Saskatchewan·Point of View

'Canada's journalism community won't be the same': Remembering John Himpe

Life is short, and sometimes it's shorter than we ever could plan.

Himpe, a journalist who worked in Saskatchewan and Alberta, died Friday at 38 years old

Sam Maciag will remember John Himpe for the journalist, broadcaster and amazing friend he was. (Sam Maciag / CBC)

I think many of us have pondered how we might die when the time comes. Will it be cancer? Complications from diabetes or pneumonia? Maybe heart disease? But when you're 38 years old, in the prime of your life and career, you don't expect a brain aneurysm to cut your days short.

While you may not feel pain, or know that it's over, the shock it delivers to the people who knew and loved you is like a lightning bolt.

I met John Himpe in 2007. I can't remember exactly what brought us together, but I'd bet good money it had something to do with blogging or social media. We were both pretty early adopters of social media technology.

I remember the night we met. It was a comedy show at McNally's in Regina. There's a photo of us somewhere, perched awkwardly side-by-side, not knowing in that moment how much our lives would become intertwined.

John and I were fast friends. We liked the same TV shows and the same kind of music. We shared a deep interest in news, politics, pop culture and Scrabble. We played so much online Scrabble in those early days.

John's family was his number one priority. This photo was taken of them in Yorkton at Christmas in 2017. (John Himpe/ Facebook)

He would never take the credit, but John is the reason I work in radio. My connection to him helped me get a job as a board operator at CJME in 2008. It was that job that drew me into the magic of radio, convinced me to do a second degree in journalism and kept me with Rawlco Radio for 10 years.

John was one of my biggest cheerleaders and career advisors. I can't tell you how many of our conversations started with, "Hey, what do you think of this?"

John and I took several trips, shared many friends, went to so many concerts and live shows together. Foo Fighters, The Killers and Kanye West are just a few off the top of my head. The way he danced at Kanye is forever seared into my memory. He was a terrible dancer, but he didn't care because he was goofy and fun.

In 2013, through a weird twist of fate, John became my morning show co-host. We had a love-hate relationship with the situation. We are both Type-A personalities and struggled with the show's direction. To say we head-butted a lot would be an understatement, but we made some great radio, made an impact in the community and had so much fun working with Don Saxon and Warren Woods. 

I will never forget what a big deal it was for John to buy a new Rider jersey, how he hummed and hawwed about what to put on the back. In the end it was "Himpster" which was his nickname. (John Himpe / Facebook)

Our friendship suffered after John left Rawlco in 2015. I handled the situation poorly. I was so overwhelmed by my new role as host that I didn't support him the way I should have. He was hurt.

We spoke only occasionally for almost three years, but when I was later fired from CJME, John was one of the first people to reach out. He'd been there. He wanted to make sure I was OK. It was a baby step toward fixing things.

Less than a month later, when my parents pulled me along to Kelowna, B.C., to visit my brother, I called John as we passed through Calgary. He was working there as an executive producer for Global CHQR 770. We met at a Starbucks — his third home, after home and work— and he wrapped me up in the biggest hug.

It was like no time had gone by. We shared stories, apologized and laughed. We laughed so hard that he got to the teary, squeaky, gasping laugh that I'm going to miss so much. He also got in a bit of a visit with my parents, who had come to know him fondly.

I know in my heart of hearts that if things had not happened the way they did with my firing, that meeting in Calgary wouldn't have happened either. We may not have had the chance to make things right after so many years.

John died last Friday in a Calgary hospital after being kept on life support for several days. He was surrounded by the people who loved him most.

In the bigger picture, Canada's journalism community won't be the same without John. He was innovative, he was passionate and he was always in it to inform the public.

The reason so many people know who he was is not because he cared about his public profile. It was because of how hard he worked to make sure that good, engaging stories were told and that those in power were held to account. If you wanted to see John in his element, you watched him co-ordinate a live news conference or breaking news. 

In his private life, John was one of the funniest people I knew. He was a ring-leader in the best way, hosting many Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations for friends in his Saskatoon apartment, his mom's pastries and chocolate torte being big highlights of the culinary treats. John also introduced so many of us to Yorkshire puddings — a conduit for more gravy. 

He was also a world traveller. He had seen more of the world in his 38 years than most of us will in a lifetime. And because of the digital age, many of John's adventures will live on in YouTube and Instagram form.

John's last trip overseas took place over the New Year. He returned to his favourite place, Japan, to see his travel partner in crime and fellow Disney fanatic, Christopher. Their love of Disney took them to visit every Disney park in the world.

Nothing mattered to John more than his family. He spoke with his Mom every single day. He travelled back to Yorkton for every major holiday to be with them and spoke with pride about his sister's growing children and their accomplishments. 

Sunrises were among John's favourite things. He used to drop whatever he was doing before a show, run down to Saskatchewan Drive in Regina and snap the perfect picture. Every time he'd come back and say "this photo doesn't do this justice." 

On Saturday morning in Regina, there was the most glorious sunrise and the birds were chirping.

If I've learned anything from this, it's that you need to tell the ones you love that they matter to you. Life is short, and sometimes it's shorter than we ever could plan. I'll miss him so much.

About the Author

Samantha Maciag

Samantha Maciag is a journalist with CBC Saskatchewan and has worked in the media industry for more than a decade in Regina. Have a story idea? Email sam.maciag@cbc.ca. You can also follow Sam on Twitter: @sammaciag.

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