Recently I was reminded of my life at McClelland & Stewart, which I’ll simply call M&S. Thanks to Avie Bennett, I was able to run the grand old company from 1988 till 2004, until it was time to move on, and bequeath control to Doug Pepper and his successors. But the company then was so much at the centre of Canadian publishing that it was an unforgettable time for me.
And for the men and women who worked there.
There were about a hundred of us, and we were part of a large professional family. I remember that I made a point of beginning each day by walking around our office. It took up the 9th floor of the building on the North-east corner of University and Dundas (now the subject of major renovation plans). My daily circular wander, from office to office, proved to be amazingly efficient, turning me from a remote corner office occupant, available only through carefully planned official encounters, to a guy who was ready for a chat any time. Things got done.
And many fine books were published by our team, and many prizes were won. Simply listing the books we published – by authors with names like Ondaatje, and Mistry, and Davies, and MacLennan, and Mitchell, and Atwood, and Urquhart, and Munro – looks like boasting. But it is a factual reflection of the excellence of the books we published, up to and including the major non-fiction best-sellers we brought out by Prime Ministers named Trudeau, and Mulroney, and Martin.
And there was the unforgettable John C. Crosbie. He was so determined to publicise his memoirs, at M& S’s expense, that he and I came to exchange strong words about it. On the phone his Newfoundland accent did nothing to hide his disapproval of our reluctance to spend money, on him. “You goddam poblishers” he complained. “If you walk across a nickel lying on the soidwalk…..yer arse starts snappin’”.
I was deeply shocked.
The M& S links continued at an event last week. At St James Chapel on Parliament Street, a funeral was held for an old M&S friend, Doug Kehoe. Doug worked for many years in sales, as a specialist dealing with libraries and librarians. He was greatly loved, and his funeral should have attracted dozens of his old friends. It was indeed a well-organised event, with our old colleague Pat Kennedy speaking well about him, and bringing Doug’s charming essence back to life.
But, sadly, although lovingly supported by Doug’s husband, Richard, the funeral drew very few of his old colleagues. Who knew how many other old friends would show up? I was there, but was disappointed. It was great to see Pat there, as large as life, and to run into Jenny Brandy and Betty Quan. But so many others remained outside our grouping.
Sadly, the truth is simply that the clock is catching up with us. I look forward to meeting other members of our M&S family……before it is too late. And I pass on my good wishes to our valued colleague, Krys Ross, as she works to bring support to her beloved Ukraine.