‘Today’s Special’ actress, journalist Nerene Virgin from Hamilton dead at 77


Published January 19, 2024 at 2:57 pm

Hamilton has lost one of its most notable faces with the death of acclaimed actress and journalist Nerene Virgin.

According to her obituary, Virgin, best known for Today’s Special TV series and various CBC news programs, died in Burlington’s Joseph Brant Hospital on Jan 15. A cause of death was not mentioned.

“Nerene was a courageous, vibrant, multi-talented, beautiful, trailblazing Canadian, with an incredible smile. Her spirit graced the realms of teaching, acting, journalism, storytelling, and social justice. She lit up the spaces she entered and left an indelible mark on the hearts and souls of many,” it reads in part.

Virgin was born in Hamilton in 1946. She was descended from an escaped Maryland slave and related to Rev. John C. Holland, the first Black man dubbed “Citizen of the Year.” She later moved to Toronto and studied at Brock University in St. Catharines.

She began her career as a teacher in Toronto but quickly moved into television on TVO’s Today’s Special. The series followed a department store mannequin named Jeff who comes to life with the aid of a magic hat. Virgin starred as the store’s display manager Jodie, who often served as a mentor and leader amongst the cast.

In the beginning, series episodes typically revolved around Jeff learning about things around him such as hats and costumes. However, the show matured as it went along later educating about sacrifice, death and alcoholism in “very special episodes.”

The series had a seven year run on TVO and garnered international attention. During and after Today’s Special, Virgin also appeared in sevral other landmark Canadian series such as The Littlest Hobo, Night Heat and Ramona (the latter starring Sarah Polley). She also popped up in several film including HBO’s Gotti in 1996.

In the late 80s she began her journalistic career working with CBC and CTV local stations. Also in ’96, Virgin was made host of Coast to Coast, a CBC national news program based in Calgary. She returned to Toronto to host The Saturday Report. Ultimately, Virgin returned to the classroom first teaching English as a second language to students in Mongolia, then teaching French in Stoney Creek.

In 2007, Virgin ran as the Liberal candidate for the MP seat in Hamilton Mountain. After her selection as a candidate, the Metroland-owned weekly paper used a racial slur to describe Virgin, prompting her to sue the publisher. She ended up finishing second in the race following the NDP’s Paul Miller with 35.1 per cent of the vote to his 37.6.

Virign was also acclaimed as a writer thanks to her biographical articles about notable Black Canadians which are featured on the Canadian Encyclopedia. She also pushed to bring Black History into the Ontario school curriculum and advocated for Dr. C.V. Roman‘s induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

“Nerene’s kindness, warmth, and infectious enthusiasm endeared her to all who had the privilege of knowing her. She leaves behind a legacy of creativity, courage, and compassion,” continued her obituary, “Nerene believed in making sure her words, and more importantly, her actions, showed the people in her orbit how much she loved them. She was one of a kind, endlessly talented, effortlessly funny, bringing joy to all who embraced her. Nerene will be missed.”

“May Nerene rest in eternal peace, her memory forever cherished in our hearts,” it concludes.