By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
If you have followed Ottawa’s municipal political scene over the last few decades, chances are you’ve read the work of Susan Sherring.
The longtime Barrhaven resident and former Ottawa Sun columnist was found dead in her home on Saturday, July 23.
Michael McSweeney, well known in Ottawa’s political landscape, shared the news on Twitter Sunday afternoon.
“Terrible news this morning. Susan Sherring, long time Ottawa journalist, passed away,” he wrote. ‘She was found yesterday by her son Peter. All her friends will be shocked and tremendously saddened. She loved Ottawa politics. Rest In Peace Sue. You will be sorely missed.”
Sherring graduated from Carleton University’s journalism program in 1982 (she was there at the same time as Mayor Jim Watson) and landed a job at the Ottawa Sun two years later. That’s where she stayed for over three decades, accepting a buyout in 2016.
The political junkie from Arnprior grew up in Parkwood Hills and attended Merivale High School. After finding herself in retirement, she always hoped to make a comeback, and launched a blog called “On The City, From The Burbs.”
“There was sort of that desire to continue to have a voice,” Sherring told OttawaStart.com in November 2017. “I think there’s always a good reason to have more local voices.”
When Ottawa politicians wanted to break news stories, they talked to Sherring: She had a wide range of sources, and was the first to report about the Ottawa Carleton District School board spending $51,000 to investigate the behavior of Barrhaven Trustee Donna Blackburn. She also wrote about a local storm water pond, and the concerns it brought to aviation safety.
When scandals broke surrounding alleged misconduct by College ward councillor Rick Chiarelli, Sherring was the first to report he wasn’t resigning from office.
Her access to information scared many local politicians, who knew that if Sherring was calling, she must have found some dirt. When she’d run after the Mayor with microphone in hand, press secretaries were never far behind.
Former Ottawa Citizen journalist David Reevely summed up Sherring best: “A gruff, cranky, old-school journalist with the softest heart,” he wrote on Twitter.
Sherring had a heart of gold, mentoring young journalists who she saw potential in. After launching her blog, she gave a few young journalists — including myself — the platform to share views. It didn’t matter if the work was good or not; she just wanted to help the next generation of journalists in a struggling industry.
Active in all aspects of the municipal political scene, Sherring ran for city council in Gloucester-South Nepean in 2014. She came in third place with 17 per cent of the vote, with 1,854 ballots cast under her name.
At the time Sherring said her experience covering city hall as both a reporter and columnist made her want to run for council. Many regular readers of her work urged the Barrhaven resident to put her name on the ballot. Opportunity presented itself when Steve Desroches kept his promise of running for only two terms. In the end the seat went to Michael Qaqish.
“Fiscal prudence is a cornerstone of my campaign and I think I have a well-deserved reputation as someone who asks the tough questions and gets the answers,” Sherring wrote in the Ottawa Business Journal. “I am committed to analysis before decisions are made and meaningful monitoring afterwards.”
“We need city hall to pay attention not only to the bottom line – but also to careful oversight, especially when it comes to major projects,” she added. “We need to make sure that transparency includes the ability to get real-time accurate updates of projects as they proceed. This is especially important for LRT – the most expensive city-building project to date.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Sherring wrote in an Ottawa Sun column that she thought it would be a no-brainer to live in isolation. Despite being a social person, she enjoyed alone time. But those feelings didn’t last long, and by the fall Sherring felt the itch to do more.
She went back to school — in her 60’s — to earn another journalism degree from Carleton University. She was the oldest in her class by far, but she enjoyed learning from the young, up and coming future journalists of the world. And chances are she taught them a thing or two as well.
Because of her writing talent, in January 2021 Sherring had the chance to write for the Ottawa Sun again. She shared the news over Twitter with a little kick to Ottawa’s Mayor, whom she’s had a feud with for decades.
“A belated Christmas gift for @JimWatsonOttawa and his city councillors, I’m returning to @ottawasuncom with a weekly city column later this month,” she Tweeted. “So excited!”
Messages Of Condolences
The news of Sherring’s sudden death has rocked the Ottawa media community hard with many journalists around the city sharing their memories of Sue.
“This is terribly sad. Susan never failed to call things as they were,” CBC journalist Judy Trinh said on Twitter. “She hated spin and let you know it. Condolences to her family.”
Globe and Mail bureau chief Rob Fife said: “Very sad news. A fine journalist and a good hearted individual with a wonderful sense of humour.”
And former CBC Ottawa News anchor Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld wrote a memory saying: “She was also kind. When Sue was a panelist for us at CBC during one municipal election, she said she was planning to use the bit of extra cash to buy sweet shoes. High heels in bright colours.”
She did love shoes. And gardening too.
Ottawa Politicians have also posted to Twitter to share their condolences.
“I had the privilege of working with Sue at the Ottawa Sun for nearly a decade,” said Innes ward councillor Laura Dudas. “As a journalist, she never shied away from digging until she uncovered the real story. Her columns were lessons in civics and dripping in wit. My condolences to her loved ones.”
Orleans Member Provincial of Parliament, and former city councillor, Stephen Blais said: “This is very sad news indeed. Sue spent her career informing (Ottawa: residents about their local democracy, always keeping Ottawa City Hall on its toes. Rest In Peace.”
Sherring leaves behind her two boys who were her world. She was 63.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.