Tuesday May 21, 2013
Requiem For BevBill Annett Salem-News.com
I came to know Bev when she was launching her first high-tech publication...
(DAYTONA BEACH, FL) - Better journalists have written Bev Giesbrecht's story over the past two or three years. In Toronto's Globe and Mail, in Vancouver Magazine, on the CBC. It is a very unusual story about an extraordinary Canadian woman. What follows is my personal footnote, a private memoir from – and for - those of us who knew her and were her friends.
Bev Giesbrecht grew up in the interior of B.C., and hers was not an easy childhood. I know very little detail, but I do know that at 15, a high school drop-out, she was on the street in Vancouver, with all that implies. If you know Vancouver's downtown east side, you know what I mean. She knew childbirth before she was 17; she knew all there was to know about street life long before that.
Somehow, beginning with a mundane job in the retail business, she surprised everyone including herself by attaining unusual success as a sales and marketing entrepreneur, almost overnight. A short time later she entered the print media business at the local level in Vancouver, becoming a writer, editor and publisher of periodicals in rapid succession. Because of her grasp, her reach, she bestrode and overcame incidental constraints and limitations such as English composition, business smarts, social and political savvy and, later, the world of high technology. She overcame any and every obstacle that confronted her because of her intense capacity for commitment - and absolute confidence in her own capability and drive.
I came to know Bev in the early Nineties when she was launching her first high-tech publication, and she took me on as her editor, staff writer and general gofer. Between us, we wrote and edited the whole book, sometimes with smoke and mirrors and a clutch of pseudonyms on my part and Bev's unrelenting guts. She promoted the magazine principally in the tech-heavy markets of Salem, Portland, Spokane, Seattle and Vancouver. At one time we even maintained a Portland branch office, where I occasionally operated while she ran the store in Vancouver.
Her clientele mushroomed out of that population, which combined the academic-commercial-industrial complex. Bev became their touchstone, their advocate and, unbelievably, their consultant. Don't ask me how, but she came to embrace and acquire an intuitive sense for the high tech world, just as naturally as she had assimilated the world of journalism and, before that, had absorbed women's apparel and the retail industry. All with no academic, professional or commercial background. Nada. She did it with some kind of innate osmosis.
By the mid-Nineties, she had taken this medium which she had created, and moved to pioneer online with it as a catalyst, producing a virtual magazine, becoming a technology guru, website developer and consultant. Her tech clientele went with her, and so did I, helping out in my tech-challenged, limited capacity with the editing and writing that was part of the equation. Bev Giesbrecht, the highschool drop-out from a hick town in the interior of B.C., the rare but successful graduate of Vancouver's skid row, was now listened to and respected by computer specialists, multi-media experts, Ph. D. theorists and university professors.
That was the gee-whiz Bev Giesbrecht that the world – at least in the Pacific Northwest – came to know. A single cameo will illustrate: I remember once watching her at a formal dinner at the Hotel Vancouver, talking head-to-head with a Nobel Laureate (rare indeed in British Columbia) and inwardly shaking my head in amazement.
But there was another, a private Bev, the product of her environment, who had a penchant for abrupt confrontation, spirited and instantaneous opposition and reversal. The street kid who was a follower of Dr. Charles Stanley, the Atlanta evangelist; the skid row waif who had become a born-again Christian.
Her friends believe that the final segue came about when a major symposium she was staging in Seattle – her “E-SYS for Aerospace Manufacturers,” in which she had invested heavily, was canceled, perhaps because of – because coinciding with - the traumatic events of 9/11. Abruptly Bev, the born-again Christian, turned immediately and totally to embrace the Islamic faith, and swung all her media effort and clout into the advocacy of a world that she knew absolutely nothing about, but which she hoped might be better understood by her own culture, and therefore accepted as the aspirations of Islamic activists. She changed her name, her spiritual life, her costume, her website. Her new online publication became known as “Jihad Unspun.”
In 2007, Bev applied for and got a passport and visa with the express purpose of traveling, of connecting with Al Jazeera, of writing, of becoming the self-appointed interpreter of Islam to the Western World. Or so it appeared. No one, perhaps, has fully understood her true motivation, or hubris, least of all me. To the busy skeptics who have concerned themselves with theorizing that she was a tool of the CIA, I have no answer but upturned palms. Bev's entire life was an improbability. Which suggests, but fails to explain, her greatness.
More than a year later, deep in the mountains of Pakistan north of Peshawar, she was kidnapped by a group of brutal animals who may have been members of the Taliban, who may have been Al Qaeda followers, or who may simply have sought what they believed to be the opportunity of achieving ransom from an affluent and naïve Canadian nation.
For more than two years, Coop, Bev's companion and partner, worked tirelessly to obtain information about her whereabouts and her captors, to bring about any possible resolution, while Pakistani envoys wrung their hands and offered contrition and Canadian bureaucrats shuffled papers and disclaimed responsibility.
Bev must have endured unspeakable hunger, pain, god-knows-what physical agony, and the bone-chilling discomfort that brought on pneumonia and hepatitus, not to mention the unspeakable desolation of confinement, mostly in a single cell. Eventually, her end was inevitable.
We, her friends, can only take small comfort from the fact that Bev, the ultimate survivor, had the stuff to surrender her survival with the superhuman stamina that had characterized her life. Until that end, when it happened, she had sought only a kind of service, a kind of compensation given back as an immolation to a world which – in response to her 50 years of energy and commitment - had dealt her so very little.
A final footnote: she was a gourmet cook, a consummate conversationalist and a marvelous hostess.
Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.
At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.
He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.
Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.
You can write to Bill Annett at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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