie and I became friends, I always looked forward to seeing her at the Star office, sometimes simply to chat and other times, to talk business and figure stuff out together,

Thanks Jackie for everything, You were and will always remain a special and talented woman.

Up 24 Down 3

Carla Nowasad on Mar 6, 2023 at 6:46 am

Michelle Pat and the entire Whitehorse Star Family
I was so sorry to hear of Jackie's passing. She was a trailblazer for women who were entering the workforce in the early 80s a role model.

I worked at the Whitehorse Star in the early 90s was proud to be part of the WS.. went on to work at another newspaper down south.

Jackie will be missed....

Up 27 Down 3

a frequent commenter on Mar 5, 2023 at 11:30 pm

Thank you, Jackie Pierce. The Whitehorse Star is a gem and the real deal. You gave a lot to the Yukon.

Up 24 Down 3

maura zigler on Mar 4, 2023 at 1:05 pm

Jackie was my first cousin. I remember her as a teenager. Her and Mike used to babysit me and my 3 brothers. I remember when they left for Alaska. I thought they were crazy. We came through Whitehorse about 10 years ago and I looked her up at the newspaper. We wanted to surprise her but someone spilled the beans but what fun reminiscing!

Up 24 Down 2

Patty O'Brien on Mar 4, 2023 at 10:17 am

My deepest condolences to the Pierce family, she will be sorely missed by many. We need more like her in this world so I'm glad Jackie had a large and growing family. She gave me so many opportunities to shine and I will be forever grateful to her and thankful our lives crossed paths. It's scary now as, in the past, whenever I hit "Submit" my words and opinions would reach Jackie first. She was an outspoken woman, a strong businesswoman and a mentor. I'll miss her.

Up 21 Down 2

John - with a J on Mar 4, 2023 at 6:41 am

A true pioneer. RIP Jackie and thanks for everything you did for Whitehorse, you will be missed.

Up 19 Down 2

Michael McCormick on Mar 3, 2023 at 9:23 pm

Condolences to the Pierce family and all the current and former staff of the Whitehorse Star.

A profound loss for all.

Up 21 Down 4

Shirly Jacquelyn Ambrose on Mar 3, 2023 at 9:14 pm

So sorry for her family and many friends and close employees. She was an amazing woman. I loved how she introduced herself to the owner in 1972...and later the braided trophy on her office wall. This article will go down as one of the very most colorful and interesting Star stories of all time. And thank you Jackie for allowing the opinions and comments from everyone no matter how unpopular in changing and troubled times.

Up 21 Down 3

Sibell Hackney on Mar 3, 2023 at 8:18 pm

In the early 70's I worked with Jackie typesetting and ad layout when we actually did cut and paste. I admired her calm, her warm laugh, and ability to sell ads to fill our quota while being a devoted family woman with admirable resilience. It was a privilege to meet the deadlines as a team with Jackie and she will be missed. She embodied the motto: Illegitimus non carborundum.
My deepest condolences to Jackie's family and "The Star" family.

Up 22 Down 3

Rick VanSickle on Mar 3, 2023 at 5:59 pm

A very sad day as I heard word of the death of Jackie Pierce, the longtime publisher of the Whitehorse Star and the only woman in Canada to be the sole owner/publisher of an independent Canadian daily at that time (2002), when there was just a handful of independent dailies left in the country. I worked for Jackie at my first newspaper job. She took a chance on me and I was hired for to help run the presses while I worked to achieve my ultimate goal as a news reporter. I eventually became head pressman (and later a reporter). Jackie would go on to purchase the newspaper from the Erlam family and was publisher and owner until she passed away earlier this week. She was an amazing woman; taking in stragglers like me and many others, giving them an opportunity and mentoring them to do better. She wasn't so much as a boss, but more of a friend, de facto mother. At Christmas if you had nowhere to go, her home was always an open invitation. If you left the paper to seek other opportunities you were always welcome back into the fold. She was fair as a publisher, straddling the line of advertising and editorial and always making the right call. Jackie understood the separation of church and state and pretty much left editorial alone to do their job even if it meant an advertiser would not be happy. She was also tough when she had to be. My heart goes out to the entire Star family, many of them still at the paper (Chuck, Jim, Pat etc.) since I left in 1985 (for the third time!). And her large extended family, many of whom I worked with when I was still there. I last saw Jackie in 2009 during a reunion of our softball team. She was cheering from the sidelines, as she often did in the early 80s. I tried to visit Jackie this past summer when I visited the newsroom during a trip there. Sadly, she wasn't coming to the office that often and I regret not going to the Carcross Cutoff (where she lived for decades) to say how much she meant to me. A great one has left us, but her memory, her accomplishments and her smile will live on forever. RIP Jackie.

Up 23 Down 5

Josey Wales on Mar 3, 2023 at 5:48 pm

Condolences to the Pierce family on the passing of Jackie a very fair and fine lady.
She was the best moderator in any media, nothing but fair allowing on her platform the diversity of thought and opinions.
Her fairness will be dearly missed and I truly appreciate the WDS family incubating free thinking.

A value sorely void in our once fine country.

Rest In Peace Jackie, thank you very much for everything... OJW.

Up 22 Down 4

Matthew on Mar 3, 2023 at 5:03 pm

Great Yukon story!

Up 23 Down 4

Mark on Mar 3, 2023 at 4:58 pm

A wonderful history and tribute.

Up 23 Down 4

Teresa Wilts on Mar 3, 2023 at 4:40 pm

My heart goes out to Jackie's family. I worked at the Star for a couple of summers in the 1970s and I remember Jackie with fondness. She was always so kind to the "kids".

With sympathy,
Teresa (Gilbert) Wilts

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