To a generation of Canadians, Nerene Virgin was a comforting presence on television, a wise and caring leader who exemplified the importance of being a good friend.
She died Monday, Jan. 15, at a Burlington, Ont., hospital. Virgin was 77.
While she left a lasting impact in her role of Jodie, the gentle and kind display designer on the 1980s hit children’s TV show Today’s Special, Virgin also proved to be a trailblazer in the fields of teaching, journalism and social justice in the country.
Nerene Virgin dead at 77: Multi-hyphenate icon of Canadian television
While Virgin had an undeniable influence on a generation of young Canadians, her talents extended far beyond acting.
She was born Dec. 27, 1946, in Hamilton, Ont. She was an accomplished broadcast journalist and host, with positions that took her to several parts of the country. She hosted the current affairs show Eye on Toronto on CFTO, which was later rebranded to CTV News Toronto, as well as daily national current affairs show Coast to Coast for CBC Newsworld in Calgary.
The multi-hyphenate talent began her career in Hamilton as a teacher, before parlaying into acting.
She managed to meld those passions together when she started in educational television. While Virgin appeared in several iconic Canadian children's shows like Polka Dot Door and The Littlest Hobo, her character Jodie on Today’s Special, which was produced by TVOntario and aired on Nickelodeon in the U.S., is what cemented her in the hearts and minds of many children.
As the great-granddaughter of escaped slave Thomas John (Howard) Holland, Virgin committed to amplifying the legacy of historic Black Canadians.
In 2012, she helped organize a gathering of more than 200 descendants of Holland in Hamilton.
Virgin also contributed to the biographies of surgeon Charles Lightfoot Roman and Rev. John Christie Holland, amongst others, for the Canadian Encyclopedia, and helped Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board integrate Black History into the regular school curriculum.
Virgin was named one of Canada’s 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women in 2016.
In her obituary, Virgin's loved ones say that if they could sum up her message in a Today's Special theme, it would be the theme of "love."
“Nerene believed in making sure her words, and more importantly, her actions, showed the people in her orbit how much she loved them,” it reads. “She was one of a kind, endlessly talented, effortlessly funny, bringing joy to all who embraced her. Nerene will be missed.”
A celebration of life in honour of Virgin will be held on June 15, 2024, in Hamilton.
Fans remember Nerene Virgin: 'She helped raise me'
Popular Instagram account @retrontario posted a tribute to Virgin, featuring clips of some of the shows she'd appeared on. Many in the comments expressed their heartbreak at the loss of someone who had been such a positive mentor in their young lives.
“Today these long forgotten clips help us remember such a kind and important part of our childhood,” user Bigdavekeast wrote on Instagram.
"She helped raise me," donnarunsandwrites wrote. “Such a beautiful soul. Thank you for the wonderful childhood memories.”