Sunday, October 21, 2012



I was touring Linc Alexander around the Ex in a golf cart when we ran into five black women. They were what we used to call foxes. There's probably a new term but these were five young ladies dressed in the latest fashions who carried themselves with sexy grace.
"Hullo ladies," Linc bellowed out. He was 78 and they were probably 25, but there was something about the size of Linc and his clothes and his easy manner that caused them not to brush him off.
They couldn't quite figure out who he had been, but, as one told another, he WAS famous. And they buzzed with excitement at meeting a famous black guy who was being chauffeured around by some old fart who wore a security card saying he was CNE president.
And I explained that Linc had been the lieutenant-governor and the federal labour minister and they were quite impressed even though I doubt they knew what a lieut.-gov was, or fot that matter a Conservative or cabinet minister. But I bet they told a lot of people that they had met this old black dude who seemed to be really important.
 Linc beamed and charmed them because he loved women. (And women were charmed by his dash.) And they giggled and we roared off, only to be stopped again and again by people of all ages and all skin colours who actually knew who Linc was.
 Linc talked to everyone. Linc smiled at everyone. Linc liked everyone. And they responded to him. There is a genuine love for Linc in this province which dwarfs that exaggerated acclaim given that  other guy who just had a state funeral.
What a guy! He loved the Ex because there were more than a million people he could talk to. So every year he phoned for his ride around the Exhibition, and the GM, David Bednar, was pleased to get the call.
I'm sure Linc thanked us for golf cart service but he didn't make a big deal of it. He rather expected that after a lifetime of service, after a lifetime of not ever having driven a car, meaning that if you wanted him at a function in Toronto, and many organizations did, you had to pay for the limousine or cab that fetched him from his beloved Hamilton.
It was worth it too. He was an original board member of what used to be called the Terry Fox Hall of Fame.  Linc brought a candour to the annual selection. Vim Kochhar, the former senator, wanted only three inductees each year but Linc was famous, after the chairman David Crombie reminded us all of this rule, for nominating at least five people. And he got away with it bccause we would end up breaking the only-three rule by an inductee or two.
I started telling my colleagues on the board that it was the Lincoln Alexander gambit, although Linc never used his full name and encouraged others not to. And then we inducted Linc into the national hall for disabled Canadians, just one of the many honours that showered on him over the decades.
One day I heard a rumour that when Pete Trudeau, the PM, had snarled "fuddle duddle" in an angry debate in the Commons, he had really said "fuck off", and the reason Hansard and various officials and some media had conspired to pretend it was "fuddle duddle" was that it would be a national scandal if the public knew that the prime minister had yelled "fuck off" at the first black MP in the country's history.
It was glossed over at the time, and another MP was also said to be the target, but everyone there that day knew it was Linc who had got under Trudeau's thin skin. The words "allegedly" were used about the incident, and Linc merely told reporters that Trudeau had mouthed two words, one starting with F and the other with O.
Linc was not that circumspect when I asked him. He was blunt but didn't say his skin colour had anything to do with it, even though he had had more of his share of discrimination as he grew up, the son of a railway porter who lived in a small row house which might as well have been in the middle of the tracks rather than on the other side.
He served with the RCAF and was only a corporal because the air force in those days didn't run around making Negroes officers even when they were in the middle of the second world war. Much later he was given the honourary rank of colonel to review troops.
He loved to do that even when he was finding it hard to walk or even stand. He was reviewing the Warrior's Day parade in 2000 along with the chief of the defence staff, and I was there too as the CNE president.
As each band and group of aged warriors passed, medals glinting in the sun, we would stand. I hoisted Linc to his feet by secretly grabbing his elbow. Then he started to sway. He was 6' 3'' and 220 pounds, and it was like a gnarled oak shaking in the wind. I stood closer and held the back of his uniform. Linc took it with grace after I explained that we couldn't let him fall off the Bandshell stage on his face.
At one point, a female veteran in her mid-70s slowly and painfully limped by us using two arm canes.
"Good for you girl," Linc shouted. And he cried. And I cried, and swore that we would never again force our veterans to march through the Princes' Gates and most of the way through  Exhibition Park to be reviewed at the Bandshell. We made the route much shorter the following year and ended the parade inside the Coliseum where the vets from Sunnybrook in their wheelchairs would be protected from the weather.
It was what Linc expected us to do.
I suspect Linc deep down was a real Luddite. He was chancellor of the University of Guelph for five terms and the university thanked him by providing a car and driver and then, one year, a computer. He didn't even know how to turn it on, so he asked if I could arrange a tutor. I volunteered to drive to Hamilton but he figured he could find help closer to home. And I suspect he did, because Linc was not bashful about asking for help because as an agreeable pragmatist he expected help.
Ontario has been blessed with its royal representatives like Linc, who was Canada's political Jackie Robinson and like Jackie conducted himself with grace in the rude face of insults. He led by example, tall in the saddle, never by being militant or preachy about black discrimination..
 John Black Aird looked like a corporation lawyer born with a silver gavel in his hand but he was warm and generous, learned sign language and even played floor hockey with the kids at Variety Village despite a back in chronic pain. He had been maligned as a Grit bagman but was touched by his new popularity in the media and kept an editorial I had written about him framed beside his desk at Aird Berlis.
James Bartleman has done wonderful work in explaining the crippling depression that has him as one victim. He arranged to ship hundreds of thousands of books to empty native libraries in the north. He wrote a wonderful and candid autobiography and after I praised it, enlisted me for advice on his next  books on foreign service which are quite insightful. (He also loved the Ex and I found him one day wandering the midway with a son, not asking for a ride or free tickets.)
Like Linc, Bartleman had humble beginnings, and like Linc, he had to fight discrimination since he was born to a native mother in a wigwam beside the town dump. For both, university was the the launching pad, Linc from McMaster thanks to a veterans' program, and Bartleman from University of Western Ontario thanks to an American benefactor he worked for in cottage country.
Then there is David Onley who has perservered despite the return of his polio. David was an able researcher for the provincial Liberals who helped me in my attacks on a costly Tory scheme for futuristic transit. He wrote a bestseller on space, which got twenty times more sales than the typical Canadian bestseller, and was a stalwart at the early Citytv. I remember his father, a noted municipal solicitor, crying as he related to me the latest accomplishment of his crippled son about whom he had always worried.
Some of our royal reps have been very rich, some came from backgrounds where log cabins were a step up, and some had to overcome handicaps in mobility and prejudice.
But all of them have brought a lustrous honour to the position that was just supposed to be symbolic..
If only we could say that about our premiers.

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