'Bossy Bonny Two Braids' documented Whistler's life and soul 

Longstanding photographer succumbs to cancer dying at home surrounded by family and friends

Like any news junkie worth their salt, Bonny Makarewicz slept with a police scanner next to her bed for years, at the ready if the airwaves started to buzz.

"I better go," she would say to husband Laurence Perry while crawling out of bed, grabbing her heavy bag of photo gear, jumping in her truck and heading out into the dark night.

The consummate photojournalist, chronicling the ups and downs of Sea to Sky life for more than two decades, its tragedies and its joys, Makarewicz had an innate knack for capturing news — without words.

From the excited nerves of September's first day of school to the devastation of Pemberton's deadly floods, from the fun-filled community soccer tournaments to the widespread and deep-seated grief at freeskier Sarah Burke's memorial, Makarewicz was behind the lens for all of it.

Proof of her talent is not just in the thousands of slides, film and digital images, some published in the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, Stern in Germany, the two dailies in the Lower Mainland and a host of others, but also in the awards in boxes and drawers in her home — quietly tucked away as the down-to-earth Makarewicz turned her mind to the next task at hand, not dwelling on past accomplishments.

"I wouldn't say she was a romantic-type photographer at all," said Perry fondly. "She was a photojournalist. That was her first love."

Makarewicz passed away on March 27 surrounded by family and friends in her Barnfield home. She was 50 years old."I'm only just starting to realize now whom I was living with," said Perry this week in response to the outpouring of love and support from around the world in the wake of Makarewicz's passing.

To her friends she was known as "Bossy Bonny Two Braids" — her glossy dark hair often plaited down over her shoulders, her customary directness part of her everyday lexicon.

Perry remembers being out riding with a bunch of guys, all undecided on where they should go.

"Why don't we call Bonny up, she'll tell us where to go," joked one of the guys.

"We laughed our asses off," said Perry. "And we told that story a million times."

Perry, her husband of 18 years, took Makarewicz's last photo. She is in the makeshift hospital bed set up in her living room surrounded by her best gang of girlfriends.

Makarewicz directed him in typical fashion — go get the D400 camera, stand there, make sure it's centred, focus on me, move over more.It was this commanding confidence behind the lens that made her subjects simply do what she asked, as they followed the directions with her single task at hand — getting the best photo.

"What you saw was what you get," said Perry. "There's no pretense."

Born in Revelstoke in 1963, Makarewicz was the second-youngest of seven children — six girls and one boy — the children of Polish immigrants who settled along the Columbia River to farm.

She got her first camera when she was 14 years old, and went on to study photojournalism at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

She moved to Whistler in 1991 in her late 20s and soon met Perry, a helicopter pilot.

At the time Makarewicz was shooting and selling advertising for the Whistler Citizen, a short-lived news publication, which she soon left to become the longstanding photographer for The Question.

She told Perry her dance card was full.

He liked her so much that he took up snowboarding to impress her... to no avail.

One day, however, he had a spare seat in his helicopter and presented her with an opportunity to go backcountry heliskiing.

"That worked," laughed Perry, of eventually finding the way to her mountain-girl heart.

Makarewicz took photos for The Question for more than a decade, freelancing in between for the Vancouver Sun and The Province and other outlets around the world.

Local photographer Eric Berger is now wading through thousands of her photos in her hard drives to compile a four and a half minute slideshow as a tribute during the April 17 Pro Photographer Showdown, part of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

The problem won't be finding enough good photos, he said, it'll be deciding which ones to discard from the show.

"She was dedicated to it and that's what made her good," added Berger. "The body of work is pretty impressive."

He's not even touching the photojournalism, rather focusing on the sports shots, the landscapes, the intimate portraits, of babies, of pregnant bellies, of families.

"She had a gift for making people feel at ease," he said.

Just look at the girlfriends that surrounded her in her last hours.

One of her best friends Lynn Warburton called Makarewicz "salt of the earth," what you saw was what you got and people were drawn to that.

"She had a remarkable talent for just seeing people for who they were," said Warburton.

That was the key to her success in her career too.

"The thing that makes them (the photos) so striking is she can extract that human side," she said. "She could find the human in everything."

She could also jostle with the big boys from the city, and around the world, when called for fearless and certain of her spot, even if she was the lone female.

In the male-dominated world of sport journalism, Makarewicz knew how to take a ski-racing photo like any of the best. During the 2010 Olympics, for example, Makarewicz was picked up by epa — the European Pressphoto Association — the only female of 200 on its crew covering the Games.

"She was widely regarded a very accomplished newsperson... but beyond that, what impressed me most about Bonny was her grasp of ski racing photography," said local photographer and friend Paul Morrison.

"Bonny definitely showed that she was a very capable person in a field where you don't see many women at all."

There is no definitive list of her awards: a glass Ma Murray gold newspaper award sits out in her office, too delicate to hide away. Makarewicz took the photos too for the Pique's Webster award in 2012, documenting orthopedic care at the Whistler Health Care Centre.

Unbeknownst to many, she was sick when she took those photos, quietly fighting against the cancer overrunning her body.

Her battle began two and a half years ago when Makarewicz noticed something on her foot. She ignored it for a while. Then, one day while shooting a wedding, her foot started to bleed.

A later biopsy revealed it was melanoma — skin cancer.

"The next thing you know the ball started rolling," said Perry.

What ensued was two years of fighting for time — doing all the latest tests, trying the newest drugs, going for treatment in the U.S.

She became a savant about her cancer, he said, getting involved in Save Your Skin Foundation.

"It's a shame because she'd have been a great advocate," said Perry.

But the cancer mutated around every drug; it just went crazy in her body.

It spread to her lungs.

Perry brought her home from hospital in the third week of March and three days later she died.

Though desperately painful to watch, said Perry, she died pain-free, surrounded by love.

She was dressed in clothes she brought back from a recent trip to Bhutan in South Asia where a friend is building a temple. The Bhutanese clothes are for special occasions.

Her ashes will be spread at a monastery there, at a Buddhist temple on an island near Victoria, on the family land on the Columbia River near Revelstoke and on Billy's Epic, a mountain bike trail on the west side of Whistler.

"She's going to make me ride the damn thing again," said Perry with a laugh.

His rueful comment is just a mask to hide the sorrow of knowing he will be riding Billy's Epic again... without her.

Perry is hoping he can convince the municipality to put a seat on the lookout there to remember her by.

A Celebration of Life for Makarewicz will be held at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on Sunday, April 13 from 2 to 6 p.m.


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