‘The Colonel’ salutes our Tanya Cull: kindly remembered

The Herald
The Herald

Fresh out of varsity, I clinched my dream job at The Herald — joining the newsroom as a junior reporter.

Being a creative type at school and winner of the Writing Cup in matric — plus, armed with a real degree from a genuine tertiary institution — I imagined that youth and qualifications bagged an obvious and successful career trajectory.

Which is why it was incumbent upon the senior journalists, led by the sharp-eyed, razor-witted and awesomely beautiful news editor’s secretary, Tanya Cull (then Keeling), to save me from myself.

Former colleague Sam Venter and I reminisced last week about the incident that shook me back to size and rerouted me towards a more level-headed approach to journalism.

I always arrived early — but never as early as Tanya, who ran the newsroom iron-fisted and humour-fuelled.

It was hard to tell who commanded more respect: my editor-in-chief, Ric Wilson, or the pint-sized girl who fielded a million news calls ranging from lost kitten announcements to international disaster stories being barked down the line as they happened.

While fielding, she was also shielding — our entire contingent of reporters, sub-editors, news editors and photographers were mentally pinned across the protective web she wove to ensure that we all knew where we needed to be, and when; and who to call if any of her charges got into trouble (which many of us did, as journalists do, when exposing gangsters or straying into line-of-sight during violent protests).

One morning, before I knew how detrimental my lazy, egotistical and laissez faire approach to journalism and personal safety was, Tanya tossed me a phone message marked urgent.

It was from Mount Road Police Station (I had just started working the crime beat) and I was to call Col Burger urgently about a story. She and Sam supposedly went about their business — Sam drafting important lead copy, and Tanya hustling the photographers to their jobs — while I phoned Col Burger.

The call was answered quickly with a chirpy “Good day, KFC!”, but still, pushing for my first break, and overwhelmed by the magnitude of a direct contact in the form of a local police colonel, I didn’t get it and still asked for Col Burger.

The chirpy staffer asked if I wanted the fries and coke special with my burger. “Darling, it was too funny,” Sam recalled. “Your face! Just classic.”

Our Tanya died suddenly several days ago, and my story is only one of hundreds. When those we love leave, we think of them kindly.

But there are some who seem to remain more indelibly than others, because they touched us in ways that few are able to do — with unconditional generosity and a unique understanding of how to love.

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