Thursday, December 23, 2021


 Every Christmas this card of thanks arrives, even as the numbers of cards I get dwindle because of e-mail, COVID and the circle of friends,  family and former colleagues shrinks because of the relentless calendar.

M. Luong it says in neat letters, and I wonder again if this is how Manh learned to print in engineering school back in South Vietnam before he fled with his family as Canada welcomed the boat people in 1979.

It is not merely a Christmas card but a magic carpet ride to a time that Canada and Sun readers should celebrate because we put aside the bickering of life to reach across the seas to rescue tens of thousands in a jungle ruined by war.

Luong is 80 now, his wife is 75, and the daughter who talks for them from their Scarborough home and drives 10 minutes each week to do their shopping was only nine when I found them along with her brother in an old military camp in Hong Kong that had been abandoned by the army.

The 43 boat people that I found on a crowded island far out from Malaysia in the South China Sea and in Hong Kong are scattered through the country that was one of the world's leaders in response to their plight. Contacts with each other have faded with years, and also with the Edmonton and Toronto Sun readers who contributed $300,000 to my columns to support them for a year

I took the Luong children and seven other kids to Bowmore Rd. school and the principal pooh-poohed the fact that they had not even a scrap of credentials and said he and the teachers would cope. It was not necessary for me to arm myself with the presence of the school board's vice chairman, Mary Fraser.

The school introduced them to the magical stories of Christmas. When I arrived to their battered home to tell them of Santa, there already was a tree.

It didn't all go in storybook fashion. The city inspectors said I had jammed too many people into the home. I phoned Art Eggleton, my friend who was the mayor, to yell at him, but nothing happened. Then Sun publisher Doug Creighton, with kindness that matched his smarts, said the readers had sent in enough money, and if they hadn't, the business office could scrounge. So I rented another house.

I purposely kept a very loose vigil on their doings. They had left behind death so columnists should give them some slack, even though there were squabbles to be fought when bureaucracy overflowed.

So now the cards is my only memento of the country being nice, along with the staff of the Edmonton and Toronto Sun. Our good will was fuelled by our readers and their dollars.

There was one wonderful moment years ago when a lovely lady now cared for by the Edmonton Sun asked me to her wedding. I met her on the island of Pulau Bidong, reached by a UN-chartered fishing boat that had to run the gauntlet of Malaysian gun boats. She had been a very sick 16-year-old propped up in the corner of a hut made from branches and used plastic wrapping paper. I plodded through questions while the humid heat over 100F made me dizzy. Sun photographer Norm Betts, so tough he.usually chewed nails instead of gum, said he had to leave so he could rest on the beach and not faint. I promised the father I would take them to Canada but they had to let her lie down.

I was too busy to go to her wedding, damn it. But I have the gracious memory to go along with that card from M. Luong which comes each December even as my mail bag shrinks.

Monday, December 20, 2021


I didn't expect to live this long. Now that I have, I wouldn't mind staying on the good side of the grass a bit longer. So I resent all the jerk anti-vaxxers who threaten that by poisoning the world around them,  and more importantly me.

We fine drivers for tarrying on our streets.  Try walking down the street nude or screaming inside a theatre, that is if you're lucky enough to get inside ones, and judges and magistrates and police don't hesitate to discipline you. 

Murder someone or smash them in the face and the fist of the authorities will mash you into a prison cell. So why then do we allow people to spread serious injury and even death by spurning inoculations and masks and reasonable behaviour? Why then do we let them hide behind shields of free speech and media freedom when their lies and distortions endanger the majority of us who have enough sense to accept the wonders of modern medicine?

So I would make anti-vaxxers pariahs and deny them service and punish them financially and legally unless the adults refusing to protect themselves against the virus show gilt-edged proof that they really would be harmed by being vaccinated.  I am told by doctors that most of their excuses are phonier than a three dollar bill.

Why am I so unforgiving about these stupid and dangerous people? Because I might as well wear a T-shirt with bull's eyes painted front and back when it comes to being a covid target. I am 85, a diabetic with a heart that likes to skip even when the music isn't catchy, and I have other problems which I would explain if you have an hour or two. I was twice in two hospitals for two months in the last decade. I only have a nice life these days because of medical geniuses like Bernie Gosevitz, Heather Ross and Diane Donat (and I apologize to other specialists for not mentioning them.)

I thought when I wrote a blog titled When Quarantines Were A Cough Away on March 28, 2020, that the virus grip on us was going to go away. I'm not going to dwell on what I said on which will come as a relief to my family, friends and readers who say I am always repeating myself.

It is true that there has been a thread of support for accepting needles and medicines and other health salvations woven through the 6,000 columns and editorials with which I charmed or lambasted Sun readers. And then there was all those blogs after they finally brought me down.  I even did it in the boardrooms when as a hospital board director I had a motion passed that if a staffer didn't get regular flu shots they couldn't work during an epidemic. I recall CBC commentaries where I campaigned against paramedics who didn't take such sensible precautions, even though I am a huge fan of paramedics.

It is not easy to get the bookings and the shots when you are older and use a cane and your computer skills are as bad as your eyesight. If it wasn't for two large and computer-literate sons, Mark and Brett, Mary and I would have found it a daunting marathon. I just got the booster shot by going to a cavernous room at Cloverdale Mall left behind by Target. Mary and I both used wheelchairs and Mark and Brett to run the maze like laboratory mice. Difficult to park even though we have a disabled parking permit. Had to line up behind younger people and kids despite being 85 and 86. Thought that if they had spent less time posting dozens of No Photographs signs they would have had more time to improve the process. And finally the needle from a young male nurse who was nice and efficient.

To summarize my three innoculations (and I confess needles don't bother me after 12 years of giving them to myself as a type 2 diabetic) there was no pain and no problems afterwards and if you clump together all the time consumed it took less time than the average funeral service.

Not that I limp into many funerals these days. And I fear not being able to do so in the future as viruses  have become the Heinz 57 fear of life.

Friday, December 17, 2021


 Mayor Mel used to speak with one eye on the audience and the other on the pen of reporters. After I realized he would say just about anything to get attention, whether he knew what he was talking about or not, I started calling him Supermouth in columns and in radio and TV commentary.

He hated it. But then his skin was as thin as his tongue was quick. Yet as a salesman of himself and whatever he was pushing at the time, he would take any media licking and just keep on ticking like a demented Timex.

Yet there were times over the 30 years I watched his antics and fact free outbursts when we would be alone in some quiet corner outside a banquet or formal occasion and we would chat pleasantly and I would listen to insightful and humble comments and feel again that inside that bombast there was a shy, smart gentleman who had woven a facade around him to drive to fame and fortune.

His few close friends like Paul Godfrey used to talk about how quiet and thoughtful he was in private but few outside of them and his family ever saw it. 

I've had a close relationship with more than a dozen mayors and Metro chairmen in five decades of journalism. They didn't just leave their names behind in tens of thousands of faded newspaper clippings but on expressways, buildings, pools, arenas and other municipal bricabrac. Famous without being notorious! But Mayor Mel stands separate from them all when it comes to scandal and stunts that would have caused ordinary leaders to implode their popularity and suffer ignominious defeat and exile to the forgotten.

He died at 88 with much of the bad stuff left out of the obits. His accomplishments were listed as his North York and then the amagalmated city exploded. But they all really were overshadowed by him just surviving all those years at the top of the game. Some times when you search for feats by leaders, you  should settle for just a few goofs in the countless day-to-day decisions that any mayor or president has to make that involve more than just a buck.   

Mayor Mel should have been captured in a book like the famous "Power Broker" one that brought down Robert Moses after he dominated the Big Apple for decades. Yet no realistic book or movie on him would ever be believed because he was larger than life when he wasn't tripping over his tongue.

I have years of close encounters with our complicated municipal history. I saw my first city council meeting in 1957, back in the days when City Hall was a major beat in newsrooms and reporters and pols spent more time together than with our partners. When I got married, city council gave me a movie camera, Phil Givens, who brought the Archer to the Square, came to the wedding, and Ken Ostrander who left his name behind on the jewelry chain advised on the rings.

We have had flamboyant mayors like Lampy (I have his collection of lapel pins.) We have had enduring leaders like Nathan Phillips who served longer than any other mayor (as detailed in the book I wrote for him. ) There was a major goalie, Donald Summerville, who died in a charity hockey game (we went to the Downtown Y together and also to so many Leaf games that I felt guilty and wrote speeches as payment.) There was the civil servant, Dennis Flynn, who worked up to the dais and had been a war hero, shot while parachuting into battle. There was David Crombie, as charming as he was clever. and Art Eggleton, decent and dependable. A grand collection of interesting people!

There were also municipal leaders who sued me and got me drunk and one that became my publisher boss. I gave them advice they followed and advice they hated and even ideas that became policy like eliminating fees for children to swim and skate. There were ones who couldn't stand me, which was understandable for a daily columnist,  and one, Leslie Saunders, once the world's top Orangeman when it was a powerful force, delivered a lengthy diatribe against me in a Metro council meeting because I attacked him when my father had been a friend and the family doctor. 

When I write about the passing of leading politicians, I recall the advice from one of the best of those municipal leaders, Godfrey, when he became my Sun boss. After I used to write the editorial, I would send a copy to the publisher who 99.99% of the time would never respond. Now this could be interpreted as trust, but I also suspected it meant that if I wrote something that was considered really stupid or got us into trouble like the time city council stopped city ads in the Sun, Godfrey could say he hadn't read it first. I had written about William Allen after he died and said that the former Metro chairman had a reputation for being "too clever by half" earning him the justified nickname of Wily Willy. Godfrey sent the draft back and said for heaven's sakes couldn't we just stick to being nice after a major politician dies because it's rather late then to recommend changes.

So I will not go on at length about Mel's faults and colourful history, about how Marilyn, his wife and the love-of-his-life, was convicted of shoplifting, and then there was her phoney kidnapping, and then there was his mistress and two illegitimate children, and the time he called out the army in a panic to handle a snow storm, and the time he kind of favoured a motorcycle gang.....but I will now stop because under him there was the rebuilding and growth of the city into the largest and most important in the country, which is more important than some of the strange stuff he said about Africa etc.

Mayor Mel became a success as a furniture salesman and made famous the Bad Boy nickname he gave himself for his retail empire. He came from very little to become a millionaire. There are some who might  compare him to a political huckster named Donald Trump who also played strange games with his hair, but Mayor Mel was sharp enough not to go broke. I recall Tony O'Donohue, who was once almost mayor, approaching him at a council meeting and asking if he could get a deal on some appliances. Tony was quite impressed with what he got until the salesman confessed that Mayor Mel actually made more money than usual on the deal because Mel hadn't had to pay him a commission.

I'm not sure because of the erosion of the killer news cycle that Supermouth today would last as long as he did. But he endured and became the first Supermayor when the suburbs merged with a central city which looked down on the 'burbs. So he must be honoured for all those years of mind-numbing meetings when he was a key participant. Just not sitting on the sidelines and yapping is what people do when they really care about life.

 It was Teddy Roosevelt who pointed this out at the Sorbonne decades before this malaise in our politics where most of us dislike and distrust our politicians but just sit in the corner and sulk instead. "It is not the critic who counts: nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit goes to the man who is actually in the arena who strives mightily..." 

Mayor Mel got into politics because his letter of complaint to the CNE was never answered. He hated being ignored and never grew to like the Ex even though it is the country's largest fair. He stayed in politics for 30 years and always said he was speaking for the little guy who too often was ignored. And the majority loved Bad Boy for it even when he was shooting off at the mouth. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021


 This picture shows a rare daytime appearance by an Editor filling in for the legend because I found it easier to hide in darkness to evade close scrutiny by tots who still might believe.  So it is that I was departing my home years ago watched only by my wife and one of my four grandsons, John Henry Francis. 
I love everything about Christmas so you won't find me saying humbug about any tradition from Silent Night to Saint Nicholas. And I've filled in for Santa from Cuba to Gwilliambury dressed in assorted costumes - even one in blue to mock Tories who said they were the source of all good things.
My love of the season is rooted in my first memories of life when I rushed after school to a tiny house in Chesley to listen to a brief broadcast from a magical toy land which resided on the fifth floor of something called Eaton's in the city where my two sisters and I lived efore we were orphaned as kids. Life in the town near Owen Sound wasn't great but that daily broadcast and the fact that my Dutch grandparents allowed a few festive trappings such as Christmas stockings eased what I remember as mainly a frozen ordeal.
It was my size that determined that I was seen as a likely Santa repacement when I survived into a newspaper job and a family. I had started small but ended up over six feet and flirting with 300 pounds. It helped when from time to time I also had a beard, which was useful when brats tugged away at the artificial one. Over the years I developed a reasonable ho, ho, ho and the forbearance not to be too upset when the child started leaking. 
I also learned it was best to operate briefly and at night to avoid older kids shouting out triumphantly that it is just Uncle John. There I was trudging in daylight in the snow outside my sister's farmhouse when one of the kids shouted out who I was because I hadn't bothered to change out of distinctive snow boots.
It went smoothly only about half the time no matter how careful I was. One terrible Christmas Eve I slipped out the side door so that my boys wouldn't see me in costume and found myself in the middle of an accident scene where a hit-and-run driver who was never caught had left a friend on his way to carols in a coma that finally ended in death.
When friends asked me to introduce their wisp of a daughter to the legend, I arranged to run through their dark backyard while ho ho hoing and ringing. Their older son wanted to see better so he switched on the floodlights. It startled me and I ran into a tree branch. I may have been quite ample and padded but it poked me in one eye, which turned ho ho ho's into yelps.
Unfortunately, it was only my first call that night . After sort of a recovery, I headed for another suburban street and was walking along it tolling a wreath of sleigh bells and shouting greetings when a cruiser stopped beside me and a young constable asked what I was doing.
I told him where to go in a lexicon of curses.The young girl in the home I was about to walk by shouted in dismay inside the picture window that the "cops were busting Santa Claus.'' Her father,  dean of social work at U of T but also the son of a beat cop in Edmonton, observed quietly that there really seemed to be no problem because it was obvious that a shouting angry Santa was taking care of things.
I wrote about it in the Sun. The first call came from the Toronto police chief who said he wasn't sure that he believed my column because surely he didn't have men that stupid on his force that they would stop a Santa on Christmas Eve walking down the middle of a street.
The Sun, being a newspaper that appreciated the finer things about urban life like a grand celebration of the season, used me routinely as Santa on public and private occasions, like handing out the Christmas bonus. Afterwards, a picture would dutifully appear of me and the smart alec cutline would always have some put down line that I really wasn't that cuddly.
Once the promotion gee whizzers decided to splash by buying sacks of candy canes and arranging for a carol sing at the CNE carillon. They found someone to play the carillon and hired ponies and a tiny stage coach for my grand entrance since there weren't any rental reindeer around.
I didn't fit with the canvas sacks of canes in the coach so I arrived on top. I jumped off with a theatrical flourish, which was a mistake,  because one of the big ornamental balls on the coach roof caught me in a very intimate part. It turned my hollering and ringing into something resembling screams. 
As I limped through hundreds of people trying to smile rather than grimace, ace Sun photographer Norm Betts snatched up a little boy and thrust him into my arms. "They're holding Page One so let's get a quick shot and I can get the hell out of here," he said. I shoved the boy back. He was my youngest son Mark, who wasn't sure what was going on but sensed he was being rejected by someone that was supposed to be nice. But I didn't want any office hassle about getting my son on Page One and a young newspaper really doesn't build circulation that way either.
So I grabbed another boy, Betts took the picture which ran on Page One, we convinced Mark that Santa really wasn't that bad, and the Downings handed out sugar canes for weeks to anyone who came near us.  (There was a strange echo years later when a man phoned asking for a favour because his son had appeared on Page One with Santa.)
I played Santa at press gallery parties at City Hall and Queen's Park and even in the underground garage of the Sun when it graced King St. And I tried to play it straight because if you slipped beyond the ordinary script kids got suspicious. I recall hoisting a child on my lap at the Sun and figuring out from the circle of parents that surely this was a Blizzard from the reaction of Christina and David Blizzard, two stalwarts from the early days. Except the child returned to them and said that surely Santa also worked at the Sun because "he knew my name."
The Santa gifts for the politicians were gags which were a little cruel so I wasn't supposed to write about them when we ran pictures later. I did get dragooned to wear that Tory blue Santa suit at the Legislature, where Conservatives reigned, rather than the Liberal red popularized in Coke ads. But I do recall giving the Lieutenant Governor a rubber dollar bill because under the Conservatives you really had to make your money stretch. And I gave hunting knives to the Premier and Opposition leader to protect themselves against their backbenchers.
Later over drinks when I had ditched the suit, a pipsqueak Tory MPP confided to a group of us that he was looking for Downing to kick his balls off because of the awful jokes about his party. "I'm from the north and we know how to handle jerks," he said. I said that I was Downing and I had been an editor in the Yukon and knew how to handle people who couldn't take a joke. He then saw that I was about twice his size and left.
I retired as a Santa imitation after I got a little tired of the routine and wanted to enjoy parties without having to change in some closet.
 I recall one party thrown by Sun founder Doug Creighton for a retiring police chief when on my trip home I was stopped at the usual fishing hole by a spot check. I interrupted the constable in his explanation of RIDE spot checks by saying I was the godfather of RIDE because I had passed the original motion at the Metro Citizens Safety Council to buy the signs for the experiment which had started life as Reduce Impaired Driving In Etobicoke before it became Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere.
The constable listened impatiently and said that I had passed the breathalyzer so I could stop boring him with my claim that I had started RIDE. The next day, a police commission member phoned to say that the breathalyzer must have been defective.
In the early days of  RIDE, two other couples rented a limousine with Mary and me so that we didn't have to worry about driving home from a Herbie fundraiser. On the way, we were pulled over at a spot check at the edge of Etobicoke and a rather obnoxious constable started yammering about RIDE and breathalyzers. I argued, pointing out that we were passengers in a limousine so we didn't have to worry about breathalizers. When Riki Turofsky, the opera singer, joined in rather theatrically, the cop snapped out lines about it being up to him to determine who blew into what. There were deliberate double entendre elements of "blow jobs" in what he said. So I wrote about it.
This embarrassed the police chief so much that he quietly ordered an investigation. I got a call days later from a senior officer ordered by the chief to report to me that they could find no constable who would admit to being anywhere near Etobicoke that night. I said to drop it and forget about punishment because I was sure that the guilty constable was so worried he would never get mouthy again.
A rare blotch on my annual grand adventures. I look back with smiles about playing Santa and all those Christmas parties and concerts and singing carols in a Baptist choir. Everything used to turn out fine when dusted with the nostalgia of the season. 
 I remember thinking I had to indoctrinate the boat people in these joys after I was the official sponsor on behalf of federal immigration and Sun readers for the 43 Vietnamese we brought here in 1979. But their school and a church beat me to it. Before I even got talking about the season they had been given a Christmas tree for the humble living room I rented for them.
None of the refugees were Christian and they didn't known English and they depended on me for food and aid but it didn't really matter because the city was nicer than war and even the commercials talked about peace on earth good will to all. 
Then the city inspector said I had stuffed too many people into one house. So I phoned the mayor and yelled at him but nothing happened. Publisher Doug Creighton came to my rescue and said there was enough money from readers for me to rent other houses. Largest gift I ever gave as Santa and I wasn't even wearing the suit.



Friday, December 10, 2021


If our world hadn't been stampeded into stupid decisions where a few activists with a feeble grasp on real facts determine what is "appropriate" for the rest of us, it would be a source of great campus merriment that the name of Ryerson University is going to be changed by silly process.

Once again academic bureaucracy has run amuck, listening to the shrill and not the sensible. The country has been seduced by the horrible tales of residential school abuses for the vulnerable Indigenous pupils and the far less legitimate land grabs and environmental claims by First Nations. And the title for the university has become victim to the extremists hungry for a lazy victory.

 Ryerson has been around in various forms since 1948 when it was born in the fallout of the war. Over the decades it has educated nearly 200,000 and has nearly 50,000 students. It is 10th in the country in size and growing, if it can survive the inane leadership of the current administrators and student leaders. 

So if you have any sense and are contemplating changing a name honoured by 70 years of use by hundreds of thousands of alumni, students and staff, you ask what they think of the abandonment of the name of a great educator and churchman. Of course you would if you really wanted to know. But they really don't.

Compared to Egerton Ryerson's record as a missionary and friend in what was then called Indian tribes and his creation of a free school system along with a university, museum, art school etc........, those making the decision today to trash his name are pygmies (which is cultural appropriation, I suppose, but everything you say now is wrong according to some group.)

Yet they have cooked the books, just to make sure. I have been asked, along with the hordes in the giant Ryerson family, for a new name for a major university. Just to make sure there is a change, the name of Ryerson is not included as a choice.

Now I do have credentials when it comes to choosing a name. After all, I am a graduate, with a diploma and a degree, and I did write a history of the university, and I did teach there, and I did serve as student president, campus editor and member of the board of governors and various advisory committees, presidential search committees and task forces. I helped word the first historic plaques and I did interview all the pioneers of staff, students, premiers, principals and presidents of the first three decades.

By golly, there was even a time when they asked me to run the journalism department or whatever they call it now. Fortunately for Ryerson, and me, I liked being Editor of the Toronto Sun.

Once upon a time, Egerton Ryerson was so revered that even poor students contributed a few coins when they raised a statue to him. The notables of the city and provinc flocked to the unveiling and the prime minister advised the sculptor on the face. Now the statue has been trashed and no one has done anything about doing the same to the vandals who ripped down one of the more famous statues in the city.

One cause is politicians who cater to the shouters and the ignorant in their costly seduction of voters. This has all unfolded under Indigenous war banners which supposedly make it OK to claim that many white immigrants have been an evil despoiler of a peaceful heaven of a country and that past mistreatment of the latest Indigenous peoples justify special consideration when it comes to treatment and taxation.

Just about any stunt is pretended to be legal when it comes to blockades, spoiling what society used to treasure and PR preening. Our various boards like the one running the CNE have been conned into starting their meetings by saying it is all taking place on the traditional lands of various Indigenous groups, which ignores that half of Exhibition Place is landfill and indeed the city has at least eight square miles of landfill, including half the Island which was subject to Indigenous claim even though it was under water a century ago.

So they are trying to rename a university and change the name of major streets because of the real or imagined sins of white leaders but ignore that history is dotted with atrocities by every race. You don't have to search hard in Canada's history to find examples, which have been ignored when it suits their purpose. So no one suggests renaming Brantford because Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader,  had 40 slaves and was involved in massacres. And there are other examples from when settlers feared the savages. 

Where do you stop and start when it comes to paging through history? Archaeology, the magazine of the respected Archaeological Institute of America, in the last issue reminded readers that people were living in North America "up to 23,000 years ago." Why the petroglyphs north east of Peterborough are a mere thousand years old, which certainly beats a lot of First Nations claims. and it has been made a world heritage site. Tracing tribes from several hundred years ago to those that were here thousand of years ago becomes rather difficult, especially when it was common to try to kill their neighbours. Just try to ask the Hurons.

So there are hidden agendas when it comes to lifting the carpet of the past. to trumpet about real or imagined grievances. Which means rigorous scholarship is needed when the claims are to historic rights and wrongs to justify special deals. Just who really was first when the proof abounds in cave painting and glyphs that migration was an endless trek from country to country to island to continent for countless centuries.

My father came from England in 1879 and my mother from Holland in 1905. Isn't that long enough for me to think that I am the equal to any Canadian when it comes to how I am treated by the rest of the country? I was the official sponsor of 43 Vietnamese boat people who came here in 1979. Isn't that long enough or are they always supposed to put Indigenous claims first. 

But back to the latest giant of history to be sacrificed on the altar of the few lazy activists looking for publicity rather than facts. The issue, they say, is that Egerton Ryerson created the infamous residential schools where children were ripped from their parents to be educated as proper cogs in a white society. A strange charge to make against a provincial educator who was dead before the federal residential schools really got going. But then the educator was also a church leader who believed that everyone was entitled to all the benefits of being saved again as a good Christian. All people were equal before his God. And of course he was terribly wrong when he talked approvingly of residential schools because just look at those evil institutions like Upper Canada College and Eton and Harrow.

It doesn't help with the shrill that Christian missionaries are out of favour these days. So my mother and my aunt as Toronto Bible College grads bringing medical help to our poor or to Africans just were manifestations of misguided white supremacists. And you know that awful Egerton Ryerson started as a missionary living with the natives on the Credit. And his closest friend was Indigenous. He's suspect because he was one of those stern Methodists who believed in the Golden Rule. Besides, what kind of a name is Egerton anyway. 

Once upon a time, academia wrote approvingly that how fitting it was that Howard Kerr thought as the first principal that Ryerson was a great name for his makeshift school.  After all, Ryerson believed in practical education and observation and struction on how to do real work. He even built his own skiff. What kind of a role model is that in an age where students have to be taught carefully to avoid any controversy that might lead them to thinking that it is all right not to think that the majority or the woke proponents are always right.

Ryerson is a great name for a school, that is if it still intends to educate women and men to cope with life in the real world and not just accept that there really is only one way to look at anything.

Monday, December 6, 2021


The cliche goes that behind every great man stands a great woman. A variation was that some times there was a surprised woman. It certainly wasn't true here.
Too many of us have forgotten in the nostalgia about the Toronto Sun celebrating its 50 years of battles in a tough newspaper town that the wonderful charming brilliance of its founder Doug Creighton was rooted in the smiling support of a wife who was often the smartest in the room. 
Marilyn moved easily through the decades, from the 1950s and 1960s when the lanky police reporter was liable to show up at any hour with a bum or the Leaf captain to the heady years of PMs and movie stars courting the attention of a husband who rode his great personality to power.
Too often obituaries when an old friend dies are filled with personal anecdotes rather than how remarkable they were. I recall a funeral at Beth Tzedec when my neighbour said as yet another speaker droned on about their past that what he really wanted to hear was stories about the guy in the casket. Since he was Phil Roth, the billionaire developer, and the dearly departed was Phil Givens, who had come to my wedding before he was MP, MPP and mayor, I never try to forget to remember the accomplishments along with the anecdotes. And there were certainly many of those with 40 years of friendship between the Creighton and Downing families before the music died. 
After all, Marilyn had a life filled with peaks that would startle a biographer and she rode its crests with the calm shrewdness of the VON nurse she had been before the three sons and the glamour. 
Their marriage had humble roots and the early good stuff for their many parties came from a leading pawnbroker that was one of Doug's myriad contacts such as the police chief calling to chat and give him scoops that made the Star wince and had him climb the editorial ladder to the top positions.
We remember the chief calling to tell Doug to stick around for a good story and then he went out and shot himself.
Marilyn climbed each rung with him after the early years had prepared her for just about anything, which happened on a regular basis. The bungalow in central Etobicoke saw such strange sights as a hungover reporter wading though the snow in his long underwear to get the house number so the cab could take him to an early shift.
Doug let Marilyn explain that to the neighbours. As he did when Toby, the rambunctious family dog, grabbed a roast off the barbecue of a cottage neighbour who just happened to be a Supreme Court justice.
Things like that happened regularly to the Creightons because things like that happened routinely at the Telegram. Damon Runyonesque reporters populated the newsroom. It was like a set for Guys and Dolls but mixed in with the bizarre like a dusty diving suit sitting in a closet were reporters who had been the first into Hitler's bunker or had discovered the great Chubb impact crater in Quebec or watched Oswald get shot.
And then Doug took over in a blaze of setting sun which helped us birth the Sun with 62 survivors. But the 1,200 we left behind when the Tely died left their mark.
Some of our Tely stunts would shock the woke editors of today who think that this 24-hour news cycle is the cream of modern journalism. And Doug was the ringmaster in a style that later built the Sun.
I remember interviewing a Mafia snitch who cooked me lunch while he explained why they used a funeral home in Niagara Falls because they could bury victims under the deceased in big coffins. Then that "family" decided to sue Maclean's because they could probably make more money than the Tely would pay. Then Doug sent a reporter to dig up a backyard in Phoenix because we were told of a likely Mafia burial (but not Hoffa) And we plotted all this as Marilyn served up sandwiches as if we were discussing a soap opera.
It has been 60 years of marriage for Mary and me. Now too often we have to pause for golden memories of fast friends who have gone before. Marilyn could be tough with a keen view of all around her. But she had a gracious appreciation of the important things in life, like family and friends. It enriched us all.  
And she set an example. Doug had several months of silent fury with me because I dared to go to Moscow when Mary was having a minor operation. You just didn't do that with your bride. It was Marilyn who helped sooth the peace, as she so often did in the hurly burly,  the chaos of news in the big city.