Friday, January 1, 2021


There Is Nothing Like A Dame

 The announcement that Joan Sutton Straus is one of 22 receiving the Order of Ontario said she was "one of Canada's best known journalists." She almost wasn't, but she would have been "best known" in her beloved country no matter what she did in a life overflowing with love and ideas stirred with passion and insight.
Once upon a time, she was fed up with the pressures of the fashion world and contemplated a change that would allow her to use her special knowledge of that and high society in her city. So she applied to the Tely who needed a fashion writer.
As the Sixties ended, it was a rowdy time in the newspaper wars where the holy Star and the far-more readable Telegram slugged it out edition by edition. But the Tely kept slipping. So John Bassett, the arrogant man-about-town who ran the Tely for his three sons and the four Eaton department store boys,  turned his paper over to Doug Creighton.
Creighton ended up using charm and an intimate knowledge of the city and his paper acquired as a police reporter and editor to centralize control of the second largest paper in the country. He ran everything with two deputies, Ed Monteith as the assistant managing editor running news and the Monday-to Friday editions, and me as the AME running everything else and the larger Saturday paper.
For me, I was thrown into a world filled with famous and credentialed people often twice my age with thin skins and decades more experience. My mistakes often appeared before hundreds of thousands of readers.
My search for a new fashion writer was a mine field since the Lifestyle (women's) department was populated with the kind of women who didn't even look at you when you asked them for a dance.
So I arrived for what I thought was just another interview at a famous Italian restaurant frequented by Queen's Park insiders, The fare was great yet so was my trepidation as I thought of the resting sharks back in the newsroom because this was turning into a make-or-shatter-me hiring. But Joan Sutton was great as she outlined a background richer than I anticipated. I returned to the office with no doubt that this hurdle had been cleared.
Creighton greeted me with happy news. He had hired me a writer. I spluttered that I had a new writer starting in a week. Creighton and his supposed boss Arnold Agnew (who was married into the Eaton family) told me that was impossible. The woman they had hired was one of the best friends of Doug Bassett's wife, one of the owners. 
A miserable afternoon followed with me arguing sporadically that I had given my word  to Joan Sutton and her career had included such positives as "dressing" performers for CFTO, which was Bassett/Tely owned. I refused to cancel my job offer. I ended up telephoning Mary to say that my success after only 10 years out of university had just crashed and burned over an Italian lunch. 
By some miracle, Creighton and Agnew finally conceded. Any joy I felt was tempered by a phone call from Doug Bassett demanding whether I knew when I hired this Sutton that the person promised the job was his wife's best friend.
I said I did, figuring I might as well go down with all guns blazing. There was a long pause, and Bassett sighed that I would get away with it "this time."
For some reason. I was running the City Desk when Joan came in on the Sunday night before she started work and gave me her first feature, about the great difficulty women had because clothing sizes were not uniform. You had to know that this company's sizes were all larger than that company's sizes.
I read it through with Joan waiting anxiously. I said it was fine. Indeed we used it as a spread three days later. 
So I should have known right then Joan Sutton Straus was going to become one of Canada's best-known journalists because she was so driven to excellence that she wrote her first printed article before she even was on the payroll.
Ironically, considering her hiring, Creighton finally made her a key insider and she was one of the 62 known as Day Oners who started the Sun when the Bassetts finally sold the Tely out from underneath us. 
An account of Joan's life would be a good book (maybe even a bodice ripper) because she has been a beauty queen finalist, model, columnist and government insider. She knew all about the city and province and the secrets of famous people were familiar to her. She organized an intimate memorial service in a Beth Tzedec chapel one afternoon and I sat with a former veteran premier and flamboyant attorney general listening to an eulogy from one of our most famous diplomats.
This honour is just another recognition for a grand lady who has had a great life. The tales she could still tell.


Bono said...

Joan is more than deserving of the Order of Ontario. Nice piece, John.

Tim G, said...

Glad your are still with us.

Tim G, said...

You're damn auto correct

Angel17 said...

They said that Joan Sutton Straus is one of Canada's best-known journalists. I hope that I can read some of Joan's made.