Nerene Virgin, the actress, news presenter, anti-racism advocate and educator known for her work on the beloved Canadian kids TV show Today’s Special, has died. She was 77.
Virgin died Jan. 15 at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario, her family announced. No cause of death was provided.
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“Nerene achieved remarkable success, captivating audiences with her versatile performances that showcased both depth and authenticity,” TVO, Ontario’s public broadcaster, said in a statement. “She has left an indelible mark on many who grew up watching the show and on everyone she encountered and who had the privilege of working with her.”
“She just wanted to be remembered for the fact she was so genuine and wore different hats. She could do anything she wanted,” her husband, Alan Smith, said in an interview with CBC News: The National on Saturday.
During the early 1980s, Virgin became a breakout star playing the character of Jodie, a store display designer, on Today’s Special. Depending on what the department store’s special was that day, Jodie would arrange displays for hats, school supplies, sports equipment and more.
Today’s Special ran from 1981-87 and aired on PBS stations in the U.S. Virgin also hosted several episodes of another TVO series, Polkadot Door.
Born on Dec. 27, 1946, in Hamilton, Ontario, Virgin throughout her life was an anti-racism and social justice advocate. That was fitting for the great-niece of escaped slave Thomas John Holland, who came from Maryland to Hamilton via the Underground Railway.
After growing up in Toronto, Virgin graduated from Toronto Teachers College and Brock University before she went to work for the Toronto Board of Education. She moved from teaching to Canadian TV, first with TVO; that was no small feat, as the country had few Black women on its screens during the ’80s and ’90s.
She also had small roles on such Toronto-shot TV series as Night Heat and Due South and in the made-for-television movie Gotti. Virgin then turned to broadcast news to mark her pioneering legacy in Canadian television.
She first hosted the CTV public affairs show Eye on Toronto before she moved to the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, to anchor Saturday Report on the main network, the CBC Newsworld cable news channel and Newsworld International.
Virgin also ran as a provincial Liberal candidate in Hamilton and wrote books as part of her anti-racism advocacy.
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