A Fortunate Life: Interview with Rosemary Tanner

As we had planned, Rosemary Tanner and I had lunch together in Floradale, a small village west of Elmira, Ontario, at Bonnie Lou’s Café in what was once Ruggle’s General Store and Post Office (1883). It’s a quaint place that kept the existing shelving and old tables—our table was the base of an old treadle sewing machine.

We’ve missed Rosemary’s voice since she retired in 2018. She engages in volunteer work as she did with the association, only now it’s in her community of Mount Forest or driving cancer patients for their treatments in Kitchener-Waterloo. She says, “I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel, fortunate to have joined the Editors’ Association of Canada, and fortunate to enjoy good health.”

Back in the ’80s, Rosemary and her husband decided to move from the city. At that time, she was employed at the University of Toronto, doing research and working on biology papers. The organization then known as the Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada (FEAC) offered an indexing workshop that she thought could be useful in her job, so she took the class. She realized that the work she was doing was called editing, and joined FEAC. When she moved in 1988, she was hesitant to ask others for help setting up a freelancing business, but they were willing to offer direction. She appreciated that help and says, “That’s likely why I got into mentoring. To give back.”

In the early 1990s, the president of the Editors’ Association of Canada asked her to serve on the executive, and she gave herself a push to try something new. She was the professional development chair for one year, treasurer for two, and president for two years. In her term as president, she and her team got the first email list going for the general membership, and then one for the executive.

Rosemary’s educational background is in biology and geology, and she’s still keen to learn about those areas. She cites one textbook project on natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and how they happen. She found it fascinating. She was also asked to work on a report after the water crisis in Walkerton, in which she encountered tables on livestock units and how much manure they produce. We chuckle over anyone wanting to quantify such a product.

Another project of interest was the Universe on a T-shirt manuscript. The publisher asked the author to cut the manuscript from 80,000 words to 50,000 and take out the whole first chapter. Rosemary says that first chapter was essential to lay the ground for the rest of the material. She asked the author to negotiate a larger word count and she’d do her best to “whittle words.” The author was granted a 60,000-word limit and Rosemary whittled. In a review in The Globe and Mail, the reviewer said the book was “tightly written.”

Over lunch we talk about how the field of editing has changed during the years she was working in it. When she started, printed pages were sent to her by FedEx or Purolator; she’d mark up the hard copy with coloured pens and Post-it notes and send it back to the publisher by the same service. She mentions layout on paper with wax, a process that I’m not familiar with. After hard copy delivery came floppy discs: the projects came on the discs and, after editing, the document was again saved to the floppy and sent back. Quite a change from what we see now, where most often the document is sent by email or a cloud storage system like Dropbox. Rosemary says, “Don’t be afraid to retire.” She enjoys a slower pace now; she can take her time about tasks and get up later if she chooses. And on days like this, she can enjoy lunch with a friend and take all the time she wishes.

Carolyn Wilker

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