Henry Burgoyne Empowered Journalists To Do Their Best For The Communities His Newspaper Served

(Henry  Burgoyne, the last great publisher of The St. Catharines Standard when that once-proud and independent newspaper was still owned by his family up to 1996, died earlier this February following a brave battle with cancer.

John Nicol, a CBC investigative reporter and former award-winning reporter and columnist with The Standard, delivered the following remembrance to a large audience during a “celebration” of Henry’s life hosted by the Burgoyne family at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario this February 19.

A few of John’s recollections may be best remembered by those who were fortunate enough to work for Henry and his family. But all of them speak to the vibrant and compassionate character of this man and to his unwavering dedication to quality journalism and Niagara At Large is pleased to post John’s well-received words in their entirety.

Peace to you Henry. We miss you already. You were one of the best friends a journalist and any community that appreciates good reporting on current affairs could ever have.)

By John Nicol

Posted February 20th, 2011 on Niagara At Large

Before we begin,  I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing I had one last conversation with Henry.  I was hoping the newfangled technology here at Ridley, might help me get the message to him.

Henry Burgoyne, enjoying some time on the water. Photo courtesy of the Burgoyne family

Henry,  I’m sorry I kept parking in your parking spot.  I was paying off my student loan and I’d argue that having a rusty brown 1974 Toyota Corolla under your H.B. Burgoyne sign gave the place a much more egalitarian feel than your Ferrari or Jaguar…
I didn’t mean to order $1,200 of B52s at that Christmas party.

And I’m sorry I invited the entire CIJ (Centre for Investigative Journalism) conference up to your suite in Toronto. As I recall, we were all in a bit of a festive mood…

Contrary to what you might read in the paper,  I don’t think he ever really got that mad at me.  Everyone knows Henry had an unflappable nature. The only problem with the conference delegates showing up in his suite is that he would have liked a bit of a warning to get enough booze.

The B52 gambit? I think he wished he’d thought of it first.

As for taking his parking spot, yeah, he was pissed…

In preparing to celebrate his contribution to us all through the newspaper, I’ve chatted with people from across The Standard, and I’ve had two weeks of belly laughter.

We have much to celebrate.

It was quite clear from all the conversations I had that he loved us, and we loved him. It was hard not to. He was like a brother. None of us have had such a fun job, since. None of us have had a better chance to commit journalism, since.

In looking back, I can’t imagine him walking into that wood paneled publisher’s office at age 26, with his forbears—the Mayor and the two Majors—staring down at him, cigars in hand, as if to say: ‘What do you got, kid?’ But he’d show them. Sure they created a good family business—Henry took it one step further and made us feel we were, what (former managing editor) Murray Thomson called, “a band of brothers.” The newspaper had served the community well—Henry made sure it served the community like never before. It was a good daily newspaper—Henry made it the best of its kind in the country.
How did he do it?

His father Bill, as we know, died at age 49 in 1970, when Henry was 21. He was a couple of years removed from an unceremonious departure from this great campus. He had a reputation for partying and fast cars. An outsider would say he was more apt to go the way of James Dean than Joseph Pulitzer.

What you didn’t know about this guy who had wrapped himself in Lamborghinis and Lotuses, Ferraris and Maseratis, was that he had a sterling mind.

As sharp as his father’s, said Alice Steele, who would serve both Burgoynes as their right arm. Henry didn’t cause any ripples, she said, while he learned on the job. Instead, he listened to wise counsel from Larry Smith and Al Teather and Gord MacFarlane.

But in the 1980s, he knew what he wanted. His collaboration with Murray Thomson would be like Lennon meeting McCartney. He promised Murray a fence around the newsroom to keep the advertisers and the powerful from influencing the news.

We covered the environment so well they put Doug Draper as the first environment beat reporter in the country. Michael Clarkson put such a magnifying glass on the Niagara Regional Police there’d be a public enquiry and embarrassing revelations about nepotism. Kevin McMahon took on huge topics like nuclear disarmament, Joan Wiley took on sexual abuse. A fervor developed about the ability to do good journalism. We knew Henry would be there to back us.

Then McMahon, Clarkson, Kevin Cavanagh and Doug Herod did a story on the washroom sex scandal at the local malls, exposing less than appropriate police tactics. With guidance from Thomson and Burgoyne, the paper didn’t name names, and showed a decency towards those charged with this victimless crime that won the newspaper plaudits across the country, and a Michener Award nomination.

The team won the Investigative Journalism’s top prize for Canada, and Henry feted the six of them to Vancouver. The pictures of those six celebrating at the new Pan-Pacific hotel would sear into the minds of the rest of us back in the newsroom.

Aye, that’s the good life. I’d like a piece of that.

Now you get to see his business philosophy forming: Train your charges well, give them confidence or backing, something to look forward to, and make sure you have fun.

But there was more to it than that. His future right arm, Rita Woodhead, felt she had an instant extended family just by coming to work at The Standard. The family atmosphere was pandemic, even if it meant we were related to a whole cast of characters, and by golly, there were characters.

There were the turkeys at Christmas, and everyone looking piping hot fitting into suits and fancy dresses at the Pipefitters hall bashes.

His creative departments, advertising and the newsroom, had extra parties, and the hell raising at the ad parties would put us teetotalling journalists to shame.

Even in the summer, he’d take all the ad guys up to his cottage at Longford Preserve where there’d be phantom fishing, impromptu music and well-planned beers.

There was a method to his madness—make it fun.

I mention those two departments, but I think you’d hear his marvelous laugh most often with the composing room guys, where he had a teenage apprenticeship—learning the business and learning how to drink, by the sounds of the stories. If there are any Ridley people here who saw Henry in his hellion days, blame the composing room guys.

I’ll point them out to you later.

And forget needing my beat-up car in his parking spot to make the place egalitarian: Henry was just as comfortable dropping in at Cubby Howard’s place in Port Dalhousie as he was dropping into the St. Catharines Club.

Even an investigative reporter like myself couldn’t uncover all the small things he did for his extended family, but they must be in the thousands. If your family member had a life-threatening illness, stay home and take care of them, and Henry’d keep paying your salary. If you were desperate for a loan, Henry could quietly help you out. When Tony Blaikie’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer, he flew Tony out west twice to see her. When Tony himself had a bout, Henry personally drove him to Toronto for treatment. One retiree made an appointment to come see Henry, saying he and his wife were $30 a week short on their pension, and might be forced to sell their house. The guy left with that $30 increase.

When Al Teather died, Henry drove 19 hours straight to get back here from Florida. Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t do it in 16 hours.

And like his mother, Henry always asked about your own family, and would be there for them. Joan Wiley talks about Henry showing up with a musical plush elephant when she and John Storm had their first baby. The Niagara Children’s Chorus, which included Doug Mackie’s kid, was going to lose out on a trip to B.C. when Henry forked over $1,000 to the cause. Carol Alaimo’s son Mike was wowed by Henry’s Lamborghini, so Henry promised him he’d pick him up from school one day. Sure enough, Henry showed up, and for months Mike was cock of the walk in his Grade 8 class.

There was a method to his madness—be there for him and he’d be there for you.

So what did all this mean for the community?

Reporters would work all night, listen through walls if they had to, to get stories that meant something to the community. Carol alone won ‘Journalist of the Year’ three times, went to the Nationals and the Micheners, doing stories that reduced hydro rates and exposed sexual predators and fraudsters, and made life better for kids in youth homes. She was told by one retiring town clerk: “You don’t know what s-h-i-t didn’t go down here because we thought you’d find out.”

Indeed, the newspaper had become a comprehensive checks and balance on the powers of the community, as indeed, in an ideal world, it should.

We did stories on police corruption, preserved farmland from being developed by schemers, changed provincial laws and bad police tactics. The paper warned you that AIDS had come to Niagara, when everyone thought it was a big city issue. We unearthed a forgotten War of 1812 site, we told the history of the community and did features showing the best way forward. We had a great cast of photographers, Denny, Les, Mike, Leonard and Bob.. Local sports had a huge platform to inspire youth. Henry sent me to cover local hero Steve Bauer at the Tour de France and Draper to Germany to help expose the folly of putting a chemical waste burning facility in West Lincoln.

As Rick Bogacz, now the editor in chief of MSN Canada said: “If you empower people to do their jobs, they’ll want to do them, and that was the essence of Henry Burgoyne.”

We were empowered, and he paid us well. There was never a need for a union. We never counted our hours. We never thought of overtime.

Speaking of which, everyone thinks Jack Gatecliff left us. When the new owners took over, Jack just took his overtime. Since then he’s been down at Marcel Dionne’s place in Buffalo writing Marcel’s biography.

Jack loved the Burgoynes. When I came to work in sports, Jack was a celebrity, but he was forever thankful to the Burgoynes for that opportunity to have a job doing what he loved. He was not alone.

But for all the love coming back at Henry, who was the only one who knew the extent of his largesse and acts of kindness, his modesty was stunning. When Sean Condon was up for an award while working for the Niagara Falls Review, Henry introduced himself by saying: “You don’t know me but… “ Henry knew talent, so when Sean made the bold move and came over as a summer student, Henry gave him a veteran’s wage within weeks.

God love those guys who wrote Henry off as just a lover of parties and fast cars. This guy knew what he was doing. That 26-year-old brought the newspaper from the dark ages of lead type to the computer age, and triumphantly, to the 100th anniversary party at the Parkway.

If you remember, the whole theme was onwards into the future. It was lavish, and 500 former and current employees attended. We all knew each other. It was a family. All for one, and one for all. Afterwards, Henry surprised people by offering long-term service awards, and where do you find places that had people routinely getting 40- and 45-year awards.

The Burgoyne family always cared about the community by providing jobs at the expense of their bottom line, but Henry showed his concern for the community even more in the early 1990s when tragedy struck with the death of Kristen French.

His advice for the trial coverage was: “I don’t care if we sell a single extra paper on this coverage. I just want it done properly.”

It was never about making money—it was always about serving community.

One of the best quotes to come out of the coverage of Henry’s passing came from Cavanagh, who took over as managing editor in 1993. He said: “Every resident in this city benefited from Henry’s integrity, whether they knew it or not.” There were lots of people wanting to change our coverage, but Henry was hellbent on being honest with the community, on the unstated belief that society can deal with its problems if it knows what its problems are. He stood up to some powerful people, including, and especially, his mother Dorothy, who thought sometimes we could have been just a little bit kinder.

When the end came, and the sale went through to Southam, I was in Henry’s office with Mrs. Doolittle, Hernry and Harriet while the portraits of the Mayor, the two Majors and Henry were taken down from the wall. It was a somber affair, and Henry probably felt the pang of not being able to hand the family business off to the next generation, as if he’d failed.

Hardly.

Had I had the perspective a columnist should have had, I would have written: There goes the Mayor, the two Majors, and the King. Forget his love of Elvis—Henry was the king, and probably more generous than Elvis. He touched all our lives by helping us build a less corrupt, more caring society, and it’s just not a thing of the past.

His impact goes on.

I tell each class of journalism students I have at Ryerson about the beauty of the Henry Burgoyne era, to give them something to aspire to. Carol, who burns candles out of the two Dom Perignon bottles Henry bought her at the Micheners in Ottawa, keeps the Burgoyne flame burning at the Arizona Daily Star in Tuscon.

Rick Bogacz, like Henry, empowers his employees at MSN News. Doug Draper runs the insightful Niagara At Large website. Anne Marie Owens is managing editor of news at the National Post. Michael Clarkson went on to win more awards, do inspirational speaking and currently writes books. Debbie Yeo and Dave Feschuk are at the Toronto Star. Angela Murphy is an editor at the Globe and Mail. Andrew Lundy is editor in chief of Canwest news online. Kevin McMahon is a documentary filmmaker. Sean Condon is a film reviewer with MSN News. Peter Cooney is an editor at Reuters News Agency, Washington D.C. Linda Clark is a bigwig at the CBC, where Janet Davison and I toil.

We all carry a piece of him with us.

I’ve been around the world with the CBC and Maclean’s, but I’d trade all those moments to be back at my old job in the old Standard newsroom.

I can imagine Tip Teather walking around the reception desk, looking like he just stepped out of a Dick Tracy comic; Boyd Arnold loping around the corner like he just got off a horse. Jerry The Big Bear Buschlen stopping by to tell a joke to Johnny Mo at the reception desk. The sounds of that newsroom were always great: police radio rattling on, Craig Swayze asking Jack every day for more rowing coverage, the slurp of the vacuum tubes sending copy down to the composing room, where it would be picked up by Booty, ever a twinkle in his eye, and passed onto Eddie, and Alex and Knobber. And if you listened intently enough, you might hear something rolling around in Johnny Mo’s bottom drawer, sorry… if you listened intently enough, you could hear Henry’s marvelous laugh wafting down the hall from that wood-paneled publisher’s office.

They’re all gone, but at least Henry can commune now with other members of the family he nurtured.

We were lucky to know him.

From this day to the ending of the world, I say, misquoting another King Henry, he shall be remembered, by we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Share your own comments below if you wish.

(Niagara At Large is at http://www.niagaraatlarge.com and is here as an online source of news and commentary for readers in our greater Niagara region and beyond.)

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7 responses to “Henry Burgoyne Empowered Journalists To Do Their Best For The Communities His Newspaper Served

  1. A beautiful, heartfelt eulogy, John. It’s being forwarded to many, by me and by others, I would bet.

    Like

  2. John Nicol’s eloquence has wonderfully and poignantly recorded a cast of characters, events, and camaraderie that is inspiring, admirable, and enviable. We should all be so lucky to have had the richness of their day to day world, if not its legacy. Such a loss, such a loss. Hopefully his words will be archived for posterity as they capture the essence of an era and of characters we’ll never see the like of again.

    Like

  3. Nicol has done it again — what a tribute to Henry, heartfelt and human. Anyone would hope to get a Nicol eulogy down the road, and Henry would be proud. We’ll miss him, and what he stood for. If for now we’re left with memories of the good old days of print media, then so be it.

    Like

  4. Thank you, John, for this lovely tribute to Henry. And thank you, Doug, for publishing it. So many memories….

    Like

  5. John you have always amazed me. Reading your speech was like a walk down memory lane. What a tribute to Henry. He will be missed and already is. Mike

    Like

  6. My gosh . . . I was one of those “ad” people who worked in The Standard circa 1978 – 1981. And yes, I did attend the “party at the cottage” weekends at both Gord McFarlane’s in Pike Bay, and the staying at the Nordic Inn, near Algonquin Park (lucky we all weren’t kicked out) with a afternoon of speed boating on Henry’s boat with the gang.
    I still have those pictures . . . Al Teather, Gord, Henry, and both the Retail and Classified Advertising Departments . . .
    Those were certainly, the good ole’ days . . .

    Jamie Cook

    Like

  7. Gordon LeRoy McFarlane

    “It’s My Paper _ The Standard”
    To be sure, the men and women working there made it the special time it was.
    G McFarlane (young gord)

    Like

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