Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Confessions of a tabloid hack

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 29, 2009


In the summer of disco and a falling space station, a brash tabloid newspaper appeared on the streets of Vancouver.

It carried bold headlines and published on Sundays.

The Vancouver Courier, a daily launched 30 years ago this month, sought to challenge the cartel maintained by the Vancouver Sun, an afternoon newspaper owned by FP Publications, and the Province, a respectable (believe it or not!) broadsheet published by Southam. The two papers operated in a business partnership as Pacific Press, sharing quarters and otherwise working in tandem to dissuade potential rivals.

The 11-month lifespan of the Vancouver Times (date of birth: 1964, date of death: 1965) served as a warning to all who dare challenge the monopoly.

But when workers at Pacific Press found themselves hitting the bricks on a picket in the fall of 1978, the owners of the twice-a-week Kerrisdale Courier immediately ratcheted up their publishing schedule by a day. Once backing money was arranged, it was decided to go from thrice-a-week to daily.

A 48-page tabloid hit news-hungry streets on the morning of July 4, 1979, with a blaring, all-caps banner headline: ROGUE COPS SPARK PROBE. Inside, readers found stories on Nazis and abused old folks, as well as a fashion spread featuring the latest string bikinis. Page Three, reserved in Britain as well as in the Toronto Sun to thespian aspirants of a buxom nature, featured a female stripper as large as the B.C. Lions front line known as Big Fanny Annie.

In retrospect, the debut issue qualified as the high point.

I started work at the Courier, aged 19, that very day, without having had to undergo the inconvenience of a job interview. The new paper was throwing money around, luring talent from the striking newspapers, including rabid columnist Doug Collins. A cub reporter came so cheaply as to not even be worth the time of a manager.

Scanning the inaugural edition, there was but one inescapable conclusion.

I was a teenage tabloid hack.

Soon enough, my contributions to the city’s knowledge included pieces on a boy with plaster replicas of Sasquatch’s footprint, opinions solicited from passersby about the likelihood of Skylab landing on our noggins, and a profile of a deejay who introduced both Elvis and the Beatles to Vancouver audiences.

These were followed by stories about Vietnamese boat people and an adult who — get this — collected baseball cards (some people never grow up). A pliable rubber doll designed to be beaten as a release of pent-up anger was presented to university president Doug Kenny, who made a ridiculous face as he took out his frustrations. (Perhaps that had something to do with my student newspaper’s cheeky insistence of referring to him as Dog Kennel.)

All good fun. Soon, though, the Courier’s more experienced staff provided a lesson in a certain kind of journalism.

The tabloid had hired enough Brits to warrant an article in the U.K. Press Gazette. These ex-Fleet Streeters, failed or not, did not let facts serve to louse up a good yarn.

The paper’s ace reporter was handed a wire story about an American doctor puzzled by several patients complaining about an odd injury — all sported infected middle fingers. The doc determined all were disco regulars, who, frequently snapping their fingers in time to the beat, had torn open the skin.

The wordsmith called over myself and buddy Geof Wheelwright, the two youngest staffers in the newsroom. What other disco disorders were there?

Wheelwright took the bait. “There’s disco toe,” he said, tapping a foot. “From too much of this.”

“Disco hip from too much swaying,” I added.

“And disco nose,” Wheelwright managed straight faced, “from snorting too much cocaine.”

The following morning our nonsense was included in an article that attributed our wholly conjured ailments to an unnamed local doctor.

If making up facts is easy for a reporter so is it easy for a photographer to use a reporter as a model. So, I appeared in the pages of my own newspaper as a junkie shooting up heroin; a newsboy peddling the paper downtown; as a hapless victim in a magician’s guillotine.

The Courier had a wacky sensibility not just on its pages.

The newsroom was interrupted on occasion by the demented rants of Mr. Collins, a crank transforming into an anti-Semite, who accused copyeditors of various conspiratorial misdeeds.

Another crackerjack reporter once broke the temporary still of the newsroom by asking over the telephone in a loud voice, “So, what was it like to sleep with the prime minister’s wife?” Or words to that effect.

The newspaper included a Lucky Reader feature in which $50 would be awarded to the customer who appeared in a photo holding the Courier. But the photographers spent so much time driving around trying to find someone, anyone, holding the tabloid that they began to stop people on the streets, shoving a copy into their hands with the promise of a reward if they bought the next day’s edition.

As it turned out, the Courier was doomed from the start.

The Pacific Press strike settled just before the daily launched. The plug on the daily tabloid was pulled on Aug. 19. The spirit of the unhappy farewell edition was captured by a sports writer in whose final column the first letter of each paragraph offered a common expletive to a Pacific Press worthy who had disparaged the fledgling publication.

You can find daily Courier alumni (parolees, surely? — ed.) in Microsoft’s employ, at the Goldstream Gazette, working as official photographers at the 2010 Olympics, directing the news at Global BC. Managing editor Cliff Barr became editor of the Globe — not this worthy newspaper, but rather the supermarket tabloid known for Elvis and sasquatch sightings.

In Memorium: the daily Courier (July 4, 1979 — Aug. 19, 1979), son of the Kerrisdale Courier, brother of the Vancouver Courier, inspiration to the tabloid Province, distant relation of the National Enquirer. Lamented by a few, mourned by none.

Bud Kerr, baseball fan (1935-2009)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 28, 1009

On game days, Bud Kerr could be found at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver sitting in his usual spot — Section 7, Row 3, Seat 2.

From his perch behind home plate, Mr. Kerr offered a running commentary on the game unfolding on the field. He was happiest telling a winding anecdote about some forgotten incident in the city’s rich lore of baseball history.

Baseball excited Mr. Kerr from his earliest memories as a juvenile ball hawk to his final years as an unpaid goodwill ambassador for the Vancouver Canadians.

Mr. Kerr joined local baseball fans in recent years in saving the stadium from the wrecking ball. “The prettiest little ball park in baseball,” as it has been called, had fallen into disrepair and was threatened by a proposed curling facility to be built for the Olympics. Instead, the ball park was preserved. A wall of the new rink looms just beyond the right-field fence.

Mr. Kerr’s informal reputation as a storyteller became official when the Canadians named him team historian. The club, purchased in 2007 by businessmen Jake Kerr (no relation) and Jeff Mooney, also decided to leave unsold two adjacent seats. Patrons were encouraged to join the historian for an inning or two of baseball chat.

Some came to refer to him as Mr. Baseball, though Mr. Kerr correctly noted the title in Vancouver belonged without dispute to the late Bob Brown, a longtime club owner and manager.

On his 72nd birthday, Mr. Kerr was informed by the club that a display inside the stadium was to carry his name. A year later, he was joined by former Montreal Expos star outfielder Tim Raines for the official unveiling of the Bud Kerr Museum.

“He was a real fan, a guy who grew up in the shadow of the ballpark and never left,” said Ernest (Kit) Krieger, the museum’s curator. “When the park moved, he went with it.”

His introduction to the summer game came as a boy living uphill from the original Capilano Stadium, a wooden bandbox constructed by Mr. Brown at the corner of West Fifth Avenue and Hemlock Street. The park, which twice burned and was twice rebuilt, hung on the edge of an escarpment overlooking False Creek and Granville Island, surrounded by mills and other industrial enterprises.

Neighbourhood boys gathered outside the park in hopes of catching a prized baseball struck foul.

“The park was right next to the Seagram’s lumber mill and I used to stand on a pile of lumber outside the fence and catch balls,” Mr. Kerr told Sandra Thomas of the Vancouver Courier newspaper two years ago. “One time I caught a ball and the official ball catcher started chasing me. I ran up the hill to Sixth and my shoes came off as I was running home.”

After the seventh inning stretch, young Bud and other kids would enter the grounds without having to pay admission. Catching a game’s final innings for free was a childhood delight.

Later, he would be hired as a ball retriever, his duties including the pursuit of ball-scavenging urchins. He got a promotion and operated the scoreboard, hanging metal plates with numbers to indicate runs, hits, and errors. The owner, a notorious skinflint, paid him a princely 25 cents per game.

On June 15, 1951, the teenager joined what at the time was the largest baseball audience in Vancouver history for the opening of new Capilano Stadium, a modern park built of concrete across from Queen Elizabeth Park. The infield grass of the old park, slated for demolition to make way for an on-ramp to the new Granville Street Bridge, was cut into strips and rolled before being moved for laying at the new venue.

The park became home in 1956 to the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League, a popular and competitive circuit seeking to rival the major leagues. (That dream ended when two major league franchises from New York, the Giants and the Dodgers, moved to California.) The Mounties represented a golden age of baseball as the likes of slick-fielding Brooks Robinson briefly patrolled third base before becoming a star with the Baltimore Orioles.

The Mounties closed their doors after the 1969 season. The park was leased to arts groups and fell into disrepair until a new team, named the Canadians and owned by a brewery that coincidentally marketed a popular beer by that very name, joined the Pacific Coast League in 1978. The park was renamed for Nat Bailey, an owner of the Mounties, who died shortly before the start of the season.

Mr. Kerr had been a regular at the park for much of its 58-year history. He rarely missed a Canadians game in recent years and could even be found in his seat for sparsely attended games in the chill of early spring featuring the University of British Columbia’s amateur team.

Away from the park, Mr. Kerr worked as a furniture maker. He also moonlighted as a security guard at the horse track.

He felt a lifelong cigarette habit combined with exposure to chemicals at his workplace was responsible for the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with which he struggled over the final years of his life. He used a portable oxygen tank in recent years.

After his death, a letter inviting him to a 1957 tryout with the Mounties was found among his papers. The information was news to some of his ballpark fans.

A memorial service held at the park included the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Among the mourners was George Bowering, Canada’s first poet laureate.

The Canadians have painted white Mr. Kerr’s seat in honour of the longtime fan. A moment of silence was held before the first pitch of the home opener, a tribute all the more poignant for bringing a temporary halt to the cheers, jeers and catcalls that so animate the park.

James Robert (Bud) Kerr was born on July 9, 1935, at Vancouver. He died on May 9. He was 73. He leaves a daughter, a grandson, a brother, and a sister. He was predeceased by his wife.

Monday, July 27, 2009

After 37 years, a father knows a monster will never kill again

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 27, 2009


This is how you find out the man who killed your daughter has himself been killed.

You do not get a call from the police.

You do not get a call from a reporter.

You get an item on the news.

In a moment, it all comes back. The shock of the horrible, unbelievable word of her death. The awful funeral service. A mother’s suffocating grief. A family never again to be together.

That the family had come to this country to escape the violence of their homeland seemed, in retrospect, to be an especially cruel irony.

On the news, it was learned a drifter known as the Cookie Bandit was killed in a police shootout.

Joseph Henry Burgess (aka Job, Job Week, Joe Henry Burke) got his cutesy nickname from breaking into isolated cabins in New Mexico to scrounge for food and clothing. He was intent on another burglary at a cabin in the rough mountain country outside Albuquerque when confronted by police on a stakeout. In the ensuing shootout, an officer received a fatal wound, the final victim of a demented murderer.

Geoffrey Durrant reacted to the news like few others could.

“I was relieved,” he said. He paused. “I might say gratified. Gratified that this fellow had been dealt with.”

On an early summer’s evening in 1972, in the bush next to the rugged beauty of Radar Beach, south of Tofino, a young couple had the misfortune of coming to the attention of a religious zealot.

He shot both in the head with a .22-calibre rifle. He is believed to have been offended by their having slept together without benefit of wedlock.

The Durrant family never recovered from the terrible news.

A murder claims a life. That is obvious. What is also too often lost is the person’s identity. Anne Durrant became a victim and even now, all these years later, that is all most of us know about her.

A father would like you to know a bit about his youngest daughter.

“She was a lovely young woman,” he said.

“She collected porcelain horses. She had a great number of them.”

A father can only remember fondly his indulgence of a daughter’s passion.

Mr. Durrant was an aspiring professor in South Africa when he married Barbara, an English-born emigre who trained as a nurse. She helped provide health care for poor black families. In time, social work led to political work, as the Durrants became active in the founding of the Liberal Party, organized in opposition to apartheid.

In 1955, Barbara Durrant joined the non-violent Black Sash movement, opposing pass laws and other racist legislation. She broadcast on Radio Freedom, a pirate station that aired news the state otherwise suppressed. Mr. Durrant, who was head of the English department at the University of Natal, a hotbed of opposition to the government’s policy of racial segregation, wrote news bulletins and pamphlets. Over the years, many of the Durrants friends were arrested.

In those tumultuous days, they also began a family. A son, John, was born in 1943, followed by Catherine, known as Kate, in 1950, and Anne, the baby, in 1952.

As their son approached the age in which he would drafted into the South African military, where he would be compelled to enforce laws the family found repellent, the Durrants decided to start anew in peaceful Canada.

The professor became head of the English department at the University of Manitoba, later taking the same position at the University of British Columbia.

He wrote two studies of the poetry of William Wordsworth, one of which was reissued this year as a digital edition on the 30th anniversary of its original publication by Cambridge University Press.

The academic life suited well the professor, who was invited to take part in the annual summer expeditions by the Harry Hawthorn Foundation for the Inclusion and Propagation of the Principles and Ethics of Fly-Fishing, a gathering of professors formed during a trip to Vancouver Island.

At home, however, all was not calm. After graduating from Point Grey High School, young Anne enrolled in the university’s Arts One, a fledgling integrated humanities program said to foster critical thinking.

Prof. Durrant feels even now his young, impressionable daughter drifted from her family after being led astray by a teacher.

“She was influenced by an instructor in Arts One into taking up the hippie lifestyle,” he said.

These days, the word hippie carries with it an innocent notion of peace and free love in a cloud of hemp smoke. Back then, for some, the hippies were dirty, zonked on drugs, and to be feared. To some, the hippies were not a beautiful dream; the hippies were a nightmare expressed as Charles Manson.

You can imagine the consternation of a father that his beautiful daughter, who in high school wore sundresses and allowed her silken, blonde hair to flow long past her shoulders, would fall in with people who lived rough as treeplanters when not collecting welfare while living on a commune near Hope.

Miss Durrant and a friend, Leif Carlsson, a Swedish exchange student, joined hundreds of other free spirits camping in makeshift lean-tos along the spectacular beaches on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Father and daughter had a falling out. All those sacrifices, the moving to a new country, mocked by a girl’s selfish indulgences.

It felt like losing a daughter.

The pair had a reconciliation.

Then came news of the murders on June 21, 1972.

A funeral service remains in memory as being “truly awful. My wife was very upset by it.”

Barbara Durrant never recovered. She continued to garden,as she had done since childhood, even that soothing hobby failing to extinguish the guilt about having made the fateful move to Canada. She carried that feeling until her death in 1999.

The parents had their youngest child cremated, scattering the ashes of Anne Barbara Durrant along a wooded path in the University Endowment Lands, a forest that begins one block from the family home in westside Vancouver where the girl maintained her collection of porcelain horses.

Today, a father marks his 96th birthday, still grieving, but with the certain satisfaction of knowing the monster who murdered his daughter will kill no more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

From a field of dreams to the Hall of Fame

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 7, 2007


Like many kids, John Haar learned baseball playing catch with his father. On summer evenings, after a full day of repairing equipment for the telephone company, the tired man and the eager boy would go to the park.

“He'd hit me fly balls and ground balls and think up little fun games of baseball for me,” Mr. Haar said. “That's where I started.”

From so modest a beginning — tossing the ball with his dad in eastside Vancouver — grew a career that will be recognized on June 23, when Mr. Haar will receive the highest honour his homeland affords a ball player through induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St. Marys, Ont.

The ceremony will also recognize the late Sherry Robertson, a Montreal-born infielder, and George Lee Anderson, a middling middle infielder but a brilliant field manager, better known to baseball fans by the ageless nickname, Sparky.

As it turns out, Mr. Haar was a better coach than player himself.

For 13 seasons, he ran the National Baseball Institute program out of Vancouver. Eight of his players graduated to The Show, as the major leagues are known by the fraternity.

A spot on a big-league roster eluded Mr. Haar. It was not for lack of trying.

At 63, he still flashes the shy, boyish grin visible in photographs from his playing days, when short-cropped hair left his ears exposed to the elements. These days, his hair is as white as a fresh chalk line.

Over time, the summer evenings spent with his father grow warmer and longer in the retelling.

When the boy was seven, a fleet young outfielder from Oklahoma joined the New York Yankees. Mickey Mantle became John's boyhood idol, a hero whose swing he imitated in Little League and whose thoroughbred gallop inspired a boy's pursuit of his father's fly balls on the neighbourhood field at Begbie Annex (now Thunderbird Elementary).

Mr. Haar studied physical education at the University of British Columbia, where he also won a spot on the infield of the varsity baseball team. The coach was Frank Gnup, a stocky American of fire-plug physique who chewed cigars and about whom it was said the first letter of his family name was silent, if not the man himself.

Football was Mr. Gnup's game. He coached the Hamilton Wildcats and played for the Toronto Argonauts, but also played and coached baseball in a semi-professional circuit in Ontario. At UBC, he handled both sports. Mr. Haar was an infielder on the diamond and a kicker on the gridiron.

In spring, after final exams were written, the coach loaded the ballplayers into station wagons for a tour along the Pacific Coast.

The students played top American college and amateur teams in daily doubleheaders, like barnstormers, only without pay.

“At the end of the week,” he said, “we'd have some tired bodies and some tired arms.”

The southern exposure led to several players being signed to professional contracts. Mr. Haar was snagged by the San Francisco Giants, who dispatched him to a Pioneer League farm team at Twin Falls, Idaho. He was to be the new third baseman of the Magic Valley Cowboys.

The Giants organization released him at the end of the season.

Happily, he was snatched by the New York Yankees. The new boss assigned him to Johnson City, where a summer under the Tennessee sun would spark a lifelong appreciation for iced tea, not to mention corn muffins.

In the locker room, Mr. Haar was handed a hand-me-down uniform from the parent club. The number on the back was 7 — Mickey's famous number.

He had moments when he felt worthy of the great Mantle. One day, he smacked four doubles. After the last of those, as he sagely advanced a base on a fielding miscue, he remembers sliding into third base to see his skipper holding up four fingers, one for each double. He might never have been happier.

“At the end of the season when we were turning in our uniforms I wanted to ask to keep mine,” he said. “I felt this would not be the proper thing to do. I was shy. The manager and I got along swell, so he probably would have let me have it.”

He still regrets letting the uniform go.

Mr. Haar returned to Vancouver, completing his degree in physical education before picking up a teaching certificate and finding a job at a school in the Okanagan, where he would meet the woman who would become his wife.

By the late 1970s, his father, Rud Haar, had begun a second career as the groundskeeper of Nat Bailey Stadium. The home of pro baseball in Vancouver, once known as Capilano Stadium, it had been left to rot for several years. The elder Mr. Haar called on sweat labour and his own agrarian instincts to tame a field where only weeds had grown for so long.

The gardening won admiring comments from players and coaches. It was common for Mr. Haar to be told his field “played well” — high praise from ballplayers whose promotion to the big leagues could be scuttled by an errant hop of the ball.

Mr. Haar cultivated a lawn as green as a wide-eyed rookie. The grass, a blend known as Park Special, was trimmed to a crew-cut tidiness. He used clay from a special source in the Fraser Valley that he shaped into a pitching mound. When rains turned the surrounding dirt into a gumbo, the groundskeeper would get down on his knees with a blowtorch to dry it out.

He recruited four retired Japanese-Canadian fishermen to hang netting to protect spectators from foul balls.

Their amateur baseball careers had been interrupted during the Second World War, when their own government forced them to abandon jobs and homes for internment in the B.C. Interior. He was sympathetic.

Rudolph Maxmillian Haar was born in 1916 to immigrants from Austria-Hungary. His father had arrived in Canada a few years earlier to help open a pulp mill at Woodfibre, a company town on Howe Sound.

With the Great War raging, the family faced terrible prejudice.

Woodfibre could not be reached by road and the newspapers from Vancouver arrived by boat a day late. As a paper boy delivering one of those day-old editions, he read a banner headline he would never forget: Yanks win; Ruth hits 3 HRs. From then on, the boy was hooked on the Babe and baseball.

His own dreams of baseball glory were thwarted when he was rejected after a tryout for a spot on a senior-league team.

Instead, he taught his only son what he knew.

John Haar developed a knack for spotting a tiny hitch in a swing, or a minute quirk in fielding a ball. Baseball is a game of endless refinement and Mr. Haar knew how to tinker.

He runs clinics and coaches an elite youth team on the North Shore.

Every spring, some of his former players can be found in Arizona and Florida preparing to extend careers made possible in part by his coaching.

In November, Rud Haar died at home, aged 90. Last month, John Haar lost his father-in-law.

“A rough end to 2006 and a rough start to 2007,” Mr. Haar said.

While in mourning, he got the telephone call from the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Good news came at a time of grief.

His first thought on the phone was that if a Haar was entering the hall it should be his father. Then, he cried.

2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A ball career that touches all the bases

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 23, 2006


Osvaldo (Ossie) Chavarria's fingers are thick, his palms calloused, his grip firm. His are a working man's hands.

He has always earned his keep with these mitts, which were busy on a recent sunny weekend afternoon handling indoor chores at the Pacific Coliseum. He secured the arena's many doors by squeezing padlocks tight in his fist.

Mr. Chavarria, 68, is a semi-retired jack-of-all-trades who depends on his hands. Back when he was a young man, those same hands took him from his native Panama on a 20-year baseball odyssey that would see him play professionally in five countries, as well as the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

“Good glove, good range, good hitting, average arm,” he says, offering a scouting assessment of himself a half-century later. “I was quick with my hands.”

His odyssey eventually brought him to British Columbia and a sports-filled life that recently earned him a place in the Burnaby Sports Hall of Fame.

Mr. Chavarria did everything asked of him on the baseball diamond. He played shortstop and second base. He handled first base. He filled in at third base. He patrolled any of the three outfield positions. He pinch-hit and pinch-ran. In one memorable game for the minor-league Vancouver Mounties, he even pitched and played every field position. In baseball parlance, he was a utilityman.

Forty years ago this spring, he made his debut with the Kansas City Athletics of the American League. He played 124 games over two seasons in the major leagues — long enough for a player to know he belongs, but not long enough to show all he can do.

Mr. Chavarria wore so many uniforms in his career it became hard to keep track. He played for a brewery-sponsored team in his homeland and for minor-league teams in the U.S. Midwest. He was a Mountie in Canada, a Tiger in Mexico City and a Cardinal in Lara, Venezuela.

He also had the misfortune of being a black man playing in the U.S. South. It was a time when it was wiser for him to be familiar with the Jim Crow laws of segregation than with the baseball rule book.

One of 12 kids born to a realtor in Colon, Panama, the boy played baseball from early childhood. He was scouted in high school and signed as a free-agent amateur with the Chicago Cubs in 1959. The scout had advice: add three years to your birth date, otherwise managers will think you are too old to be a rookie. Even now, many sources list Mr. Chavarria's birth year as 1940, not 1937.

He was born a decade before Jackie Robinson ended the colour barrier in major-league baseball. He grew up in a world where a black man could play against Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams only in an exhibition game.

By the time Mr. Chavarria was an adult, blacks and whites competed on the same baseball diamonds, but the white supremacy that marked daily life in the South was far from exhausted.

In Florida, he could not stay at the same hotel as his white teammates. On the road, he often had to eat his meals on the bus, even as his white teammates enjoyed a hot meal at a whites-only restaurant.

“That was the toughest time in my life,” he recalls. “Why can't I go where I want to eat? Why do I have to eat on the bus? Why can't I go into a nice place and have a nice piece of steak? It really hurt.”

One time, the team bus pulled up to an ice-cream parlour where some 40 youths were gathered. Mr. Chavarria was about to disembark to buy a treat when a teammate intervened, offering to bring him a sundae. Even with 20 players on his side, there was no telling what mayhem might ensue from so ordinary a transaction as a black man trying to buy an ice cream.

He credits Martin Luther King Jr. for changing that world. At the time, Mr. Chavarria did his best to suppress his own anger. “I had to get the discrimination out of my mind,” he said. After all, he was trying to win a job in baseball. He knew a Spanish-speaking black man from Panama had to be more-than-equal in skill to beat out a white rival from, say, Oklahoma.

He learned to read English from the sports pages and was tutored in the foulest epithets by giggling teammates. He studied the playmaking of his most talented teammates. At 5 foot 11, 155 pounds, he worked hard at transforming his skinny physique into one capable of hitting more than just singles.

Baseball offered year-round employment. In spring and summer, he played in the United States. In winter, he played in the winter leagues of warmer climates. He was a top hitter and fan favourite with the Cerveza Balboa Brewers in his homeland, on a sort of “sinners' circuit” in which the other teams were known as the Smokers and the Rummies.

Mr. Chavarria first came to Vancouver in 1965 as a demotion. As it turned out, being sent down to the minors was the best thing to ever happen to him. He liked it here so much he chose it as his home, married and raised a family.

Among his teammates in Vancouver were future major-league managers Tony LaRussa and Rene Lachemann. In one game against Hawaii in 1968, Mr. Chavarria played every position, much to the delight of the few fans on hand at Capilano (now Nat Bailey) Stadium.

When his playing days ended in the mid-1970s, he decided he loved baseball too much to give it up. He became an umpire. In 1992, he handled games at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, where baseball was a demonstration sport. He still umpires. Last week, he was inducted into the sports hall of fame in suburban Burnaby for his many years behind the plate.

He has worked at the Coliseum for the past 26 years, including a stint as an usher when the arena was home to the Vancouver Canucks.

Then, as now, his name tag read, simply, Ossie.

A recent visitor asked whether he received much congratulation for his recent honour.

“Nobody knows,” he says of his baseball career.

How come?

“Nobody asks.”

HMCS Esquimalt's final survivor

A survivor from HMCS Esquimalt is helped to shore. Canadian Press photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 22, 2009


The roll call of HMCS Esquimalt is down to a final name.

Joseph Wilson, aged 19 when he enlisted, aged 23 when his ship sunk, is the last surviving crew member who was aboard the minesweeper when it was struck by a torpedo.

News of his survival — and of the terrible loss of 44 of his comrades — was released by military censors on May 7, 1945, the day before the end of the war in Europe.

What a terrible shock the deaths must have been to wives and mothers eager for an end to the conflict. Their boys made it so far only to be cruelly lost in a final battle.

Mr. Wilson has been asked many times to recount how an ordinary patrol along the approaches to Halifax Harbour resulted in the destruction of the last Canadian ship lost to enemy action. As if he could ever forget.

More than six decades later, the shock of the attack remains.

“It was so unexpected,” he said.

Every year, even as he grows less physically robust with each turn of the calendar, Mr. Wilson makes the dutiful pilgrimage from his home in Chase, a village at the southern end of Little Shuswap Lake, northeast of Kamloops, to the township that gave its name to the minesweeper. Over time, the list of 27 survivors, all plucked from icy water that claimed friends, has been reduced.

At the start of this year, only three were left.

In late June, Albert Bruce Campbell died, aged 94. Known as Ab from his initials, the able seaman joined the crew of the Esquimalt with a medal for bravery to his credit.

In October, 1943, the crew of the HMCS Kuitan was unable to manoeuvre the patrol boat to rescue two men aboard a drifting oil barge during a storm off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Mr. Campbell volunteered to join Sub-Lieutenant Leonard Idiens in the ship’s smaller boat. Fighting gale winds from the southeast, the pair plucked the marooned seamen from the barge in treacherous waters. Mr. Campbell was awarded the British Empire Medal for gallantry.

He would get a mention in despatches for his actions in the hours following the sinking of the Esquimalt.

“Ab was a fine feller,” Mr. Wilson said. “He was a nice guy. He was like a father figure to the rest of us.”

On July 11, Thomas George Kidd died, aged 84. Mr. Kidd married after the war, raised a family, spent 30 years inspecting grain elevators. He liked to take the children camping and, once they grew up, he liked to take his wife to Hawaii. He did not talk about the war, he did not stay in touch with his shipmates, he did not attend the annual service at the cairn on the grounds of Esquimalt municipal hall. Had he done so, he would have read his name as a survivor and he would have read the names of friends to remain forever young in memory.

“I think he just wanted to forget about it,” said his daughter, Loni Kidd, of Port Hardy. “He just stuck to the family, eh.”

Over time, the HMCS Esquimalt Memorial Association came to believe he had passed away. To learn of his recent death was like losing him a second time.

Now, Mr. Wilson is the lone Esquimalt witness left to tell the story.

He was on duty on the bridge as morning dawned on April 16. Unknown to the crew, the echo of their sonar was detected by a U-boat at periscope depth. With the minesweeper steaming directly at them, the submarine fired an acoustic torpedo, which struck the Canadian ship at the engine room in the stern. In a little more than 200 seconds, the Esquimalt was gone, taking with her 28 men.

It went down so fast not even a mayday had been issued.

Another 43 scrambled off the ship, some clinging to Carley floats.

Mr. Wilson, who had been a meat-cutter in Prince Albert, Sask., slashed both his legs in abandoning ship. The cold sea water cauterized his wounds.

An hour passed. Then another.

Planes flew overhead, mistaking the men for fishermen on small boats.

No one knew the Esquimalt was gone. Or that desperate men awaited rescue.

The sailors prayed and sang songs. The cook, Thomas McIntyre, of Victoria, promised to cook T-bone steaks for everyone once they were ashore.

A third hour passed. A fourth.

They could see the Nova Scotia shore in the distance. The cruelty of their situation seemed unfathomable.

The men immersed in water began to slip away. They died in the arms of their comrade, their bodies lashed to the floats.

In the sixth hour, the men were spotted. HMCS Sarnia picked up 27 survivors. Sixteen who survived the torpedo died from exposure in the chill water. Among them was the cook, who was buried at the Esquimalt (Veterans’) Cemetery, known as God's Acre, nestled between two holes of a golf course.

Ab Campbell was credited with saving several lives in those perilous hours, keeping up spirits through “his cheerfulness and his cool and collected attitude,” as his citation noted.

Time now has claimed all but Mr. Wilson.

He stayed in the navy as a sonar instructor, putting in 25 years before retiring in 1966 as a chief petty officer, first class. He then farmed for another 30 years at Round Hill in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley before moving to British Columbia.

He is taking it easy in the summer heat.

“I’m staying down in the basement reading books,” he said. “War histories. Cowboy stories. Sea stories. I still do a little gardening.”

A handful of Sarnia crew members are still alive, as is Werner Hirschmann, who served aboard U-190 as chief engineer. The circumstance left the submarine crew with little choice but to attack, “like a snake on whose tail you are stepping,” he once told me. He moved to Toronto after the war and has since been made an honourary member of the memorial association. Once a foe, he is now a friend. Like all seamen, they shared a common enemy — the sea.

In April, on the anniversary of the sinking, Mr. Wilson plans to return to Victoria to attend the annual memorial ceremony. If so, he will be 88.

“Made it this year, last year, the year before that, the year before that, and the year before that,” he said.

“If nothing happens, I’ll be there again next year.”


“Memories. Respect. Thoughtfulness.”

Since he can’t forget, he considers it his final duty to bear witness to those relegated to memory.

Monday, July 20, 2009

B.C.'s beauty inspired Malcolm Lowry

Malcolm Lowry at his Dollarton squatter's shack.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 20, 2009


On the novel’s second page, the author describes a bus ticket held by the protagonists, who are northbound to Nanaimo aboard the fictional Vancouver Island Limited.

The bus climbs mountains, then descends, the movement echoed by the bus engine as gears change, a grinding rhythm providing a soundtrack familiar to all on the island.

The author appreciated the shock caused by the unexpected presentation of a spectacular vista.

He wrote: “The vehicle was rounding a high curve and as it turned down toward the valley below, Jacqueline leaned forward for a better view from the right-hand windows: the sea swarmed with islands, and one of them was surely Gabriola.”

The novel was published in 1970, by which time the author had been dead for 13 years. Many years earlier, in 1946, he,travelled by boat from Vancouver to Victoria before catching a northbound bus and hopping on a ferry for a short ride. He took notes on the way, turning the expedition into a short story, then a novella, and, after much rewriting, “a huge and sad novel.” His widow continued work on the book, titled, “October Ferry to Gabriola.”

Clarence Malcolm Lowry, the fourth son of a Liverpool cotton broker, was born on 100 years ago this month on July 28. He arrived in British Columbia via Mexico and Los Angeles, a 30-year-old remittance man and dipsomaniac in the process of ending a failed marriage. He moves into a shack on a beach at Dollarton on the North Shore and waits to hear from his agent the response to his latest novel.

A dozen publishers read it and all 12 passed.

Had he still lived in Mexico, had he not found renewed purposed after marrying the former movie actress Margerie Bonner, had he not considered British Columbia a paradise, finding here the inspiration to persevere in the least romantic of creative chores, rewriting, perhaps Mr. Lowry would have succumbed. Instead, from his squatter’s shack, he worked on revisions, staying with the project even after fire destroyed his home.

“Under the Volcano” was finally published in 1947, its creator hailed by some — critical reaction was not universal — as a genius.

This week, Lowry experts will gather at the University of British Columbia for a centenary conference that is drawing professors from Britain, France, Belgium, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United States. (One presentation is titled, “Phantom Priapus: An Exploration of the Distorted Phantom Dog Tradition in Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano.”)

The academics will visit a display set up by the special collections division at the university’s library, which holds Lowry’s papers. They will be able to see photographs, a Mexican diner menu with pencilled instructions to reproduce it in “Under the Volcano,” and such sentimental objects as his pen. Of particular interest are letters scrawled in Lowry’s crabbed hand.

Those missives are only too familar to Sherrill Grace, a UBC professor who edited a definitive collection of two volumes of the letters, even tracking some down as far afield as the Oslo municipal library.

“I spent years deciphering his handwriting. It’s horrendous,” she said with a sigh.
Lowry saw himself “as the suffering, romantic masculine artist-outcast,” she has written about his early writing career. The correspondence offers a fuller depiction, nit surprising considering the hours he spent in drafting letters.

“He’s so vulnerable in many of his letters. So open. In others, he’s posturing. Showing off his erudition.”

The professor said Mr. Lowry considered himself to be a Canadian and, especially, a British Columbian, finding in this landscape inspiration for his art and motivation to not swig quite so deeply from the bottle. He mistrusted the city, describing Vancouver’s downtown eastside neighbourhoof as “this infernal district” in a poem. He especially enjoyed his beach shack and the Gulf Islands.

The writer continues to inspire. Paul Hyde, who had pop hits as lead singer of the Payola$, included a terrific ballad about the writer on his 2002 solo album, “Big Book of Sad Songs.” (The Lowry song was titled, not surprisingly, “Drunken Lover.”) The 1976 National Film Board documentary, “Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry,” was nominated for an Academy Award, while John Huston’s 1984 film garnered a best actor nomination for Albert Finney as the alcoholic British consul in the Mexican town of Quauhnahuac.

In three weeks, artists and social activists will hold their 19th annual Under the Volcano festival at Cates Park in North Vancouver, near the site of his long since destroyed shack.

A bronze plaque at the park describes the writer’s 14-year residence on the waterfront, where he rescued from a fire the manuscript that would be his masterpiece.

“Lowry found happiness and inspiration in his ‘beloved shack,’ and descriptions of the landscape permeate his works — ‘the tiered aluminum retorts of the oil refinery,’ ‘the white fire of the mist,’ and ‘wild ducks doing sixty downwind.’ Although compelled to leave in 1954, Lowry dreamed of returning to his ‘paradise.’ ”

He died just three years later, a suicide by overdose but with enough odd circumstance as to place his wife under suspicion for some.

The academics will be making a pilgrimage to the Dollarton shore.

Ms. Grace also has a special presentation to make to the archives at the university. Two decades ago she was given a tiny medallion of the Virgin Mary by the American writer David Markson. He had been given the medallion as a keepsake by Lowry himself.

Now, it will join the rest of Lowry’s belongings, a gesture the writer likely would have dismissed as sentimental nonsense.

Friday, July 17, 2009

William C. Gibson, academic physician (1913-2009)

William C. Gibson photographed by Kevin Doyle.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 17, 2009

Dr. William Gibson got things done.

An effective advocate in public, he was an irresistibly convincing arm twister behind closed doors. He was adept at raising money, whether from a penny-pinching government, or well-heeled private donors.

Many of the amenities taken for granted by residents of Vancouver owe their creation, at least in part, to Dr. Gibson’s quiet campaigning.

He spearheaded a drive to get a hospital built at the University of British Columbia; organized funding for a paved path for cyclists and pedestrians along the Stanley Park seawall; ensured the financing was in place for the purchase of lands now home to the VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Perhaps the achievement of which he was most proud was the founding of the Woodward Biomedical Library at the university. The library gained spectacular donations through Dr. Gibson’s connections, including a rare, three-volume set of Leonardo da Vinci’s biological drawings published in Norway during the Great War.

The doctor’s own sleuthing led to the acquisition of one of only 50 copies of a first edition of William Harvey’s 1628 treatise on blood circulation. The copy of “Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus” (“On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals”) had been tracked down to a bookdealer who kept the pristine, 72-page volume in a bank vault at Belfast.

A man of dignity, Dr. Gibson insisted he never needed to indulge in the vulgarity of asking wealthy friends for money.

“I always thought it better to explain a proposed project and the funds needed to realize it,” he told the veteran journalist Jim Hume two years ago. “I always hoped the idea would appeal to their interest, and I’m happy that it usually did.”

A compelling talker, he also convinced voters in Vancouver to elect him to park board and city council, though a campaign for mayor ended in defeat.

Dr. Gibson also was a prolific writer, producing 10 books of general interest, uncounted articles and memoirs, as well as 150 scientific papers on neurology and the history of medicine.

Born in Ottawa, his parents, the former Belle Crawford Magee and John Wesley Gibson, left the nation’s capital before the boy’s second birthday. His father took a position as head of the Normal School in Victoria, later moving to the education ministry, where he was responsible for initiating a correspondence program so farm children could attain a high-school diploma. He was so successful at this that the federal government asked him to launch a similar project for servicemen during the Second World War. Belle Gibson wrote a biography of her husband, “Teacher-Builder: The Life and Work of J.W. Gibson,” which was published in Victoria in 1961.

Bill Gibson graduated from Victoria High School before attending Victoria College, located at Craigdarroch Castle near the city’s downtown. He crossed Georgia Strait to complete a bachelor’s degree, graduating with UBC’s first commerce class in 1933.

He spent that dry Depression summer labouring on a farm near Moscow, Idaho, where his duties included pumping by hand water for pigs, cattle, sheep, and horses. The farm’s owner, a medical doctor, left for him Harvey Cushing’s two-volume biography of Sir William Osler.

“After the animals had been put down for the night,” Dr. Gibson wrote some years later, “I made my supper and settled down (by kerosene lamp) to this fine piece of prose about a remarkable Canadian physician and author.”

That fall, inspired by the book, he began medical studies in Montreal at McGill University, Osler’s alma mater. He was offered in 1934 a year-long research fellowship at Prof. Wilder Penfield’s fledgling Montreal Neurological Institute, which opened in September.

He went to Oxford the following year as a histology demonstrator, appointed by Sir Charles Sherrington, the Nobel Prize winner in medicine who, at 77, was retiring from the physiology department. Sir Charles had been boon companions with Frank Wesbrook when the pair studied at Cambridge in the 1890s, Mr. Wesbrook later becoming the first president of UBC. Dr. Gibson wrote a biography of Mr. Wesbrook in 1973.

Sir Charles mentored his brilliant young pupil.

“He was a font of information on the early history of all physiology and especially neurophysiology,” Dr. Gibson wrote. “He opened many doors for me and introduced me to scholars in the history of medicine.”

Dr. Gibson embarked on a medical tour of Europe, seeing first-hand preparations in Nazi Germany for the coming war. He befriended the recently fired director of the anatomical institute of the University of Bonn, who lost his position because his wife was Jewish. Dr. Gibson saw the horror of Nazi censorship while doing research, as books written by Jewish authors had been removed.

Dr. Gibson investigated neurological cases at the Sorbonne in Paris and surveyed the clinical treatment of nervous diseases in the Soviet Union at Leningrad. In 1936, he was assisting at a hospital surgery in Madrid when relatives snatched the patient, who suffered from a brain tumour, from the operating table.

He was at Santander in Basque country when a military uprising sought to overturn the elected democratic government, the opening shots in what would become the bloody Spanish Civil War. Dr. Gibson escaped aboard USS Oklahoma, a battleship sunk five years later during the attack on Pear Harbor.

It was during this tumultuous time that Dr. Gibson attended a speech by the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley at the Carfax Assembly Rooms at Oxford. The hall darkened, a single spotlight lighting the would-be English fuhrer, who gave the raised-arm fascist salute. “Yes, Oswald, you may leave the room,” one wag shouted, and the room became a battleground between jeering students and Blackshirt goons.

The chaotic era did not distract him from completing a masters of science from McGill (1936), a doctorate from Oxford (1938), and, lastly, a medical degree from McGill (1941). He took a year of recuperation in Victoria and Mexico after being diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease.

He served during the war in the clinical investigations unit of the Royal Canadian Air Force, engaging in night-vision experiments, as well as conducting tests on methods of removing nitrogen from the joints of high-altitude flyers. Dr. Gibson became deputy director of medical research at RCAF headquarters. After the war, he was senior medical officer for 19 Wing (Auxiliary), rising in rank to wing commander.

He returned to the Montreal Neurological Institute as a resident in 1945, though he soon returned to globetrotting with stints as a visiting neurology professor in charge of the epilepsy clinic at the University of California, San Francisco, and a two-year term as research director for the mental hospitals of New South Wales, Australia. He resigned from the Australian post in disgust at the gross neglect of patients. His revelations about conditions led to calls for a Royal Commission.

A return to British Columbia led to the establishment by Dr. Gibson of a neurological research laboratory on the Vancouver campus. The quarters were small and the space soon filled with glass jars of brains provided by the province’s mental asylums.

The campus medical school accepted its first class of students in 1950, though conditions were basic. War surplus huts provided classroom space, while cadavers were stored in a room in the agricultural department’s dairy barn. Dr. Gibson procured 60 tissue samples from a histology lab at Oxford, the teaching samples arriving via the Panama Canal mere days before the start of class.

Dr. Gibson founded UBC’s department of the history of medicine on his way to building a reputation as one of Canada’s most distinguished academic physicians. As a neurology professor, he initiated studies into the biochemistry of schizophrenia and acrodynia (pink disease), also establishing a laboratory to monitor the brain waves of patients.

He had an uncanny talent for matchmaking a patron to a project. A friendship with P.A. (Puggy) Woodward, son of the founder of a chain of department stores, who had an interest in honouring his father as well as the province’s pioneer doctors, led to the creation of the Woodward Biomedical Library.

The retail scion pronounced himself pleased. “He said it was the only thing he’d ever built that he found no fault in,” Dr. Gibson told a university publication in 1981. “Then he asked me what I thought and I said I thought it was excellent but possibly too small. he said, ‘Double it,’ and we did. Not only do you have to know your patron well, you have to know what it is you want, because you just might get it!”

Dr. Gibson’s connection with Cecil Green, a founder of Texas Instruments and a former student at the university, led to the purchase in 1967 of a mansion adjacent to the campus. Designed by the noted architect Samuel Maclure in 1912, Kanakla, meaning “house on the cliff,” was donated to the alumni association, which renamed it Cecil Green Park.

In 1968, Dr. Gibson helped found The Electors Action Movement, a moderate and reformist municipal party in Vancouver. He ran as mayor under the party’s banner two years later, facing incumbent Tom Campbell, a hippie-baiting millionaire apartment developer.

The TEAM campaign promised “better people for better government,” but in an election that turned into a referendum on the incumbent the mayor was returned with a reduced plurality. Mr. Campbell took 54,253 votes to Dr. Gibson’s 41,667. Anthony Gargrave, an English-born lawyer and former MLA, got 16,287 votes in the NDP’s first campaign for the mayoralty. A fourth candidate, a 20-year-old with the same last name as the mayor, though unrelated, took 4,922 votes. The man was charged the day after the election with trafficking in LSD.

In 1972, Dr. Gibson won election to city council as TEAM captured nine of 11 council seats, including Art Phillips in the mayor’s chair. The doctor’s mannerly approach, conciliatory by nature, did not seem suited to the bare-knuckle tactics more often associated with British Columbia politics.

“Some say he hasn’t the brawling instinct of the true politician and is more temperamentally suited to behind-the-scenes persuasion,” the journalist Hall Leiren wrote in 1973. “Certainly he gives an impression of being too nice a guy for the political roughhousing a local politician has to join in. One of his colleagues claims in fact that Gibson went into it because all his heroes in the history of medicine devoted part of lives to public service through politics.”

He served two terms as an alderman.

Dr. Gibson became chairman of the Universities Council of British Columbia in 1979 before being named, in 1985, chancellor of the University of Victoria, the successor to Victoria College, where he had studied a half-century earlier

A publishing career was nicely bookended by two volumes — “Young Endeavour,” in 1958, a look at precocious contributions to science by medical students, and “Old Endeavour,” in 2007, snapshot biographies of physicians whose accomplishments occurred beyond age 65. The author himself was 93 on the book’s publication.

He also wrote biographies of Sherrington and the Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal.

Dr. Gibson was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2002, matching an honour bestowed a decade earlier on his brother, James Alexander Gibson, a scholar whose own long contributions included service as private secretary to prime minister Mackenzie King, with whom he attended the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.

A project promoted by Dr. Gibson in his later years was a campaign to build a concert hall on Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Last September, his friend Kevin Doyle persuaded the architect Arthur Erickson (obituary, May 20) to come to Victoria for a day to discuss plans.

“Bill was completely selfless and inspirational,” said Mr. Doyle, a Victoria lawyer who has documented many of Dr. Gibson’s achievements. “Life was all about others, not him.”

In 1989, Dr. Gibson married Clotilde Southgate, known as Coco, who spent her early childhood on her family’s vast Mexican ranch, a hacienda which at one time issued its own currency and maintained a 100-man militia as a defence against bandits. She earned master’s degrees in education and Mexican-American studies.

Dr. Gibson, whose hobbies included collecting plants, imported from the Aegean island of Cos seeds from the sycamore under which Hippocrates is said to have taught. Six-story-tall sycamores now grow in Victoria and Vancouver from these seeds. In 2005, every freshman medical student at the opening of the University of Victoria’s medical school — yes, he played a role in getting it built — was presented with a seedling.

William Carleton Gibson was born on Sept. 4, 1913, at Ottawa. He died on July 5 at his home in Victoria. He was 95. He leaves a daughter, Kate; sons David and Ian; two granddaughters; and, a great grandson. He was predeceased by three wives — the former Barbara Baird, a nurse whom he married in 1946; Ruth Bourne, whom he married in 1984; and, Clotilde Southgate, whom he married in 1989 and who died in 2001. He was also predeceased by two sisters and a brother.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where no financial consultant has gone before

Mike Paugh (centre) takes command from his homemade replica of Capt. Kirk's chair. He is flanked by his wife Barb Paugh and former actor Peter Duryea, who appeared in the original Star Trek pilot. Wanda Caven photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 15, 2009


At the time, the suggestion seemed so innocent, so innocuous.

For years, the hard-working volunteers of the local Kinsmen and Kinettes club in Cranbrook played host to a dinner theatre with a murder mystery theme.

Club members got to wear costumes, while displaying their thespian chops. Money was raised for charity.

But after a while the Colonel-Mustard-in-the-conservatory-with-a-candlestick schtick became old hat. The annual fundraising dinner needed a new theme.

Someone suggested Star Trek.

Mike Paugh liked the idea. He remembered watching the original television program in repeats on KVOS, the station based in Bellingham, Wash., that seemed to best appreciate the viewing habits of a teenaged boy in the early 1980s.

He hadn’t seen the show in years, so went in search of details on the Internet.

Before too long, he had instructions on the construction of the command chair used by Capt. James Tiberius Kirk on the bridge of the original Starship Enterprise. He decided to build one for himself. Then came the treks to conventions; a tour of the rides at Star Trek: The Experience, a tourist attraction in Las Vegas; and, a pilgrimage to see an original chair at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame at Seattle.

He also bought a snazzy gold captain’s uniform for himself and one of those sweet mini-skirted blue uniforms for his wife. Both boys got a uniform, too.

“It got a little crazy,” he admits. “My wife wishes I didn’t spend so much energy, time and money on this. But she’s a good sport about it.”

Hey, he was in Vegas and doesn’t gamble. “Come on, what’s 800 bucks?”

The uniforms are cool, but the replica of the captain’s chair is the piece de resistance. He bought foam, plywood, a swatch of naugahyde. He placed queries on “A Site About Props,” an online discussion board specializing in details on movie replicas. He learned a bit about upholstery, about woodworking, about how true is the statement “measure twice, cut one.”

At long last, the chair, which swivels 359 degrees, was complete. It was the hit of the fundraising dinner.

To sit in the command chair was to be transported from the mundane reality of everyday life into the fantasy of exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civlizations, boldly going where no financial consultant has gone before.

Plus, it was comfortable.

Mr. Paugh (pronounced “paw”) is a much skinnier version of William Shatner’s Kirk. At 42, he’s got the boyish look of Ron Howard with a William H. Macy haircut. A banker’s son, he spends his days crunching numbers and juggling RIFs, LIFs and RSPs.

“As a kid everyone wants to sit in the captain’s chair,” he said. “I guess that’s how I ended up with one.”

The chair helped him gain a new friend.

A retired actor living nearby heard about the fundraising dinner. He offered his services.

Peter Duryea was born in Hollywood to a Hollywood family. In the 1960s, he appeared in the television shows that later aired in perpetual re-runs on stations like KVOS. His credits include “I Spy,” “Adam 12,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Bewitched,” “Family Affair,” “The Outer Limits,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”

In an episode of “Daniel Boone,” he died in his real-life father’s arms. Dan Duryea was an actor movie-goers loved to hate, as he mostly portrayed charming villains.

The younger Duryea lost some of his ardour for the profession after his father’s death in 1968, eventually resettling in the West Kootenays and becoming a Canadian citizen.

Of all the shows in which he appeared, only one continues to animate fans.

In the original 1966 pilot of “Star Trek,” known as “The Cage,” he portrayed Starfleet officer Jose Tyler, a boyish navigator. The character was not included when the show became a series on NBC in the fall of 1966.

That has not stopped the show’s fanatics from celebrating a performance otherwise relegated to trivia.

These days, Mr. Duryea operates a boat tour company and a wilderness camp from his home in Gray Creek. He also heads an eldercare cooperative that is building a facility next to the new school in nearby Crawford Bay.

While happy to indulge “fans who cherish old memories,” he is glad he never became “entranced by the glamour” of Hollywood. He has found a more rewarding life in the Kootenays, he said yesterday on his 70th birthday.

Back in Cranbrook, Mr. Paugh placed his captain’s chair in the lobby of the Columbia Theatre for the premiere of the movie “Star Trek.” Fans got to take a spin in the chair and have their photo taken flicking switches and pushing buttons on the arm rests.

You can buy an officially licensed replica of the chair from an online company for $2,717.01 US (plus $400 shipping), but Mr. Paugh finds itself more satisfying to have built one with his own hands for about a third the price. In fact, he has enough material left over to construct a second.

He’s got ambitions.

“I haven’t put any sounds in it yet, but maybe some day,” he said.

Earlier this year, the New York Times profiled fellow Trekkers who got in touch with their inner Capt. Kirk by placing command chairs in their homes. The online response ranged from ridicule to acknowledgement of a “sweet piece of geek candy.”

The best posting came from someone imagining a pretend captain sitting in the chair while calling into the kitchen.

“Hey, honey, get me a beer. Kirk, out.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The love that made Jay Phillips the man he is

Kirsten Fischmann marries Reg Phillips in Prince Rupert in 1969.

By Tom Hawthorn

Special to The Globe and Mail

July 13, 2009


The boy arrived early. Weeks early.

After the doctor ensured he was breathing and after the nurses cleaned him, the boy was placed on a scale.

He weighed just 3 pounds, 7 ounces. About 1.58 kilograms. Less than the weight of a pineapple.

“I couldn’t bring him home,” recalls his mother. “He had pneumonia in both lungs. It was touch and go there for a while.”

She counted 47 horrible days in which her first child remained behind glass in an incubator. At long last, a mother was allowed to bring her boy home. Baby Jason thrived.

“There was no looking back once he pulled through,” Kirsten Phillips said. “He turned out so big and strong. I guess he was really strong even as a little baby in an incubator.”

The baby is a man now and adept with his fists, as has been seen by more than 100,000 viewers on YouTube. Jay Phillips, 38, was set upon by three men hurling racial epithets, the cowardly attack filmed by a spectator overlooking the scene.

The widely-reported attack led to the overnight organization of anti-racism rally in Courtenay. Hundreds attended.

Before the rally, before the YouTube video, before three thugs in a pickup truck picked on the wrong man, before a baby boy was born to spend the first 47 days os his life in an incubator, a teenaged girl caught the eye of a handsome and fun-loving young man.

Kirsten Fischmann was born in Copenhagen, moving to Canada as a girl. Her family settled along the northern British Columbia coast at Prince Rupert, where her father, a trained chef, worked as a fisherman.

She remembers watching local CHTK television station one day in the mid-1960s. The show was TK Dance Party and maybe the song being played was “Green Onions.” Teenagers were moving in unison to one of the popular fad dances of the day. She spotted Reg Phillips, a boy she knew from school.

“I saw him on television and right away I told my mother, ‘That’s the man I’m going to marry.’ ”

She was 14, four years younger than her future beau.

Her dad knew his dad, who had been a railway porter.

Four years later, on Sept. 27, 1969, the couple got married at the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew in an Anglican ceremony attended by about 200 guests. The bride wore a white floor-length bridal gown with lace sleeves and shoulders and a train, her face covered by a tulle veil. The groom looked dapper in a shiny brown suit with a gold tie, a white carnation worn as a boutonniere.

Just two years earlier, the U.S Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws to be unconstitutional, ending all race restrictions on marriage. The couple in the landmark civil rights case were Mildred and Richard Loving. The case was known as Loving v. Virginia. All romantics can rejoice in knowing Loving triumphed over all.

What does the bride remember of a ceremony now nearly 40 years distant?

“Big. Happy. All my relatives came from Denmark.”

The local newspaper had a small story, even published a photograph.

Mr. Phillips became a truck driver and, later, a driving instructor who also taught the operation of heavy machinery.

They had one boy and then another two years later. He was named Justin.

They lived in Kamloops, later moved to Maple Ridge. Ms. Phillips, a striking blonde, got a lesson in the daily humiliations faced by people of colour.

At a store, another customer spotted her with her dark-skinned sons and made a loud comment involving a racial epithet and a woodpile.

At a chain department store, her sons were always followed by security, while she could never find a clerk for assistance.

In kindergarten, Jason’s teacher referred to him by a racial slur and insisted he have his afro trimmed.

In high school, Jason responded to a racial taunt by punching another boy. The retaliator, not the instigator, was suspended.

“Little by little, things like that on a daily basis wears away at you,” she said. “It wears away.”

That her sons faced a lifetime of such belittlement made her angry, as it would any mother.

There was little respite. At a bar, another patron assumed she was a prostitute, her husband a pimp. They stopped going out.

As the boys grew up, their father taught them to box. He played basketball with them, took them on some of his long hauls to see the rest of Canada.

Jay Phillips knows how to handle himself.

He faced a dilemma after being attacked. He did not want to burden his mother with worry about his safety. Both were still grieving the death of Reg Phillips. So, how to explain the bruises and stitches to his mother? He was going to tell her he’d taken an elbow while playing basketball.

The posting of the video on the Internet ended that plan.

Her son telephoned her with the news. He told her about the video.

She was understandably horrified by what she saw.

“I just burst into tears. I just thought, ‘Not again. When will it ever stop?’ ”

She also thought about her husband, who had been with her for all the other incidents. Reginald Dennis Phillips died six days before Christmas. The celebration of his life was held three days after Christmas.

A month earlier, they celebrated what not so long ago was unthinkable — the election of a mixed-race man, like their sons, to the U.S. presidency.

She knows her husband would have been upset by the assault, but proud of his son’s fortitude.

She dreams her grandson Malik, whom she held during last week’s anti-racism rally, will be raised in a more just world. Meanwhile, his father expects he will teach him self-defence.

In the past, even some friends made a fuss about Ms. Phillips marrying a black man.

“People used to tell me I was brave. I’d say, ‘What are you talking about? I’m in love.’ ”

Such an ordinary thing, to fall in love. And so magnificent, too.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bill Lillard, baseball player (1918-2009)

Bill Lillard (left) poses at Seals Stadium in San Francisco with Ernie Raimondi (seated) and Dom DiMaggio (right).

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 10, 2009

Bill Lillard enchanted Toronto baseball fans with his derring-do on the bases and horrified them with his unpredictable fielding at shortstop.

Mr. Lillard hit just two home runs in two seasons with baseball’s Toronto Maple Leafs. One of those came in a game on May 20, 1941, when he smacked a two-run homer against the Rochester Red Wings at Maple Leaf Stadium. Later in the game, his older brother, Gene Lillard, matched the feat for the visitors with a two-run shot of his own.

Both brothers played in the major leagues, Bill with the Philadelphia Athletics and Gene with the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Bill Lillard was born on a California lemon and walnut ranch, the youngest of three sons. His father, the ranch foreman, later served as a county judge for a quarter-century.

The boy followed his older brother into professional baseball, making his debut with the Tucson (Ariz.) Cowboys in 1937. He was promoted to the San Francisco Seals, where his teammates included such notables as playing manager Lefty O’Doul and outfielder Dom DiMaggio (obituary, May 9).

In 1938, Mr. Lillard boasted a sterling .335 batting average in 278 at-bats for the Seals in what would be his finest season.

The Seals sold him to the Athletics that summer for $35,000.

He played in 80 games over two seasons with the parent club, recording a .244 average.

In 1939, he led the International League by starting 50 double plays while playing with the minor-league Baltimore Orioles.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound infielder made a favourable early impression when assigned to Toronto in 1940.

“The new shortstopper shaped up very nicely,” the Toronto Star reported, “displaying much speed and making a hit with the fans by his rapid fire work on double plays.”
Later assessments would describe his fielding as “jittery.” Mr. Lillard committed an average of an error every other game, displaying the weakness that would prevent him from enjoying a lengthy career in the majors.

After the United States entered the Second World War, Mr. Lillard took a hiatus from baseball to work in an airplane manufacturing plant. He later served with the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theatre, where he contracted hookworm, jaundice, malaria, and dengue fever.

“I was in reconnaissance and operated miles behind enemy lines most of the time for two years,” he wrote in an unpublished memoir. “Then I was wounded by a mortar shell and was in hospitals from April 9 to Dec. 23, 1945, when I finally got out of the service.”

He returned to baseball for three seasons at war’s end.

Mr. Lillard also played in the minors for the Baltimore Orioles, Hollywood Stars, San Diego Padres, Jersey City Giants, Minneapolis Millers, and Fort Worth (Tex.) Cats.

After leaving the game in the middle of the 1948 season, he worked in the postal service for 32 years until retiring in 1980.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Athletic Round Table in 1973.

Mr. Lillard shared the given names but not the nickname of a prominent professional bowler, who was known as Bill (Mumbles) Lillard for his habit of talking to himself during a match.

Only the most ardent of fans knew baseball’s Mr. Lillard refused to wear his eyeglasses when on the diamond, an explanation perhaps for his many errors.

William Beverly Lillard was born on Jan. 10, 1918, at Goleta, Calif. He died on June 9 at San Luis Obispo, Calif. He was 91. He leaves his wife of 69 years, the former Sarah Marie Wright, known as Sally. He also leaves two daughters, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by older brothers Lawrence and Gene, the latter whom died in 1991, aged 77.

Globe campaign in Victoria

The Globe and Mail canvasses for readers in the wake of the Victoria Times Colonist's decision to suspend Monday publication.

Even Monday Magazine doesn't publish on Monday.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where there's a bug, there's his blog

The actor Victor Kilian in undated portrait. His grandson, North Vancouver writer Crawford Kilian, is seen below.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 8, 2009


First came the Chicken Little reports. Then came the predictable lull, a hushed period of post-hysteria updates. Now we know the chicken was just under the weather. It’s his pal, Porky, who’s sicker than a dog.

Through it all, for the past four years, Crawford Kilian has dutifully monitored reports from around the world, posting regularly to his blog on pandemic influenza.

The blog is called H5N1, which is the official name for avian flu. These days, his reports more often cite H1N1, the swine flu. If you followed his blog earlier this week, perhaps prompted by his Twitter feed (@crof), you’d have been linked to stories from Spain (832 cases, six “grave”), Brazil (905 cases), Tasmania (first death), and Jamaica (first death). You’d also be able to read a 16-page plan by the American College of Emergency Physicians to cope with this fall’s expected surge in cases.

He sent alerts about three deaths in Canada, 231 cases in Thailand, 11 sick students in South Africa, not to mention the secretary-general of the United Nations calling for a billion-dollar fund to help poor countries fight the infection.

Perhaps the most disconcerting report concerned hospital staff in Argentina (“now the epicenter of the world”) refusing to help treat a stricken three-year-old girl in Entre Rios province.

The blogger seems indefatigable, though recent events are starting to tire him out.

“It has run me ragged the last 10, 12 weeks,” he said. “The news has come in so fast and furious.”

The flubloggia (the cyber community of influenza obsessives) finds redemption of sorts in the current cascade of bad news following the anticlimax of the avian flu scare.

“We knew we were cranks,” Mr. Kilian said. “We were making a huge fuss about and spending a lot of time on a non-existent pandemic.”

Now, Mr. Kilian reports on Argentina coping with a surge of demand on its medical resources. In Canada, the reaction to the spring outbreak of swine flu is just a dress rehearsal for what’s coming this fall.

Mr. Kilian is doing his part in keeping the public informed. At 68, he likely has some resistance to the illness having lived through influenza pandemics in 1957 and 1968.

The flu blog is one of 16 he maintains, though admittedly some are “cobweb sites” with irregular postings. A prolific writer, the retired college instructor has published novels, historical fantasies, a critique of the education system, a thriller set in Antarctica (admiring critics called it a “chiller”), and a terrific history of pioneering black settlement in British Columbia (“Go Do Some Great Thing,” reissued last fall in a revised edition by Commodore Books). Self-Counsel Press will be issuing his latest book in September, titled, “Write Your Non-Fiction Book Online.”

He has yet to publish in print what may be his most compelling tale — life as a Red Diaper baby in the midst of a Red scare.

Born in Manhattan in 1941, he graduated from Columbia University with an English degree, then completed a comfortable two-year tour of duty as a clerk in the U.S. Army before becoming a technical writer at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, Calif. In 1966, Mr. Kilian saw on the cover of the radical magazine Ramparts a photograph of the man who drilled him, Master Sergeant Donald Duncan, “one of the coolest guys I’d ever met in the army.” The cover line read, simply, “I quit!” with the tease, “The whole thing was a lie!” The decorated sergeant wears a green beret. The next year, Mr. Kilian abandoned the Bay Area in the midst of the Summer of Love to start a new life in Vancouver. Though he had fulfilled his military obligation stateside, he’d had enough of the Vietnam War, as had the sergeant who trained him.

Mr. Kilian soon after became a college instructor and, 40 years later, retired as the last original hire from what is now Capilano University. (“I know not only where all the bodies are buried,” he quips, “but I buried them.”)

In 1980, Canadian Weekend magazine predicted Mr. Kilian would be a household name as a writer by the end of the decade. That did not happen, though the author has never stopped writing. Perhaps he has been making up for an unhappy period in which his family’s politics led to exile.

Mr. KIlian is a rare person who can say “I owe my existence to Hitler.” His parents met at a rally of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.

Their son was named for a family friend, the magazine illustrator Will Crawford. The artist spent time with Mr. Kilian’s grandfather at Free Acres, an experimental community in New Jersey whose free-thinking residents were dismissed by critics as “freakers.” The actor James Cagney, also a family friend, lived for a time in the utopian settlement.

Victor Kilian and Mr. Cagney were vaudeville partners, both later taking roles in motion pictures, Mr. Kilian more often than not playing a dastardly villain. Family lore has Mr. Kilian taking a misplaced punch in the head from John Wayne during the filming of a fight scene for “Reap the Wild Wind.” Mr. Kilian eventually lost sight in the eye, though at the time Mr. Wayne felt aggrieved because his punch failed to drop the rival actor.

Victor Kilian and his namesake son, an actor and screenwriter, both belonged to the Communist Party, the son once escorting the Canadian doctor Norman Bethune on a fundraising tour of New England in support of the Spanish Republic.

The senior Kilion was ordered to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He refused to name names and was blacklisted, as was Victor Kilian Jr., who moved his family to Mexico City. Young Crawford attended bullfights and remembers buying a cavalry sabre at the thieves’ market, an idyll somewhat circumscribed by fear a slip could cost his mother her job as a school teacher, which provided the family’s income in the wake of the blacklist.

It was in Mexico that he befriended the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who became a mentor. Mr. Trumbo won an Academy Award under an alias before effectively breaking the blacklist by being named as the writer for Spartacus in 1960.

Mr. Kilian’s grandfather later capped his career as a character actor by portraying the grandfather on the “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” television series. He was the Fernwood Flasher. In 1979, the veteran actor was murdered during a burglary at his luxury apartment in the Hollywood Hills.

His relatives’ misplaced devotion to the Soviet Union caused untold disruption for a son and grandson.

“I’ve seen my FBI file,” Mr. Kilian said, “which is all blacked out.”

The anonymous moles noted the young man did not attend Communist Party functions.

“I thought Communists were a bunch of old farts. Who wanted to hang out with them?”

Almost 20 years ago, Mr. Kilian wrote a memoir titled, “Growing Up Blacklisted.” It remains unpublished, a rare bit of Kiliania not to be printed, though he has included it in a digitized essay collection.

He remembers his father, a radio operator in the merchant marine during the war, operating a ham radio.He got postcards from fellow operators from half a world away.

Mr. Kilian does not receive much snail mail from correspondents, but he does conduct a page survey. His H5N1 blog averages 1,668 visits per day. Someday soon, the page will inform visitor No. 1,500,000, an audience eager for the latest information on a pandemic yet to have shown its full force.