Sunday, 21 July 2013

Mark Bonokoski says farewell

Mark's final Sun Media column:

When Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin penned his final piece for New York’s Newsday, he signed off to both management and readers by writing “thanks for the use of the hall.”

Today I wish to express the same thanks.

When I put the final touches to my first newspaper column way back in 1977, banged out in triplicate on a manual typewriter from a low-rent motel room near Kingston Penitentiary, I did not expect my run to ever end.

But it did, on Tuesday.

Hard as I tried, I never got as good as the legendary Jimmy Breslin, but he was my template for what a hardcore newspaper columnist should be — gruff, opinionated and fearless, but with a soft touch when a soft touch was needed.

While there were times with Breslin when it seemed he couldn’t have cared less, there was never a time when I could have cared more, nor when my harshest critic was not the face in the mirror.

I hope it showed in my work because I always gave the best I had to give.

Since 1974, I have worked for no one else but the readers of this space.

And now, thousands of columns later, and millions of words having lined the bottom of bird cages, it has come time to say goodbye.

It’s not easy.

My worst days, of course, were those three years back in the late 1990s when I was publisher and CEO of the Ottawa Sun, and my eyes were buried in budget books and not staring at a blank page on a computer screen with a column deadline looming.

Anyone who knows me knows this to be true.

Writing is what I loved, not management, and so it is good to go out as a writer.

Not many in the game have been as fortunate as I have been, who have been given a column at such a young age — then one of the youngest in Canada — and with it a ticket to virtually travel the world over the course of decades.

There is no greater adventure than to be a history’s elbow when the world changes, to be in Berlin at the very moment the Wall came down, to dodge gunfire in Rhodesia, to find yourself in a room in the Vatican next to where a pope lies recovering from an assassin’s bullet, or to be in an IRA funeral cortege in sectarian Belfast when two off-duty soldiers get lynched.

And that’s just a quick whetting of the memory.

During my days as the marquee columnist in Toronto, often punching out five columns a week, my memory quickly flashes to the phone call to the newsroom from the hitmen who had just whacked Toronto mobster Paul Volpe, and directing me to the exact location where his body could be found.

How’s that for having contacts?

During more recent times, there was the opportunity to write a 15-part series on the urban aboriginal which, while winning a couple of awards, was important in that it put a face to an oft-conflicted First Nations, and addressed those conflicts through their own words, not just the words of bureaucrats and politicians.

The capper, perhaps, was Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin launching the largest investigation in his office’s history as a result of another award-winning series I wrote on post-traumatic stress disorder among Ontario’s provincial police, and the force’s reluctance to deal with the turmoil and the anguish.

This issue must continue to be pursued.

Throughout the course of my career, rarely has a week gone by when I am not stopped in the street by a reader, many times to remind me of a long-ago column about their aunt, or their uncle, or someone they know who had fallen on hard times but were picked up by my words in this space.

Small victories, yes, but important ones too.

It signals a connection with readers.

So this is it, then. The end of this road, so to speak, but not the end of the adventure.

Somewhere, out there, another challenge awaits with my name on it.

Until then, thanks for the time and the use of the hall.

You will be missed.


  1. Been a big fan of yours since the day I started working in the Toronto Sun newsroom in 1975. As a wordsmith, you are brilliant. As a man and father, supreme. As a singer, not bad. Your favourite song, Stand By Me, is, I am sure, what your faithful readers will do, now and in your next media adventure. John Cosway

  2. And yet Sue-Anne Levy still has a job?