Thursday, August 20, 2015



Derwyn's voice was ravaged by pain and medication a few weeks ago as we chatted about events but there was still the flash of wit and insight from my favourite Christian critic.
It was an honourable 77 years before cancer took him down.
He may have had a lovely home high above Grenadier Pond and looked like a comfortable Anglican priest with his beloved cats.
But there had been difficult times.
Like when the landlady gave him some cigarettes and kicked him out to walk the streets of Hamilton on a cold Christmas so the kid didn't interfere with her family's celebration.
Like when he and Julia had company only after 9 pm. when he was a young poor priest in a western railway town because they had to go downstairs into the funeral home to borrow chairs for guests.
Like when church leaders really didn't like him being such a politician. Keep City Hall out of Christ!
I had an intense Baptist boyhood where the Bible was read after every meal. It left me with a lot of complaints about religion mixed with Bible verses branded on my memory.
This led to great debates with Derwyn which I will recall this Christmas.  I will take a card around to Park Lawn Cemetery after I have removed one of the Wise Men or added one because of course our Bible does not give the number of Wise Men who travelled to the manger.
Derwyn had forgotten that in his voluminous knowledge and I never let him forget  the three kings reference isn't in the Bible.  He came for New Year's Eve dinner and I swear in revenge gave such a long blessing that it lasted from one year to the next.
This year I will raise a glass of his port, or one of his rare single malt scotch whiskys, in memory of the politician and priest who was happy to swim against the popular tide and thought the politically correct activists of church and state generally were really in hiding from real thinking about the issue.
He was a voice of common sense on the police commission and planning board and as an alderman, councillor and MPP could be counted on to deliver useful insights mixed with gentle sarcasm and a glint of an Irish smile.
He was a vigorous opponent of the regional Metro council getting involved with a domed stadium and the proof that he and a few others were right came after SkyDome ended up costing $629 million in public funds, a huge wound on the taxpayers' purse.
In the crucial debate, Metro chairman Paul Godfrey accused his usual ally of leaning on figures gathered by me to try to kill this great idea which was then said to cost ONLY $250 million. Ironically, shortly afterwards I became Editor of the Toronto Sun reporting directly to a new publisher called Paul Godfrey. And Derwyn became the CNE president fighting a radical corporate change at the Ex that has never worked after it was forced on us by Bill Davis and Godfrey. (I went to the opening of this Ex as another past president and thought of Derwyn's battles on behalf of the thinking man's fair.)
I quote Derwyn often about how to give a good speech or sermon. Derwyn thought the best length was 18 minutes. You tell them what you're going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you told them.
Pick only one message or theme, he said, and stick to it. He could be counted to stick to his causes  no matter what. He kept the humble parish of St. Clement's open in his spare time when the Anglican Church wanted to close it. Indeed, I suspect his church often found him as difficult as his Progressive Conservative party did on occasion. Indeed, one bishop told me his early religious  commitment had been doubted. until they were doused by the fire of his faith. No doubt the politician willing to take a stand made other clerics uneasy.
After all, Derwyn could be tough, especially at election time. He gave David Miller one of his three defeats before Miller  went on to become mayor. He defeated Elaine Ziemba, a former cabinet minister, to become an MPP.
I think Mike Harris should have had made him a minister and not just a parliamentary assistant. After all the former premier trusted him enough later to have him perform his second wedding ceremony which was a titch controversial.
At the last, he was a founder of the Association for Former Parliamentarians because he said that some who had retired or been defeated as MPs and MPPs really found life to be difficult and should not be forgotten because they had worked hard for decades in public service.
Of course Derwyn was never forgotten.  After the political wars that swirled around him in the westend ceased, he was the Canon running St. Hilda's and its three buildings for seniors, Hardly retirement stuff!
At the visitation on the day the Ex opened, an irony he would have enjoyed, an illustrious political past - former  MPPs,  MPs, mayors, councillors, cabinet ministers, Speakers, and Metro chairmen - mixed with Derwyn's foot soldiers from past campaigns, like his companion, Christine Schubert, who was an election worker for Derwyn in his first one 33 years ago.
There were baskets of city and provincial crest and flag pins at the door, just like Derwyn handed out for decades. There was even election chatter and some old issues uprooted for the day. I half expected Derwyn to get out of the casket and join in, after taking a few digs at all of us, when Godfrey and I talked again about very expensive stadiums.

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