By Greg Price
The community of Taber and the Taber Times itself are in mourning this week with the passing of one of its own.
Wilma Jean Bullock, 74, passed away early Saturday morning and leaves with her an impact on a Taber community like few others have. It would be near impossible to talk to a Taberite and not have them know who Jean Bullock was.
A fixture at the Taber Times for 47 years from 1963 to 2010, Bullock started at the Times as a 19-year-old bindery clerk, working for 45 cents an hour. Eventually, she moved on to type setting — not an easy feat in the days of hot lead in the newspaper industry, with its necessary attention to detail in a deadline-orientated job. Jean would eventually transition into an advertising consultant for the last 20 years of her career, setting up a network of clients and connections very few had in the community.
Just as Bullock started her career at the Taber Times as a teenager, so too did Elisha Willis who Bullock mentored in Elisha’s early part of her professional career, who now works as an insurance broker with A-Win Insurance.
“When I hear the name Jean Bullock, I think Taber. She lived, breathed and believed in Taber. At 18 years old working at the Taber Times, she taught me everything I needed to know about relationship building, community support and sales. Her work hard and tough love attitude gave me the building blocks needed, for the successful career I have today. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her guidance and knowledge. She will be forever loved and missed,” said Willis.
With a tell-it-like-it is attitude for a person who put Taber before herself, the Taber Times served as a conduit to get the message out for all of what the town had to offer, something Bullock took quite a lot of pride in with her job.
Be it good or bad news, Bullock recognized the importance of a free press, something not gone unnoticed in the editorial department with an iconic Taberite who was about honesty, truth and integrity first.
“Jean was one of the most honest and authentic people I have ever met, and one of the hardest working. Simply put, she was the Taber Times. She dedicated over 45 years of her life to the local newspaper, and no one, absolutely no one, cared more about the newspaper than she did. It was a pleasure to work with her day in and day out for over a decade,” said former managing editor Garrett Simmons.
Not one to take no for an answer, Bullock had an uncanny way of enticing people to advertise in the local newspaper — whether they wanted to or not. Bullock took great pride in the Taber Times, a product she truly believed in.
“I actually thanked the Taber Times when she retired, because I knew my bottom line would go up,” said Harry Prummel with a chuckle, member of the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce and owner of the local bowling alley, a place Jean enjoyed many a frame of socializing. “She would never leave without an ad.”
Bullock’s career at the Taber Times saw many local milestones in the town’s history along with history nationally and internationally.
Jean started work at the Times at the age of 19 on Dec. 16, 1963, a few short weeks after president John F. Kennedy fell under an assassin’s bullet in Dallas.
The year also saw the defeat of prime minister John G. Diefenbaker’s Conservative government and the ascension of prime minister Lester B. Pearson’s Liberals.
It was just over a year since the diffusion of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and North Americans were building fallout shelters in their backyards.
It was a different world, to say the least.
A devoted wife, mother and grandmother, Bullock poured many a free hour into volunteer activities and minor sports in the community.
The chamber of commerce, Cornfest Committee, Ladies Night Out, Taber police commission, Toastmasters, trade fairs, Taber Handi-Bus, scorekeeping at baseball games — Jean’s volunteerism touched many Taberites’ lives to the point she won Citizen of the Year in 1992 to go with a Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee medal.
“The Cornfest revenue for fund-raising wouldn’t be where it is today without Jean Bullock. She was a driver as far as getting people on board to contribute to it,” said Prummel.
In all the pursuits Bullock had in her life, be it as a family member, volunteer, working for the Taber Times or enjoying her leisure time, Jean’s upfrontness never left one wondering where she stood.
“For the most part, she was who she was. Jean Bullock was as straight forward as the day was long. She was adamant about shopping local and if she didn’t like something, you knew about it. It didn’t matter who was sitting at the table, she told it how it was and how she thought it should be. That’s how she was,” said Prummel. “Her personality followed her no matter where she went. You either liked it or didn’t like it, but most people admired her for it. That’s a rare quality nowadays and something I admired her for.”
“Her passion was the town of Taber, it was never about herself. She didn’t care one iota about herself, she cared about the town of Taber. She won some accolades, but she was always about Taber. That’s how she was. It wasn’t about Jean Bullock, it was about the people in the town of Taber.”
Working for the Taber Times for nearly five decades, Bullock saw a virtual army of employees come in and out of the door over the decades.
Bullock estimated seeing over 150 employees come and go through the doors of the Times when she reminisced during her retirement party in 2010.
Three of these long-time employees in Coleen Campbell, Valorie Wiebe and Frances Kadoyama, who shared over a century of working experience with Bullock, prepared a retrospective at Bullock’s funeral at the Taber Community Centre Auditorium, before she was laid to rest on Tuesday at the Taber Memorial Garden.
Jean Bullock leaves numerous family, including two daughters, two son-in-laws, numerous grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law as well as many nieces, nephews and cousins.