Nerene Virgin, a Canadian children’s entertainer most beloved for her role as Jodie on the 1980s TV series Today’s Special, has died at the age of 78.
The Hamilton-born actor died on Jan. 15 at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ont., according to an obituary posted Thursday.
She was a familiar staple in kids’ before-and-after school television programming in the ’80s, starring not just on Today’s Special but also in other Canadian classics like Ramona, Polka Dot Door, Night Heat and The Littlest Hobo.
“Her role as Jodie was by far her most cherished and important professional experience,” read the obituary. “This was evidenced by the fact that right up until her final moments, admirers would excitedly express how much she inspired and guided their childhood.”
Virgin’s television career continued on in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when she went on to host and broadcast on CTV and later, on CBC.
She hosted Eye on Toronto, a current affairs show, and later made a foray into politics when she ran for the federal Liberal Party in the mid-2000s.
The great-granddaughter of escaped slave Thomas John Howard, Virgin played a role in integrating Black history into the Hamilton school curriculum.
“Nerene believed in making sure her words, and more importantly, her actions, showed the people in her orbit how much she loved them,” her obituary says, detailing her love for journalism, storytelling and social justice.
“She was one of a kind, endlessly talented, effortlessly funny, bringing joy to all who embraced her.”
In 2016, Virgin was awarded a place on the list of Canada’s 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women.
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“Nerene Virgin’s contributions extended beyond the realm of education and acting. As an insightful and dedicated journalist, she fearlessly pursued truth and sought to amplify voices that often went unheard. Her discerning commentary and commitment to journalistic integrity made her a pillar in the community, leaving an enduring impact on how stories were told,” the obituary reads.
“If Nerene’s message could be summed up in a Today’s Special theme, Today’s Special would be ‘love.’”
Her Today’s Special co-star Nina Keogh shared a heartfelt tribute to Virgin on Friday.
“7 years, 122 episodes, like a family we were,” the puppeteer, who played Muffy Mouse, posted to Instagram.
“She was talented, smart, sweet and exquisitely beautiful. She could learn dialogue in seconds. She loved knitting at our table reads and brought in baked goodies. She had a crazy laugh. She was a good mum to all of her children. The #todaysspecial family has lost a precious member. RIPower.”
Elsewhere online, people shared their condolences, fondly remembering the role Virgin played in their childhoods.
“Thank you Nerene for helping to make my childhood brighter and more whimsical in your treasured role as Jodie. You were and will always be a treasured part of that time so thank you and rest in peace,” wrote one person in the comments under her obituary.
“Today’s Special was foundational Canadian kids TV and one of my earliest memories,” shared another person.
“She taught a lot of children of colour that we could be the main character. That magic could happen to us. That Canada included us,” another fan shared.
A celebration of life will be held on June 15, 2024, in at Steward Memorial Church in Hamilton — the same church where her great uncle, John C. Holland, was a pastor.
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