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Barbara Turnbull remembered as trailblazer, ‘beautiful writer’

Toronto Star journalist Barbara Turnbull was remembered at her funeral Saturday as a “beautiful writer” and a trailblazing activist for people with disabilities.

CBC’s Trevor Dunn said hundreds of friends, family, colleagues and admirers turned out to St. James Cathedral for Turnbull, who died Sunday of complications related to pneumonia at age 50.

Turnbull had been writing and reporting for the Star since 1990, with her byline most often found in the Life section of the newspaper.

Barbara Turnbull funeral

Hundreds of people turned out for the funeral of Toronto star journalist Barbara Turnbull. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

Turnbull was a high school student working a night shift at a convenience store in Mississauga, Ont., on Sept. 23, 1983, when she was shot in the throat during a robbery. The bullet shattered her fourth vertebra and left her a quadriplegic.

She spent several weeks on life support and over a year in hospital and rehabilitation facilities.

Turnbull’s fight to recover from the shooting resonated across the Toronto region, and about $ 175,000 was raised for her recovery, which supplemented the maximum allowable provincial award at the time for victim of a crime — a $ 7,500 lump sum payment and $ 500 per month for the rest of her life.

Important advocate

Turnbull by 1985 was planning on postsecondary education, having learned how to operate telephones and computers with a mouth device.

Mary Deanne Shears, the former Star managing editor who hired Turnbull, said her colleagues had to help her transcribe notes and with other tasks.

Toronto Star journalist Barbara Turnbull

Barbara Turnbull died on Sunday. (

“Over time of course, with technology she could write about as quickly as anyone else, and she was a beautiful writer,” Shears said.

Shears told the assembled mourners that Turnbull was a great journalist. “She possessed a writing voice imbued with a passion that came through in her work,” she said. 

Dunn said people he talked to called Turnbull a trailblazer and one of the city’s most important advocates for people with disabilities. 

“She really put a face to the potential for people with disabilities,” friend Luke Anderson said. 

Her autobiography, Looking in the Mirror, was published in 1997, with more than half of the proceeds going towards spinal cord research.

She would go on to champion issues of accessibility and the use of medicinal marijuana, although she admitted in a 2006 speech that for many years she was reluctant to be considered an activist, until eventually embracing the role.

“The circumstances of my life provided not only an opportunity, but an obligation to make a difference,” she said.

CBC | Toronto News

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