Sunday, December 1, 2013



It was a marvelous death notice in the Toronto Star, which didn't make up for the dismal fact that Canada's largest newspaper couldn't be bothered running an obituary on a retired employee that any Editor would be honoured to have as a key in the stalwart team you need to actually cover the news.
Ken MacGray had 25 years of service in a variety of Star jobs, from smart City Hall bureau chief and reporter to various posts inside as an editor. But not a breath about him in the news pages that once were as much a part of him as his arteries.
News is as slippery and cantankerous and difficult as the men and women who cover it. And their bosses often fail at second thoughts about what actually went on.
Ken could regard "his" Star with exasperation rather than the usual loyalty or even affection.  He was a fierce competitor but he would shake his head as he confided even to the opposition what dumb thing his colleagues and bosses had done now. Then he would give a wintery chuckle.
But fortunately, his faithful Martha, and Sara and David, have given us a nice taste of the renaissance man in their death notice.
It began like one of the Horatio Alger stories of old, with an air of tough times wafting around the words.
"Born in the vicinity of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Raised in an orphanage by an Anglican priest and his own bootstraps. Worked from childhood selling newspapers on trains, delivering groceries by bicycle, driving a fish truck and at any job he could get."
It was a long death notice but MacGray had such a busy life as sort of an all-purpose performer and leader, whether you were talking about cooking "his" spiced beef, or sailing, or just fixing the bloody screen door, that there were all sorts of accomplishments that just didn't make the cut.,
Plus many stories.
I recall Ken being part of the Toronto group that went to Amsterdam in 1974 at the official twinning of the Dutch city with Toronto. Ken started to chafe at all the ceremonial stuff devoid of real news and ended up one night in the room of Karl Jaffary, a bright alderman who didn't much care for all the flimflammery either.
Much drinking took place and there was a little crowd as a result. Ken then roused himself, saying he had spent too much time in the army and as a Spitfire pilot in Holland during World War Two and it was time to go home to Martha. He didn't bother telling the Star.
So he flew home with most of his luggage and was stricken with feet so badly swollen that he hobbled through Pearson in his socks. Meanwhile, back in Holland, the usually dapper brigadier-general who ran the Toronto Historical Board, J. A. McGinnis, was sloshing around in black Oxfords that kept falling off his feet because they were two sizes too large.
Yes, you guessed it, an accidental switch of shoes. But Ken, being Ken, probably didn't apologize that much to the "silly bugger."
As any reporter/editor/alleged journalist who has worked for a few years on a busy newspaper will assure you, every tomorrow is interesting because without any preamble you could be in England or the courts or working a double shift.
And Ken was a veteran of such surprises after all his years in Thunder Bay, Kitchener, and the monolithic Star.
 One quiet period, the MacGays decided to have Shirley and David Crombie for a barbecue at their Etobicoke home. And Mary and I were invited too, because we three couples got along and we all could relax and there would be no nervous prattle by strangers in the presence of the popular mayor.
I arrived to be told there was a hostage taking and Ken was the editor running the desk that night and couldn't get away. Ken cared about meat. So he phoned with instructions about where the spices were and how long to cook per side and with a gentle hint that he would appreciate it if as a political columnist I didn't use the time at his house for an exclusive interview with the mayor.
 But he was coming, he said.
So I lit the barbecue. And we waited. And we waited. So then I cooked. And we ate. And we waited.
The Crombies left at 2 a.m. and said that Martha and Ken gave a great dinner and it was too bad that Ken never got to it.
Sadly, he won't get to another of his marvelous Christmas parties where he produced a great spiced roast bought at some secret butcher somewhere in Bloor West Village and we all crowded together and told great yarns about scoops that might have been.
Martha had a tattered copy of Ken's recipe at the funeral parlour. And Mary and I and others made copies. And I will be cooking it this Christmas, while trying to ignore that sepulchral whisper than I am doing it all wrong.. Trouble is, Ken always did it right!

1 comment:

anonymous said...

Although MacGray's death notice was lengthy, he led a busy life as a kind of all-purpose performer and leader. Whether you were talking about replacing the bleeding screen door, sailing, or preparing "his" spiced beef, there were many achievements that were left out.
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