Friday, December 19, 2014



Gina and Paul Godfrey are one of the power couples at the centre of many major events in Toronto since 1970, familiar faces in politics, media, charity and society.
Now they are stepping away from one of their best ideas, the Herbie Fund, started in 1979 so that poor sick foreign kids can get a difficult operation in Toronto that would not be possible at home.
Their big annual event is the Mistletone Ball. The Godfreys announced weeks ago at the last one that they were retiring. Sure they are. I'll just bet that at next year's, Gina will be making suggestions in her friendly bulldozer manner.
When Godfrey arrived at the Toronto Sun in 1984 after resigning as Metro chairman, ending a wonderful reign as Canada's most important municipal politician, I worried about just how bad he would be with his "publisher's musts."
Because there are always more stories and pictures than there is space, the only way to ensure most days that the material dear to the heart of the publisher makes the paper is to mark it "publisher's must."
Any smart editor makes sure that everyone knows about these musts because even tolerant publishers, and both Doug Creighton and Godfrey demonstrated regularly that they could be understanding, expect that what they want in the paper gets in the paper or wotinhell is the point of being the boss.
So the Sun made sure that the latest grateful recipient of the Herbie Fund was covered well in the paper, and the ball itself received major treatment.
Around 1990, Mary and I went off to South Africa to a conference on whether the grisly grip of apartheid really was loosening. Such trips were a wonderful escape from publisher's musts and the daily incessant hooting of politicians.
I worked hard in Johannesburg, finishing each day in the best restaurant with whatever major black figure I could attract with a fine meal. One of them, Sam Mabe, was killed mysteriously shortly afterwards and became a national legend. Another was Dr. Nthato Motlana, a charismatic controversial figure who was one of the famous Soweto 10, a leading group in the ANC party fighting the Afrikaners. As a result, he was considered a long-shot to be the first black president if his boyhood friend Nelson Mandela didn't make it.
Motlana entered the restaurant like a conquering hero. I thought the maitre d' was going to prostrate himself. Waiters buzzed around like bees. He ordered the most expensive bottle of wine. I didn't mind because I knew the only reason he was dining with me, since he later became a multimillionaire, was he was getting a great free meal.
On the way home, we flew to Durban to interview some Christians being persecuted for fighting the ANC over its boycott of schools. This was interrupted by a phone call from Publisher Godfrey. On the way to work, he said, he had heard about Siamese twins being born in some place in South Africa called Soweto.
I said that was interesting but why was he calling me? Because Sick Kids had just done a very difficult separation of Siamese twins and he thought I should bring these twins to Toronto as part of the Herbie Fund and use the same expertise.
Could I look into it, Paul asked. I stared out over the Indian Ocean and contemplated lugging two joined babies all the way to Toronto. Then I remembered Dr. Motlana, one of the first GPs to practise in the giant black township of Soweto where he was a hero. I told Paul I had a contact and I would phone him.
Mary asked casually what was the call about, and became quite alarmed when I explained there was a possibility we would be carting two new babies on a very long trip.  She needed no explanation as to the Herbie Fund because she had been drafted as an early committee member.
The next morning, I phoned Dr. Motlana but his wife said he was out jogging, which amazed me. Just imagine! Running in the heat through the crowded streets of a slum of three million.
I explained the offer carefully when he called back. He was almost offended. After all, he reminded me, South Africa is a major country when it comes to health care. The first heart transplant is only one of its many accomplishments. The hospital in Soweto, nicknamed Bara, is the largest in the world  with 429 buildings covering 173 acres. Besides, he said, the government would never allow it.
I said Sick Kids also had a world reputation and had just done a similar complicated separation. I said I would tackle the government. I phoned an aide to the health minister whom I had interviewed at length a few days before ( I had taken that aide for a fine meal) and said it would make the government look good. He phoned back with tentative approval. It helped that I had praised his boss in my column.
I phoned Godfrey and said this was all going to cost a lot because the government insisted that at least one  nurse had to come too. Perhaps we should up the limit on the Sun's credit card. Godfrey agreed, already savouring the stories. No need for them to be a publisher's must.
I phoned Dr. Motlana and said that the Herbie Fund and the Sun would fly the mother, the babies and nurses to Toronto and look after all expenses. I said I would have the head doctor at Sick Kids phone him if he wished and repeat the assurances.
He said he would let me know because the hospital now was trying to assemble a large enough team because this was going to be a far more complicated operation than the normal separation of Siamese twins. I never spoke to him again even though years later I tried to contact him for an update.
We waited, but finally Mary and I flew home. Nearly two weeks later, there was a small story that 40 doctors working in teams over 10 hours had done the separation. The babies survived.
The next year at the Mistletone Ball, some jerk alderman came by the table and observed snidely how nice it was that the Godfreys had brought a few people from the Sun, not that we had much to do with the work of the Herbie Fund. "You'll never know," I said.

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