Howes: My friend, Christine Tierney, 60, was smart, experienced, a pro

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News

Rattling somewhere around our kitchen cupboards for the longest time was a small can of processed French goodness Christine Tierney delivered one day. Was it paté? Duxelles? I can't remember, but it was one of the many things she generously brought by during the years we worked together.

It was vintage Christine — generous and whimsical, hard-nosed and well-traveled. She was a kind of slightly older sister to me who seemed to treat our daughter, Isabelle, like an aunt would: loving and interested in her life. With me, she never shied from a good argument, especially when she could tell me why I was wrong about Democrats or some Japanese automaker.

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Christine died on June 18 at her mother's home in Washington, D.C., after a long battle with a severe form of Parkinson's disease. She was 60, far too young to be bed-ridden (as Reuters, a former employer of Christine's, reported Sunday in an internal obituary) for "the last years of her life."

Christine Tierney

Years before, she told me of her diagnosis and swore me to secrecy. She recounted trips to specialists, repeated their reassurance that she could keep working, explained the reason she preferred to take a new assignment for The Detroit News in Washington near her mother instead of staying in (or returning to) Detroit.

Who could blame her, considering the likely challenges that lay ahead? None of her colleagues, I'd guess — not at The News here, not at Business Week in Frankfurt and Detroit, not at her Reuters assignments in New York, Montreal, Mexico City and Paris. Besides her native English, she was fluent in French, German and Spanish ... and could speak some Greek, too, as I recall.

Which is what made Christine such a joy to be around. She'd done things and seen places, read books and followed politics. Earned her bachelor's from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and her master's in journalism from American University. Spent 13 years at Reuters, more than three years at Business Week and a decade at The News — the last year-and-a-half in Washington.

She was smart. She was experienced. She was, most of all, a pro. Our now-local editor, Kevin Hardy, remembers her as a "coffee-cup edit," copy so clean he could work it one-handed. Former Managing Editor E.J. Mitchell liked her work and her tireless work ethic so much he once thanked me for encouraging the brass to hire her.

I met Christine in Germany. I was The News' European correspondent, based not far from Frankfurt in Wiesbaden. She worked for Business Week then, and we were part of a small group of ex-pat journos covering the European auto industry in general and the disastrous Daimler-Chrysler fusion in particular.

We bickered frequently about Daimler-Chrysler — its management, its intentions, its honesty, which in retrospect tended to Trumpian proportions when it came to the truth. She generally defended the Princes of Stuttgart; I mostly didn't.

Far as I could ever tell, Christine loved covering autos, preferably on soil outside the good ol' U.S. of A. But a good driver? Not so much. I have a faint memory of the time we were on a ride-and-drive program with Mercedes-Benz somewhere in southern Spain.

As she pulled the car into the courtyard, she scraped the aluminum wheel and its three-pointed star along a stone wall. I was horrified, slightly embarrassed for her. She took it in stride, a tiny window into a worldview more caring and easy-going than uptight and driven.

More than a decade later, after her stint at The News, she returned to the continent to be a leading European autos correspondent. On paper, she was ideal for the gig — but for the disease that pushed her in a direction she neither wanted nor deserved.

"She was about to join The Wall Street Journal in Europe back in Frankfurt," Reuters wrote, "when her health deteriorated and she spent the last years of her life bed-ridden at her mother's home in Washington, fighting courageously against a crippling disease."

As news of Christine's death arrived in e—mail inboxes Monday, I talked with another one of our old Frankfurt posse — how sad that it took the obit of one of our own to get back in touch, we agreed. I heard a veteran hand in our newsroom, Chris Rizk, repeating Christine's name: "Christine Tierney? Christine Tierney?"

She made a difference in more lives than she probably ever realized, which for an ol' journo is about as good as it can get. RIP, my friend. Godspeed.

(313) 222-2106

Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, listen to his Saturday podcasts, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.