Friday 27 April 2007

Bye: Hartley Steward

Remember when the Toronto Sun knew how to say its goodbyes to parting vets? A time when the tabloid had heart and an appreciation of the contributions made by its employees?

We do.

From July 7, 2006: Columnist Mark Bonokoski bids adieu to Hartley Steward, a 30-year Sun vet who quietly left the building weeks earlier without a word in the Sun. There hasn't been a farewell column like this salute to Hartley since then and that includes an absence of adequate words for Alison Downie, Gord Walsh, Bill Brioux, John Downing, Valerie Gibson, Sherry Johnston, Sandy Naiman, Len Fortune, Al Cairns, Maryanna Lewyckyj etc. etc.

By Mark Bonokoski
If Hartley Steward had been a professional athlete, they’d be retiring his number with great ceremony and hanging his jersey from the rafters.

But this doesn’t happen in the newspaper game.

In this business, especially in the day and age of convergence challenges and hypertensions over bottom-line “efficiencies,” the powers that be in virtually all newspaper organizations would ultimately prefer one to simply disappear from the pages when the final day comes.

Without a bang and, please, without a whimper.

Just quietly go.

Over the course of my career, and this goes back to the last days of the manual typewriter as it morphed into a word processor, I’ve had two front-line mentors to whom I owe much.

The first is Jim Bruce, then assistant city editor of the Windsor Star when I joined that newspaper back in the ’70s following a not-so-auspicious beginning as a summer intern at the Calgary Herald during my early post-graduation days from journalism studies at Ryerson.

The other is Hartley Steward.

His final column for this newspaper appeared on Father’s Day, and it spoke to the theory of how “nice” people finish last, and how Canada has been “had” in thinking that its politically correct posturing would provide enough distance to ward off antagonizing the radicals of the Muslim world.

But nothing about himself was written.

Not a single word of farewell.

To know that he had retired, one would have had to have read the addendum paragraph of editorial page editor Linda Williamson’s column in which she thanked him for hiring her — not once, but twice.

She also mentioned he had been publisher of both the Toronto Sun and Ottawa Sun — “among many other legendary journalistic contributions.”

Unmentioned, however, was that he was once publisher of the Calgary Sun as well, but at least a modicum of notice was given of his departure by someone with cachet.

Those who read the business pages will know that this newspaper, as well as others across the Sun Media chain, recently underwent some “downsizing” in order to “reposition itself into a multi-platform content provider.”

It was a dark day here when those cuts were announced because each cut carried a name and each name had a personal context that affected many.

But such is business in the multimedia 21st century. It cannot be helped and likely cannot be stopped.

It was the vision of Toronto Sun co-founder, the late J. Douglas Creighton, that there be other Sun newspapers rising in cities across this country, but it was Hartley Steward who was given the task of ensuring their birth in at least two of those cities — first in Calgary and later in Ottawa — and basically building those newspapers from scratch.

And this he did.

In fact, he made it look almost easy — much like Tiger Woods often makes it look easy to take a full-bore swing while standing in four-inch rough, hook a golf ball 235 yards around a small forest towards an unseen green, and then have it land like a butterfly a few inches short of the cup as if guided there by some global positioning mechanism.

Many jobs provided

But easy it’s not.

The Calgary Sun was launched in 1980, and the Ottawa Sun in 1988. Think of that “legendary accomplishment” by Hartley Steward, and then think of all the jobs provided, the families who have benefited over all those years, as well as the value added to Sun Media’s financial portfolio.

Yet he left here a few weeks ago without a bang, without a whimper, and certainly without any ceremony.

Hartley Steward was a senior editor when I joined the Sun after two years at the Windsor Star, still green behind the ears but willing to chase every fire truck and ambulance that drove by in case there was a story at the other end.

Over those first years here, he taught me many things, helped me organize a 12-part series, a first for this newspaper, on one of the last men in Canada to be declared a dangerous sexual offender — the word “sexual” later struck to create a larger umbrella — and then he taught me to sit back and write in a gentler fashion and not “attack” the typewriter keyboard as if the end of the world were nigh.

“Play it like a concert piano,” he said.

In 1977, I was tapped to be a columnist and, in 1988, I was tapped again to move to London to be Sun Media’s European bureau chief and replace the man who himself had been tapped to move again, this time to Ottawa, all to start up another Sun from the last gasps of a dying weekly.

And that man, of course, was Hartley Steward.

When that two-year-plus stint in Europe came to an end, and the Ottawa Sun was looking for a new editor to write its editorials and lay waste to politicians, that is where I landed, again at Hartley Steward’s doorstep.

If there has been a thread that has sewn a path through my tenure in this profession, he is that thread.

Up near the town of Creemore tomorrow, Hartley and wife, Mary, will host his sixth annual 60th birthday party, as well as his “retirement” from 45 years in journalism.

It was written long ago that it is not the years in one’s life that count, but the life in one’s years.

Hartley Steward’s long career in the newspaper and magazine game — as an award-winning writer, a passionate and compassionate editor, and twice a founding publisher of newspapers which today have staffs in the hundreds — provided a lot of life to a lot of years for many, with my life certainly being no exception.

If there is one name that needs to be included in the Canadian News Hall of Fame, it is Hartley Steward’s.

Sadly, though, the hall does nothing today but gather dust.

It is, in fact, on the verge of quietly disappearing."

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! Hartley Steward was absolutely the best boss I ever had the pleasure of working for. We all worked hard and had fun while he was at the helm. (Calgary Sun)--Wendy (Potter) Tunnard