Saturday, 13 January 2007

The Westcotts

The Westcotts of Ontario have had media ties for more than half a century.

It all began in 1950, with Clare Westcott at the Toronto Telegram, brief as it was; followed by Genevieve Westcott and her award-winning rise to international recognition as a print/broadcast journalist; Jamie Westcott and his award-winning, but bittersweet, three years as a Toronto Sun reporter/photographer; Kathleen Westcott, the youngest of nine children, hired as an executive assistant to Global TV's vice-president of programming.

Clare Westcott, the father:
Clare can type his full-time media resume using only 11 words: Toronto Telegram, Monday to Wednesday. Fired for refusing to work weekends.

Says Clare: "I came to Toronto in 1950 (after 10 years with Hydro in Western Ontario) to a job at the Telegram. It paid $2,750 a year and my intention was to take journalism at night at the newly established Ryerson Institute. I left my wife and baby son in Seaforth and lived in one room on Dalton Road. The deal with my quite new wife was that I would return home every weekend, for she worked for three doctors and lived in an apartment above their medical clinic.

"While in high school and through the later 1940`s, I worked part-time for the weekly Seaforth News. I started at the Tely at Melinda and Bay on a Monday morning, and registered for night school at Ryerson the same day. On the Wednesday, I saw my name on a posted list of those who were to work on the weekend. I went up to a man who looked important and told him I had promised my wife I would return to Seaforth every weekend and would not be able to work. He asked my name, then called someone on the phone and said, 'Make up Westcott's pay, he`s through.'

"At later Tely reunions, I was the guy with the lapel badge (which I framed and still have) saying simply, Toronto Telegram - Clare Westcott - Monday to Wednesday. In later years, the guy who fired me became a good friend. It was J. Douglas MacFarlane - who was turfed from the Tely by John Bassett about 20 years later, with about the same grace as JDM dumped me."

Clare vividly remembers his firing: "About 30 minutes after J.D. made the call - I presume to payroll - a fellow came up and gave me a cheque for three days. I did work only three days, Monday to Wednesday, and I damn well left early Wednesday when I was turfed."

But Clare quickly landed on his feet.

"I was so very lucky to have bounced to another job, even though it paid about $100 less. I became a minor spear carrier for Leslie M. Frost and hung around Queen's Park for the next 35 years. I was awash in humility through all those years, for everyone knew I was a high school dropout. I quit Grade 11 to join the army and was rejected as unfit, so I left school for Hydro. Now, when I look at my Grade 11 school picture, I see the unfit Westcott is the only one still alive."

Among the numerous sidebars in Clare's life: He was campaign manager for Frank McGee in the June 1957 election in Scarborough, winning with the largest majority in history (Clare is now writing about the big win and how Gratton O'Leary, John Bassett, J.D. MacFarlane, Laurie McEchnie, Val Sears, Dalton Bales and the short-lived Sunday Telegram made the record win happen.)

In the mid 1960's, Clare, the high school dropout, was appointed to the Board of Governors of Ryerson and in the early 1970's, former Premier John Robarts and Clare received the first two honourary degrees.

After retiring from Queen's Park in 1985, Clare was appointed Commissioner of Metro Toronto Police, only to be fired by David Peterson in 1989. Then it was on to special assistant to Finance Minister Michael Wilson until 1993, when made a citizenship court judge in Scarborough. Fired again, this time by the Chretien government.

Clare also returned to his newspaper roots during the 1980's and 1990's, writing a weekly column for the Seaforth News.

"I wrote a column about this and that - politics and politicians, people I knew - and anecdotes from my years in government, including pieces about newspaper folk. Wrote 200 to 300 columns."

The writer in Clare found an unexpected source of material after selling their house in Scarborough and moving into a condo.

"I had a library of about 2,000 books and about as many 78s and vinyl records. Many of the books were up to 100 years old and I had a lot of vintage records and a few hundred tapes. So I rented a stall at the Pickering Antique Market and liked it so much, I was there every Sunday for two years. Wrote a column about it."

In the decades since his three-day stint at the Tely, Clare has retained ties with the media, became good friends with JDM, wrote a few pieces for the Sun and "had great relations in the 70's and 80's with Sun staffers at the Queens Park press gallery, especially Claire Hoy and his replacement, Lorrie Goldstein."

Genevieve, the daughter:
Genevieve Westcott, one of New Zealand's most recognized journalists and a sought-after public speaker, got her start in Canadian media as a Vancouver Sun financial reporter. At 23, she became the Vancouver Province's youngest editorial page writer.

Television beckoned and Genevieve continued her media climb, working at Canwest Television Network, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and as West Coast bureau chief for CTV National News. She capped her Canadian TV career as an anchor and correspondent for CTV's W5.

In 1984, Genevieve moved to New Zealand, where the award-winning journalist continued to impress employers and viewers at TVNZ's Eyewitness News, with appearances on newsmagazines Close Up and 60 Minutes; anchored TV's A Current Affair and The Westcott File; worked as a 20/20 correspondent and also hosted ZB radio programs in Aukland.

With 13 national and international awards for journalistic excellence on her resume, she is also a sought-after public speaker through her Westcott Communications firm.

Jamie Westcott, the son:
Jamie Westcott was born into a growing family on May 30, 1964. While attending General Crerar Public School in Scarborough, young Jamie became keenly interested in Latin, but the school didn't teach Latin.

Clare and Virginia Westcott never discouraged any of their children when it came to education so after he completed Grade 8, they enrolled Jamie at Regina Mundi College, a private Catholic high school in London, Ontario.

With six of their other children attending or planning to attend the University of Western Ontario, the University of Windsor, York University and the University of Toronto, the Westcotts took out a second mortgage to get Jamie into Regina Mundi in 1978.

Jamie got his taste of Latin in London and graduated from high school in 1983 as an Ontario Scholar. His parents wanted him to attend the University of Toronto, but Jamie opted for St. Michael's College in Toronto.

Clare says university life wasn't what Jamie was expecting. With the media success and adventures of his older sister in mind, his thoughts turned to journalism. Within a few months, he dropped out of St. Michael's and switched to journalism at Centennial College in Scarborough.

"Jamie was 21 and about halfway through journalism when the cancer was discovered in December of 1986," says Clare. "He didn't want to stay in school for he didn't know for sure how long he had. The doctor told him he thought they found all the cancer, but couldn't be sure.

"The doctor told his mother he would likely have three to five years if it returned - and longer if it went into remission. I am sure Jamie then knew the odds."

Jamie, operated on in January of 1986, began a series of heavy chemotherapy sessions that continued into spring.

With the help of Doug Creighton, Jamie joined the Toronto Sun family in May of 1986 as a summer student. The good-natured new staffer helped co-workers get past the hat he always wore by saying he was self-conscious about losing his hair during chemo.

The Westcott media streak continued, with Jamie feeling right at home at the Sun, winning four awards for crime reporting and writing tabloid cops and robbers stories and features with flare. His presence in the newsroom was appreciated and he was elated by the acceptance.

Cancer being the cruel bastard that it is, Jamie's fight for life came to an end June 13, 1989, at Scarborough General Hospital, where he was born. He was 25. It was a blow to fellow Sun staffers who came to admire Jamie as a man and journalist.

The Jamie Westcott Memorial Award, initiated and sponsored by the Toronto Sun in his memory, was awarded annually through the 1990's for crime reporting. Jamie was told about the new award shortly before his death.

"Jamie was afraid he would be forgotten because his working life was so short," says Clare. "The award was given out through the '90's, but budget cuts by the Quebecor folks resulted in it being dropped. "

(Editor's Note: One more entry for the ever expanding heartless Quebecor Wall of Shame.)

Clare said when Jamie went off to school for those five years in his teens, they had no idea he would be gone from their lives at 25.

"We didn't know then we would be losing him, for in those five years away, we only saw him during the summer holidays and maybe one weekend a month. I cherish the plaques he got for the four newspaper awards he won in his short three years at the Sun."

He also cherishes a June 1, 1986, letter Jamie mailed to his sister, Genevieve, and her husband, Ross, in New Zealand. The letter, written a month after he started working at the Sun and three years before his death, captures Jamie's eagerness to be accepted and productive.

"Hi Gen & Ross,
Just writing from work to say hi and to tell you about my 1st month as a ‘real newsman.’

So far, so good. I've had about a dozen assignments, mostly soft stuff. But a few good stories made the paper. This place is fun all the time . . . work gets done . . . but there’s no tension or bitching like I thought there would be!

There are five students here now, and they usually keep 2 or 3, so I’m just gonna try & impress the hell out of them!

Slow news day today, so I’m just hangin' out & taking calls. I hear you are up for more!!! awards. Way to go.

Still haven’t taken a pic for a story cuz no matter who I shoot, they seem to have a file picture to use instead.

I was using the Pentax, but I have no flash for it so I take an idiot camera from work now. It’s just a Nikon one-touch, but I would really like to take more shots.

Did my first pick up yesterday when I worked the police desk. All those radios going at once is confusing, but once I begin to understand what they’re talking about, I’ll know what to listen for!!!

Only 2 more treatments left & then I’ll be back in the hair business. Yeah!

Anyways, the editor’s back so I’ll have to get back on full alert. Thanks again for the sweater. Tell Ross he has good taste.

Love, Jamie. "

Clare Westcott, son Jamie and 20 other family members flew off to New Zealand in 1987 for the wedding of Genevieve Westcott and husband Ross. During their stay, Clare and Jamie visited The Rainbow Warrior, a ship that had been sunk by the French secret service. Jamie, like most loyal and enthusiastic Sun reporters in the 1970's and 1980's, took notes during his stay in New Zealand and on his return, wrote two stories about his trip, including a full page fishing story with pictures. His beard, his contagious smile, his enthusiasm for writing and his Terry Fox bravado while battling cancer are all components of the memories family, friends and co-workers have of Jamie almost 20 years after his death.


  1. Jamie will never be forgotten by anyone who's life he touched. His laughter, his intelligence, his genuine love of life and his loyalty are all the things I carry with me to this day. He has been an inspiration to me throughout my life. I miss him still. I am sorry to hear that the award in his name has been dispelled, but it would take more than that to remove him from the lives of those who knew him.
    Anne-Marie Pap (nee Bergman)

  2. I met jamie westcott on assignment in Burlington. I was a Spec police reporter and he was with the Sun. We were talkin the talk and fishing each other for information. "It's easy for you," he said in a friendly tone. "You're the only game in town." Now I find out that he went to Centennial College J school, just like me. He was just after my time there. I'll bet he had stories about John Lott. I wish I had gotten to know him.

  3. Jamie was always full of enthusiasm and eager to get to the next story. I was always energized after a visit with my cousin. Sadly missed but always remembered, Kevin D'Arcy