Monday, December 10, 2012

KEEPING IN TOUCH BEFORE FACEBOOK


RAY MCFADDEN AND OTHER TELY MEMORIES

When famous institutions vanish into the memory of only a few, friends of long ago can die almost forgotten,  far from the men and women with whom they once spent most of their waking time
And so it is with the Toronto Telegram, founded in 1876, died in 1971, leaving behind 1,200 employees, hundreds of whom never worked again, certainly not in the newspaper business. Gone were the curling and bowling leagues, the yarning over coffee just down from the pay office that used cash until it got robbed. Coming to work was like a long visit with your favourite neighbour. Most parties revolved around work, and some became legendary.
Ray McFadden died May 7, 2011 but it took 18 months before I learned the news. He was 93, so death was no surprise, and many of the reporters and photographer with whom he spent decades had gone before him.  He was a familiar face in Toronto evenings because he never worked days. So if there was hockey at the Gardens or a celebrity to be shot at Front Page Challenge, McFadden often was there.
Then the Tely disappeared and he moved to Markdale, away from the lanes he knew like the back of his hand. And so the glare from his flash went away too. But I hope not his nostalgia because there were good times before the early morning poker games in the darkroom.
McFadden bridged between Speed Graphics and #5 flashbulbs, and the elegant by comparison roll film cameras and strobes that transformed his difficult business.  In its day, as big a change as the digital cameras of today. With each improvement, the number and quality of pictures that you could take quickly exploded, and the job became simpler.
McFadden and I lived together for a year or so before I got married, and we took a great trip to Hawaii which we tried to finance by shooting a travelogue. It was shown on Channel 9 but I never got to see the final product of pineapple plantations and pounding surf. And I never got any money either because McFadden knew how to squeeze a buck.
We called him Gaylord, because he liked women and they liked him. My strangest date came in Honolulu when I came back from buying some Bacardi to find him in our closet tapping out Morse Code to the next room. He had been in the RCAF in the second world war teaching the dots and dashes and somehow had found the only two women who still could read the code were vacationing in the next room.
The evening went downhill from there.
I hope there was an old Tely hand at his funeral because we have grown fewer in the last 40 years. I remember the funeral of George Kidd, once such a fixture on the entertainment scene that he was given a lifetime pass to the Symphony when he retired. I was the only one from the Tely at the service and there had been only one other Tely visitor, Frank Drea, the tempestuous labour reporter and Ontario cabinet minister.
I envy the annual pages in the Toronto Star where they keep track of the service record of all their employees. At least they do one thing right. Unfortunately such a page at the Toronto Sun would be out-of-date in a week.
I can't say I'm an ardent fan of Facebook, especially the contributions from those who feel they have something to say every day, and they don't generally. But Facebook is nice in helping you track old colleagues. Even from the 1960s. I just came across Sylvia Sutherland, quickly accepted as a good Tely reporter before she became a stalwart Peterborough mayor,  talking to Jack Hutton, a Tely education reporter who was one of the best beat reporters I've ever seen.
Facebook mimics what we used to have in towns where you knew just about everyone, or when you worked at a company that had been around for decades and there seemed to be people who had been there from the start. Like an extended family with the grumps and precocious and quiet and vain, and the guy who always knew the latest joke.
But it will never be the real thing.

1 comment:

Bryan Schmidt said...

Was looking on line for any reference to my old acquaintance George Kidd when I came across your blog. I was always curious about my old friend George, wondering if he was yet alive etc. We met in Stratford in the late sixties, I a bellboy, doer of everything at Dave Pinkney's Queen's Hotel. George was a regular there, covering the new offerings at the Festival. I was in my early teens, George, I suppose, was early 50's?? We stayed in touch for many years. He got me a job at the CNE in the early 70's, on the Flyer!!! My marriage soon happened and we lost touch. My wife and I did visit him in Toronto, I think early 80's and went out for dinner. He was still smoking his Players and enjoyed his '5 Star'. Fond memories, thanks for jogging them!
Bryan Schmidt
Kitchener