Thursday 27 October 2011

Les Pyette

Memories of the Toronto Sun - Les Pyette

The first day on the job at the upstart Toronto Sun was July 9, 1974. Believe it was election  day and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau won in a landslide.

I sat on the rim, but was hired by Ed Monteith to be the paper’s new city editor. Problem was, Ed had yet to tell City Editor Ken Robertson that I was the new kid on the block.

Wearing clogs to give me more height and curls dangling past my shirt’s collar, I tried to lay out my first tabloid page.

I had come from the Soo Star, Belvidere Daily Republican and most recently the Windsor Star, all broadsheets. Yikes!!! Was out of my depth, but Ed and others, I believe Bob McMillan was in the slot, were all very patient with me and the next day I was on the  city desk, directing seven reporters and four photographers.

It was the old Eclipse building on King St. West. What a hoot. We watched the CN Tower being built. Every day, Ed would instruct me to get a picture and story on the thing.

One day I got bored and a fellow who called himself the Amazing Randi, an escape artist, came by the office to drum up some publicity for his show. I convinced him to lock himself in a safe and escape. Problem was, he got in the safe but couldn’t get out. He almost died and finally I called the fire department and they, with axe a-flailing, broke open the safe and the Amazing Randi rolled out.

It was a slow news day and the tower wasn’t going anywhere. Ed came in later in the day to put out the paper - he was a very solid newspaperman - and asked what was going on. At first, he was concerned a fellow had almost died in the company safe. I was nervous, my career at the Sun cut short by a Houdini wannabe? But Ed ran with the pictures and story of the drama in the Sun newsroom.

Those were the good old days. The Sun was rising and we were a part of it. I was 29, wet behind the ears, had my first of several families, having moved from a secure job at the Windsor Star to the Little Paper that was going to grow.

We made a lot of mistakes in the coming 29 years, but we enjoyed a tremendous amount of success too . . . travelling the world with the legendary Doug Creighton, No. 1 newspaper publisher; playing softball catch with Peter Worthington as we spent some beautiful off-hours while helping get the Ottawa Sun off the ground in 1988; being part of what Creighton called the A Team, himself, Bob Jelenic, Tom MacMillan and myself, although there were a lot more members on that team that started the Calgary Sun in 1980, John Webb, Hartley Steward, George Gross, Trudy Eagan, Lynn Carpenter. I will never forget carrying Trudy’s luggage through the Calgary airport, her hands ravished by arthritis and her making me go home at night when the party was just getting going.

My six years in the old Toronto Sun newsroom before Creighton shipped me to Calgary for the first time in 1980 were probably my most fun. I wasn't much of a city editor and couldn't begin to compare myself to Monteith, but when they let me get hold of the front page in the late 70s I had a ball. 

With the Sun growing in the early 70s, Monteith got orders to hire more reporters and editors. Believe Ron Base and Brian Vallee were among the first to storm out of Windsor and step into the brights lights of Toronto. 

Monteith hired me at the Imperial Room of the Royal York Hotel. It was a memorable night, Ed telling Toronto Telegram stories. Bruce Blackadar, Mark Bonokoski, Bob Burt, Benny Grant, Lloyd Kemp and others were quick to head east on the 401 from Windsor to Toronto, thus someone coined the Windsor Mafia. 

There were others from Windsor, but my memory from those days can sometimes be a bit foggy, if you get the drift. We were a special group, very tight-knit in Windsor and eager to help each other in the Big Smoke. 

I remember bringing Base and Blackadar home to my apartment at Islington and Dixon. We had been out solving the world's problems, only thing was I had a wife and three little kids waiting up for me. She was not amused. Not sure where the fellows slept but they were gone in the morning.

Other memories: The long nights at Paul Rimstead's backyard pool; the many dinners with Creighton; playoff softball and hockey with the Sun teams; Talk about characters! The Tonks brothers, Andy Donato, Mark Bonokoski behind the dish; the Star's Marty Goodman trying to hire me one night in Mississauga, not so much to work in his newsroom but to play shortstop for him. Marty was a heck of good pitcher.

And hanging out with MacMillan, Creighton, Steward and Jelenic in Calgary and Las Vegas; in London, England, a couple of times trying to start a television daily newspaper; representing Creighton in Taiwan, Japan, South Africa and England. I guess it was his way of rewarding me - or his way of getting me out of the office.

In 1984 in Calgary, Doug came to my house and said I had to return to Toronto to help Steward with the Toronto Sun. Once again, no one told Monteith, the foundation of the Sun newsroom, that I was coming to be Executive Editor, which was a great nine-year gig.

Ed and I worked out the details and I grew up a lot under his guidance.

In 1992, I went upstairs to help Paul Godfrey after a great run in the newsroom. Two years later, Paul shipped me back to Calgary where we had a ball helping to grow the Calgary Sun into a loud voice in the West.

In Calgary, it was riding horses and producing more children - hey, it's cold out there - and catching a wave with the ever-improving western economy. It was a good fit for me and I made ever-lasting friendships with the Calgary business community.

The London Free Press had never experienced a wacko tabloid editor, but they got one in 2000. The world was supposed to end, but we drank champagne in London the night the clock struck 12 on the millennium.

I will never forget the Toronto Sun atrium and the thunderous applause I received when I returned for the third time in May of 2001. Sadly, a lot of hard slogging had taken its toll and I was running out of gas, but what a ride, 29 years working at the Sun.

It was never really a job until the corners had to be cut, people had to be released, downsized. That was no fun . . . a nightmare for all.

I loved the old Sun. Who would have thunk that kid sportswriter from the Soo would some day actually end up publishing the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the London Free Press and later on, the National Post. 

What a trip.

The only sadness, as I wrestle with the fact that I am now 66, is that along the way we lost Sun colleagues, some of them very close friends. 

I miss talking boxing with Jerry Gladman and others who have passed on way too early, but hardly a day goes by that I don't think of little Jimmy Yates. He certainly was one of my favourites.

But as I used to say when we won a battle against the Star or the Globe, or when we got our butts soundly booted, Onward and Upward.
London, ON

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