Monday 30 April 2007

Bye: Peter Brewster

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 January 2, 2003, Toronto Sun columnist
Mike Strobel bids farewell to veteran editor Peter Brewster.

By Mike Strobel
Peter "The Squire" Brewster will scan this paper, fresh off the press, and come to this page. He will look for typos in headlines or missed photo captions or other such gaffes and gremlins.

It may take him a second to realize this page is about him.

"What the...?" he will bark in that Manchester burr.

And the newsroom will grin, gather round, shake his hand, slap his back.

A dram or two of single-malt Scotch may cross his lips.

It's the least we can do.

Not likely you know of Peter Brewster, unless you are in this business or you peruse the fine print on mastheads.

But I dare say he has put more editions of the Sun to bed than anyone. He has held several titles, including managing editor and Sunday editor and is now associate managing editor.

Or at least he was until today, the first day of his retirement.

This page is a surprise tribute from us.

I've worked with Brewster a dozen years, mostly in my editor days. I've sweated over headlines with him, torn papers apart with him when big stories broke.

He's as steady a hand as I've known in this racket.

He is also a gourmet chef, an Arctic adventurer, an automotive writer, a new father at 60, a neat freak and a fashion plate.

The last two are partly why he's called The Squire in some quarters.

That and the fact that, given enough whisky, he breaks into a Scottish brogue and calls everyone Hughie. As in, 'Howzit goin' Heww-ey!?'

Michael Peake, 50, is a Sun photog and one of Brewster's portage-mates over 20 years of canoe treks to places like Coppermine, Baffin Island and Ungava Bay. They are part of the Hide-Away Canoe Club, whose other members include Peake's brothers and an Anglican priest.

"Peter is extremely good with his clothing," Mike tells me, dryly. "Perfectly neat."

Even surrounded by blackflies, ice floes and polar bears.

One of the Peake brothers does a wicked impersonation of Brewster taking a whiz in the tundra.

"Ten seconds of actual peeing, and three and half minutes of straightening and unbuckling and zipping and folding cuffs and rearranging his pockets," is how Mike describes it.

Brewster, by the by, is the fisherman in the group, keeping the pan full of lake trout and char.

Fishing, the outdoor life, drew Brewster to Canada 36 years ago. He's a Manchester butcher's son, but the newspaper bug bit. At 24 he was already a vet of the British press.

In Toronto, he worked at the Telegram, retreated to England just before that paper folded, then joined the infant Sun on Sept. 17, 1972.

He was Sunday editor the night tanker cars exploded in Mississauga, sparking the flight of 200,000 people.

Many of our best known headlines were Brewster's. I think he was the first to use Bastards! on the front page, when Saddam Hussein's thugs beat and paraded a British pilot.

We used the headline again when other bastards attacked the World Trade Center.

That front page is on the wall of his office. The tidiest office in the building.

The Squire turned 60 on Nov. 20, though you would look at him and say, oh, maybe 50.

The milestone came on a Sun sabbatical that included New Zealand and Australia.

New partner Christie and even-newer daughter Alison, 1 1/2, joined him for part of the trip. I suspect they are the main reasons he's retiring early.

New Zealand, of course, is Lord of the Rings country and has always been one of Brewster's favourite places.

Not just because he is Gimli-esque in stature: 5-foot-6 and built like a brick.I can see him paddling toward Mordor with the Fellowship of the Ring, a decade older than the rest, but just as fit.

As steady, as dependable a fellow as you could want with you in a canoe or in a scrap.

Or in a newsroom.

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