Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Another honour for Les Pyette

Congrats to Les Pyette, pictured with daughter Kaydi.
From the Sault Ste. Marie Star

SAULT STE. MARIE - Les Pyette was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, where he began his long and productive newspaper career as a sports reporter at his hometown paper when he was still in high school.

He was bitten so hard by the journalism bug in those early days that he quit school to take a full-time job at the Sault Daily Star in 1963 for $65 a week, at the tender age of 17.

Pyette worked his way up to top executive positions at several newspapers in Canada and was founding editor-in-chief of the Calgary Sun in 1980.

He has travelled much of the world as a news man, but he never forgot about the people back home. He made regular trips back to the Sault to visit with family, which never seem far from his heart.

Pyette spent 41 years in the news business, 29 of them with Sun papers.

His efforts have led him into newsrooms across the country, to Taiwan, Japan, South Africa and many cities in the U.S., and distinguished him as one of the top news men in the nation.

Last fall he took his place in the Canadian News Hall of Fame among other greats in the industry.

On Saturday afternoon he was under the big tent on the Sault waterfront at the Roberta Bondar Pavilion to receive an honorary degree from Algoma University, and also deliver the commencement speech at the school's convocation ceremony.

“Who would have thunk that I would be standing here (now), when I was chasing all those sports stories around the Sault 50 years ago,” said Pyette, 69, who lives in London, Ont., but still calls the Sault “home.”

The Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) Degree is awarded by AU to recognize outstanding achievement by a person outside the university, said academic dean Arthur Perlini during his introduction of Pyette.

“Mr. Pyette's achievements in Canadian journalism are outstanding and have been acknowledged so by his peers, as well as the readership of many of the newspapers he has spearheaded,” said the dean.

“His career contributions and achievements ... are recognized today as those of a newspaper legend,” Perlini added.

Pyette was soft spoken and most when he took his turn at the microphone.

“Thank you so much for bestowing this honour on a poor kid from Connaught Avenue — Korah Road and Second Line. (It's) hard to believe,” he said.

Pyette tipped his hat to his mother and father from the podium.

“Both are long gone now ... They raised five boys and two girls in a little war-time house on Connaught Avenue. The morals and the values that they taught us still hold dear with us today,” he said.

He made special mention of his brothers, Norris, Nellie, Ron and Al, who were in the audience.

Pyette said his father wasn't home much when he was growing up because he worked two jobs. It was oldest brother Norris who drove the boys to hockey games and taught them to drive.

“(He) taught us not to take any BS from anybody ... I owe a lot to older brother Norris.”

Pyette became a bit emotional while recognizing Nellie, Ron and Al, “For all their love and support over the years.”

He said he didn't know what to make of university president Richard Myers when he called to tell him the school wanted to present him with the honorary degree. He thought one of his old friends from the Sault was putting him on.

“I'm humbled and honoured to be standing here,” he told the crowd of nearly 1,000 that filled the tent. “Thank you so much from the bottom of my Sault Ste. Marie heart for this wonderful honour. I will cherish it forever.”

Although he was still playing hockey and baseball when he began working for the Sault Star in 1963, Pyette's duties took him to local ball diamonds, soccer fields and the former Memorial Gardens to also gather game statistics and talk to coaches.

He provided the information to reporters at the Star who wrote the stories. He didn't actually get a byline until he had been on the job for six months.

After playing in a hockey game in Sudbury late in 1963 he called the Star to provide details and comments about the game.

“A guy named Greg Douglas took it (the information) and he made a story,” Pyette said during an interview after convocation.

He was shocked to see the story across the top of the sports page the next day — with his byline on it. It was one of those indelible moments.

“I was bitten hard. I was turned on right there” to the newspaper business.

Pyette worked at the Sault Star until 1967 when he applied for a job at a small paper in Illinois,“as a lark.”

To his surprise he got the job and worked three years in the U.S. before returning to Canada to continue his trade, later becoming editor at the Toronto Sun, then founding editor-in-chief of the Calgary Sun, publisher and CEO of both Sun papers and the London Free Press.

Through his career he also served as executive editor of the Toronto Sun, general manager at the Calgary Sun and vice-president of Sun Media before retiring in 2003.

He returned briefly to the news business in 2004 as publisher and CEO of the National Post for one year.

Pyette's advice to the 2014 graduating class was terse and simple.

“Believe in yourself, don't take no for an answer,” he told the more than 200 students in attendance.

Back in the '70s when the “upstart” Toronto Sun opened its doors, the so-called media experts predicted the paper wouldn't last six months, he said.

“But as you know, it's 43 years later and it's still going.”

It takes a lot of hard work to be successful, he told the students. There were many late nights and early mornings during his 40-plus years in the news business.

And he took some chances along the way, he said, such as leaving a secure job to begin a new venture.

“I can tell you students, no one is going to give you anything, you have to stick to your principles and work your butt off to gain a measure of success in this working world,” he said.

“Buckle down and concentrate and listen to your instincts, listen to your gut. If you're lucky you'll find something that you like. And if the door of opportunity opens, walk right through it and don't look back.”

1 comment:

  1. Nice story and awesome achievement for Les Pyette. I actually got misty when I read:

    “A guy named Greg Douglas took it (the information) and he made a story,” Pyette said during an interview after convocation.

    He was shocked to see the story across the top of the sports page the next day — with his byline on it. It was one of those indelible moments.

    “I was bitten hard. I was turned on right there” to the newspaper business."

    I think many of us journalists can remember the first time we saw our byline and the paragraphs depicting Les getting his first byline made hit me and I thought about time. lol.

    Nice piece on Les. Enjoyed it.