Thursday 19 April 2007

John Downing writes

John Downing, a Day Oner who quietly left the building in December after 35 years at the Toronto Sun and is the subject of a TSF farewell posting, writes:

"It's a unique experience to read about yourself as if you had just died. I think I'm still alive, and that I didn't call it quits after 5,000 columns, but that they called it quits for me after 5,400 columns.

"Not that I feel extinguished. I'm in my anecdotage, and my sons say they still love to hear the old stories because they want to see how they turn out "this time." So I will keep writing and talking.

"The comments from my friends are intriguing. Apparently (Don) Hawkes wanted to kill me on occasion. Now he knows how I felt. Les (Pyette) is another chap I felt like doing that to on occasion, but as it turned out, after we had adjoining offices, he had a much better grasp of our form of tabloid journalism than any of the current jerks.

"Then there is this grudging tribute from (Andy) Donato. You would never know from his cherubic exterior, but this is a golfer who draws rather than the other way round. He hated to come to the office, so his picture of me greeting his latest effort with no enthusiasm seldom happened. I was too busy trying to find the curses and obscenities hidden in the cartoon to laugh.

"Actually, the curses are the only words he knew how to spell correctly. Since I continually had to defend his cartoons before the press council and the rest of the media, I looked on him as a talented loose cannon who could shoot off in all directions. As a cartoonist, he's a great golfer, but never play with him because he will criticize every part of your swing while gleefully pocketing all your cash. A great talent who is one of the last vestiges of the original Sun.

"It's nice to have kind words from the foot soldiers, (Sean) McCann, (Ian) Harvey and (John) Cosway who know how much of the business is perspiration rather than inspiration and how most editors are nuts.

"Then there are the kind words from Joan Sutton Straus about how I hired her after a wine-fueled lunch when I returned to the office and found that (Doug) Creighton had hired someone else. Thank heavens I won that fight. Joan was always one of the great ladies of the Sun, much more than the one who gets all the publicity, named by Page 6 as the Black Witch of King St., and that was before many of us lost money by being stupid enough to invest in Hollinger.

"When the Tely finished, and I was the editor in charge of the last edition, I felt saddened by how many of the 1,200 we would never see again because only 62 came to the Sun. All these friends who we had bowled with and curled with and drank with at weddings and christenings and just because we felt like it were now going their way.

"And the Sun has been a sad sequel. If only we could call up Bob MacDonald for a celestial hockey game where he could drive his elbows and his hockey stick into that well-tailored suit and see if there is a heart and brain inside.

"We used to know how to fight in the corners of journalism, before the suits took over, who know only how to turn success into failure.

"Happy to hear from anyone at 416-233-3183 or

"Don't be like Hawkes, who the last time I called him in Quebec to chat wanted to know "who died?"

"Well, it's happening to a newspaper, but they can never kill our memories."

Thank you for your comments, John. You can tell your Sun stories here whenever you feel the urge. This is a link to your 30th anniversary column.

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