Monday, 21 January 2008

30 - Ted Welch

Ted Welch, a bear of a man with a heart of gold, died of liver cancer Sunday in Victoria, B.C. He was 61.

The former Toronto Sun political columnist was one of the pioneers of Sun coverage of City Hall and Queen's Park and he left his mark before heading west with his wife, Marj, more than a decade ago.

Ted's Ontario friends, former colleagues and poker buddies have missed his company since his move to Victoria. The departure of Ted and Marj, left a void in their lives.

Marj, his wife of 33 years, says Ted didn't want a funeral and she is honouring that wish. Instead, a celebration of Ted's life will be held later this year while Marj is in Toronto for a visit.

This TSF tribute post is open to friends and former colleagues with memories of Ted. He was a journalist who made waves, a poker player whose style is still the topic of conversation today, and a man who made you a better person for having known him. E-mail

Memories of Ted (pictured above with his new best buddy, Bobbie):

Lorrie Goldstein, the Toronto Sun's senior associate editor: "I agree with John Downing that what tends to get overlooked about Ted because he was such a great character is that he was such a damn good writer. There was never any B.S. about Ted, which made him an expert at spotting it in others, including, but not limited to, politicians. I think Marj said it perfectly (in the Sun obit): "He was a contrarian with the kindest heart in the world." Ted would argue with you over anything and everything, passionately, stubbornly, hilariously, for hours on end, giving no quarter and asking none. But when it was over, it was over, and you'd head out into the night to buy each other a drink. Finally, Ted was lucky enough to have found his soul mate in Marj - an accomplished writer and editor in her own right, friend, wife, coach, booster, defender, advocate and, when necessary, warden, jailer and riot act reader. Bless them both."

Sean McCann, former Toronto Sun reporter/editor: "Ted and I worked out of City Hall together. He was metro, I was city. We had a lot of fun there generating stories and whippin' the Star's ass. When the smoking ban came to City Hall, Ted refused to butt out and that caused a bit of commotion. He argued there was a window in the Sun's office, therefore he was entitled to smoke. But more importantly, we became very good friends and spent many an hour propping up the bar at the Toronto Press Club, boring the pants off Joe Burke (a TCP bartender) as we drank Chivas and beer and saved the world. Marj usually rescued us before any major damage was done. Ted was a founding member of the (TCP Wellesley Street) Poker Club and many a good hour was spent in that educational diversion. Bye Ted, I've already raised a glass to the memories."

John Downing, a Toronto Sun Day Oner/political columnist now retired: "I think of Ted and I smile. He shambled along like a guilty bear on a bad-hair day. His faults were as big as he was. And inside, nice, even cuddly, except when he was pissing you off. Sadly, my last communication to him got tangled in the rain forests of B.C., but then communicating with him was never easy.

When the Sun decided to make me the Editor late in 1984 and early 1985 - it was a long process - I swore Ted to secrecy and told him he had to start dressing himself up, no matter how much he may hate it. I said I wanted him to be the new political columnist based mainly at City Hall , but the brass was cool to the idea because they disliked puns more than Ted did and they thought he was a terrible representative for the paper at City Hall, where Doug Creighton thought it important to have clout and Paul Godfrey didn't want to be embarrassed when he returned to the turf that he had dominated.

Ted grumbled and cleaned up, sort of. As Bono wrote, he looked like an unmade bed, and that was on his good days. So Ted got to write the column and some of us fought behind the scenes to delay the inevitable, but in the end the SOBs got him. I was at the breakfast at Niagara-on-the-Lake when it was decided and Creighton didn't speak to me for a few days after we fought over it. Bless Ted anyway. City Hall columns have a dreary similarity unless the writer brings some different perspectives to the eternal issues.

I finally lost the battle to keep Ted semi-presentable, but I kept remembering why Ted told me he looked that way. "I want to walk down the street and look so mean that people will just leave me alone." And yet inside he would be mortified if his friends said he had hurt them. If you talked to Ted about his life before he got to the Sun, you understood how it all came about, because it wasn't exactly an easy life.

Cam Norton, bless 'em, bought the cottage next to me at Burnt Point and for a delightful period, Cam, Ted, Al Dickie, Don Reid and other suspects used to terrorize the pickerel off my point. I recall the night they descended on my TV to watch the Stanley Cup. Ted drank long and copiously and finally staggered to his feet, butted his cigarette on my coffee table, tossed a couple of bucks down as a tip and lurched into the night. He apologized profusely the next day for thinking my cottage was a shabby bar, but I told Mary that I guess we needed better furniture.

Of course, his fishing tales were just that, better than the fish he caught, but he had, as I recall, some nice little canoe and one day I recall it listing from all the fish he was hauling back to Cam's place.

I know that Ted, reading all this from a vantage point in the smoking corner of Heaven, will note that John Duffy in his writing about Ted and fishing said he caught a 30-pound coho. Cohos don't come that big in Lake Ontario, it would have been a chinook, but Ted would appreciate the touch of saying you caught a fish that would have been a Canadian record if it had been a coho.

It's too bad his friends like me waste so much time talking about his appearance, because some days he could cause a stir in a biker bar, and not enough about his writing, because I enjoyed reading his stuff, and too often these days I find political columns to be as boring as when I first read those ideas in the 1970s. And we don't talk enough about that nice relationship with Marj, the long-suffering, which seemed to be almost mystical. Perhaps some of us envied that marriage.

It is sad that in all the postmortems about the good old days of the Sun before Quebecor that Ted doesn't get more of a mention because Ted was part of a wacky but competent strain in the newsroom that made it a place of surprise and some days even joy because we knew that we really were different from those newspapers approved by the CBC, or ones with a social mandate that including firing on Christmas eve.

Ted has now answered one question for me with his passing, as they now say on TV. There is no dress code in Heaven, or perhaps Ted just ignored St. Peter when he said there was."

Sally Barnes, veteran provincial PC party worker: "Ted was just a delight to be around. Always good natured, loved to have a good time, seldom complained. I will always remember him with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other and a notebook falling out of his pocket. He'd be the first to admit that he was too ugly for radio - but he had a great news sense and was skilled with words. He kept politicians on their toes by going after them when they deserved it. But he was never mean about it. When he cut them down to size, you knew he had a smile on his face when he put the words to paper. We are losing too many of the guys who made our lives fun. Ted Welch is right up there with the best of them. All my memories of him are good. They bring a smile to my face and a sadness to my heart to know he is gone. "

Dean McNulty, Toronto Sun sports writer: "I was part of the staff on the St. Clair College Saint in Windsor with Ted and Greg (Parent) and what an adventure it was from 1969-72. My favourite Ted story was the night he and I went over to Detroit for an Ike and Tina Turner concert at the old Olympia near the University of Detroit campus. We took the tunnel bus across the river and a cab to the old barn. On our way out, Ted was in an ugly mood because there was too much Ike and not enough Tina and beer at the show. As we waited for a cab, a local youth came out of the parking lot brandishing a knife. "Give me your money," he barked. Ted, who had a foot and 150 pounds on the kid, said "Listen, I've got $5.35, $5 for the cab and 35 cents for the tunnel bus back to Windsor and I'm not walking home so go fuck yourself." It must have been the look of rage on Ted's face because the kid turned and ran. And this from the most kind and gentle man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing."

Al Dickie, longtime friend and former Canadian Press colleague: "Big, hairy guy that he was, Ted was nicknamed "Sasquatch" shortly after he joined CP (I think that was in the early 70s). He may have looked like a biker, but Ted was really a gentle soul, generous, loyal and with a sardonic wit that served him in good stead as a journalist.

He was apolitical, which made his city hall column for the Sun a joy to read because he judged the politician, not the politics.

Ted loathed pretension of any kind. He enjoyed a running battle with the city hall bureaucrats who were constantly pleading with him to clean up the Sun office when it had a place of prominence overlooking Nathan Phillips Square. Neatness wasn't on Ted's political agenda. He resisted until they finally moved the office to a less prominent location.

Next to his wife Marj, Ted's loves were poker, fishing and dogs. He enjoyed the cards with his buddies at the old Wellesley Street Press Club. One early morning, after a long evening at the bar and the poker table, he was accosted in the street by some muggers who demanded his money.

"Gave them 75 bucks," Ted told me the next day.

"Bummer," I said.

"Nah," said Ted. "I had $400 bucks I won at the poker game in my other pocket."

Typical Ted. He leaves his friends with some great memories."

George Hutchison
, veteran Ontario journalist: "Ted Welch was a big bear of a guy, whose gruff exterior masked a gentle, sensitive soul. He was a great reporter. I was fortunate enough not to encounter him as a rival. But we partied together and traded stories, many of which were true. Except on the topic of fishing. His catches seldom matched his imagination. But both provided great joy. I prefer to remember Ted with fishing rod rather than ballpoint pen in hand."

Sam Ion, former Toronto Sun writer and widow of the late, great Sun editor Cam Norton: "Ted and I were buds . . . Press Club Buddies, and the four of us were close friends. Often, when Cam worked nights, I would have a drink or three with Ted. I guess we may have had three one night, because I arrived home without my purse to pay the cab, and Ted turned up at his house with a large pink purse on his shoulder. Marj apparently opened one eye and said "Ted, I don't want to know." Cam said "Why can't you go shopping like other wives?"

Another night, after solving the issues of the day, I was wearing my hat as president of the Ontario Advisory Council of Womens Issues, and wondered if Ted and Marj would like to host some young women attending a conference on Women's Issues. "Sure," was the response from Ted. "We'll take six." When I called Marj the next day to thank her and give her the details of the 14-year-old girls coming for three days, it was news to her. She made Ted take care of them for the entire weekend."

Mark Bonokoski, veteran Toronto Sun columnist: "There is little doubt that Ted was one of the best when he covered City Hall and Queen's Park, although most of the time he looked like an unmade bed at a Salvation Army hostel. And I say this with all due respect, and with a smile in my mind.

Outside the office environment, though, he could be a tough man to handle if and when he decided to cut loose. I know, I was there on one of those occasions.

We were on one of Brian Vallee's famous fishing trips one year, at an isolated camp north of Gogama, when Ted decided he would drink away the week rather than suffer the fishing and the black flies. After all, Marj wasn't there to kill him for impropriety, so what was there to lose?

One night, in a daze, he pissed from his top bunk onto my adjacent lower bunk - thankfully with me not present. And every night, without fail, one of us in his cabin would have to take a turn making sure Ted was truly asleep for the night before shutting down the lights, out of fear that he would have just one more cigarette and burn the place down. Because he would fall asleep with a cigarette in his hand. Continually.

At the end of the week, it was me who drove Ted back to the city. He looked like hell. His hair was matted, the sweat was rolling off him in torrents, he smelled like a man who had drank for a week, and he insisted, part way home, that the time had perhaps finally come to put some food into his stomach.

So we stopped at a greasy spoon south of Parry Sound.

The place was a dump.

The owner took one look at Ted staggering through the door and said to me, pointing at Ted, "No way . . . No way are you bringing that in here."

"What am I? A dog?" yelped Ted.

It broke me up."

John Duffy, publisher of Taxinews and longtime poker buddy: "Aside from a drunken Ted at the poker table? The drunker he got, the better he played. And one marathon game at his house, I think I'd rather forget as I lost money that night.

With a bunch of other guys - The Bird (Pat Crowe) and (Al) Dickie may well have been on that outing) at the TPC - we went in together and chartered a salmon fishing boat one day out of a marina at the foot of Hurontario St. and went out on Lake Ontario. I caught a coho that was just under 30 pounds and a smaller one about 8 or 9 pounds. Ted also caught at least one very respectable fish as well.

Afterwards, Ted commented that he had spent a lifetime casting hooks and had been all over Canada fishing and here, not a hundred yards off shore off the Beaches, in Lake Ontario, he caught the biggest fish of his career. He was more than a little surprised, bemused, and taken aback by the revelation.

I also recall he was covering the CNE one year and he had a chance to check out a grizzly or black bear. I believe he was offered a chance to get into the cage with the animal, and politely and very firmly declined. He was more than a little impressed by the beast, and if memory serves, a bit frightened by it. Which surprised me as he had a distinct (at least to my eye) resemblance to a big bear himself. I had thought they might get along famously."

Les Pyette, who was the Toronto Sun's city editor when Ted came aboard in the 1970s: "Ted was no nonsense and we sensed that about him right off the bat. He broke many stories from City Hall, enough sensitive chords were touched that some higher-ups wanted him taken off the beat. For the most part, we all stuck with Ted and his direct approach. He helped make the Toronto Sun a better paper back in the glory days of the Little Paper That Grew."

John Cosway, former Toronto Sun reporter/rewrite guy: "Ted was a unique poker player. He would drink too much, smoke too much and win too much. Having to wake Ted up to tell him he had won another hand remains a poker game flashback to this day.

One of my favourite Ted Welch stories involves the night he decided to hitch a ride home from the Toronto Press Club. A couple of guys stopped and gave him a ride. Now Ted might have looked like a big, bad biker, but he was a pussycat. So when one of the men demanded his wallet, he quickly gave it up and fled the car. Problem for the thugs was he kept most of his money in a shirt pocket. At the press club, he was always stuffing cash into his shirt pocket. A memento from that night was a brief Sun story reporting Ted had been robbed.

A lot of memories of Ted involve his drinking, but he was much more than that. As a journalist, Ted made waves from the time he and Greg Parent, another Sun alumni, ran a college newspaper in Windsor in the 1960s. He was also a great story teller, a fisherman, a devoted husband, married to an incredibly tolerant and loving wife.

Ted made a difference in the lives of a lot of Sun readers, politicians, friends and colleagues."

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