Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Remembering Mark Nichols, pioneer of Maclean's technology and science coverage

Mark Nichols was a highly respected magazine journalist, known best for his writing about science, who died recently and is being remembered by friends and family with a reception at his family's home on Thursday night, September 29 at 621 St. Clarens Avenue, Toronto (for further information write to macleod[at]stauber-nichols[dot]ca.) 
Nichols worked as a writer for Canadian Press, Reuters, Time Canada and later Maclean's in the 1970s, then for a time at the Imperial Oil Review and returned to Maclean's where he was section editor of Canada news and, later, technology and science. We asked former Maclean's managing editor and editor-in-chief Bob Lewis for a recollection. 
There really wasn't an assignment that Mark could not handle or a subject that he could not distill into a silken narrative. He wrote about politics, business and the arts with aplomb. In 1990 we sent him to Rio to cover the Earth Summit, and he launched the magazine into sustained coverage of the environment, culminating in a 30-page report in 1992 that was scheduled to be on the cover--but got bounced because of the election of Bob Rae as the first NDP premier of Ontario. 
Mark also pioneered a Maclean's beat as Technology and Science editor in 1993, shortly after I became editor-in-chief.  By April of 1996, he had written 13 cover stories and countless other articles, always with a clarity and perception that defied the complications of his original material. His subjects ranged from dinosaurs and disappearing forests to breast cancer and the mysteries of aging. If at times he was enigmatic, he was a total professional, always well versed in the subject at hand because he worked hard to master the story. As he noted in an editor's note: "Science stories can be tricky because you have to dig into abstruse scholarly studies and try to come to terms with the terminology, the concepts involved and the ifs, buts and maybes."
Later, he led the reporting/writing team that produced the annual Maclean's health report, done in partnership with the Canadian  Institute for Health Information. In 1999 a 16-page feature compared health outcomes surveyed by CIHI in communities across the country, a thicket of data that Mark waded into and wove into a telling portrait of the places with the "best" and "worst" health care.
In the spring of 1999, he concluded after completing a special report on men's health: "Men need to do a much better job of looking after themselves--by eating better, getting fitter and quitting cigarettes." By then, he was following his own advice. In a cover story on obesity, he observed: "Getting fat is a curse of our affluent era." In 2000 he explored the future potential of human genomes, part of a 13-page cover package on the medicine of tomorrow. In 1997, in a cover story on aging called "Forever young", Mark observed: "The quest for eternal youth is an ancient one. The question now is whether the modern seekers have found a hormonal solution, or are merely pursuing a false dream like their predecessors." At the time, he was 60.
Globe and Mail death notice



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice job, Bob. I was remembering a picture of Mark and Malcolm Gray taken years ago for some editorial in Maclean’s and thinking how fitting it was that no photo accompanied this obit. Mark so hated to have his picture taken that the awful two-shot only made it as far as the bulletin board labelled, “Butch and Sundance, the Desperate Years”. I still laugh when I think of it.

12:44 pm  

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