I was candid and straightforward. Quite matter-of-fact.
It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t be perfectly honest and upfront. Always was. Always had been.
It never seemed to make a whit of difference…
That’s how I was raised. That’s my history. My life. I was lucky.
I told J. Douglas MacFarlane, I wanted to attend classes, right away. I told him about my recent hospitalization at The Clarke and why. It was an old story for me. I’d told it many times before.
Then I pulled out two thick black bound hardcover scrapbooks bulging with clippings ~ mine.
“I have to come to Ryerson,” I remember telling him, passionately but not desperately. “I have to be here, where the action is. I want to write for a Toronto newspaper. I wanted to be a journalist.”
We discussed my psychiatric history. He seemed quite interested. And I had no secrets. So I told him…
I was on an historic new medication…
I was newly re-diagnosed and now taking a then-new medication ~ Lithium Carbonate ~ the first medication in medical history that treated a psychiatric disorder, stabilized moods, and not just its symptoms, the highs and lows (for me just the highs).
“It doesn’t turn me into a zombie. I’m here,” I remember telling him. “This is me.”
A foundation of critical thinking, a rubric for living…
J.D. MacFarlane had penetrating crystal blue eyes that seemed to see into my soul. They were not cold. They were sentient. Responsive. Astute. Wise. He listened intently.
I’ll never forget how intense that “interview” was, for, indeed, that’s what it was because at the end of it, he simply said, “Go up to the second floor.” He gave me a room number. “It’s the first year news reporting class. You’re in. You can fill out your application later.”
Professor Don Hawkes was just settling the small class in. There were about 20 of us. A group of university grads that were enrolled in the special two-year diploma course, which meant we did not have to take all the extra credits that students in the three-year program took, students straight out of high school and much younger than us.
We were all into our 20’s. I was 27 ~ definitely a late bloomer. Our professor was a seasoned journalist and the first line that issued out of his mouth was this. I’ve never forgotten it. It is one of my Rules of Life and one of the toughest lessons I’ve ever learned. A lesson I never stop learning. I have to keep on learning and relearning it. Every day of my life. I can never master this lesson.
It is an ideal. My ideal. One of many.
“As reporters, you must never assume anything.”
Though he wasn’t the first or only person to say this, Don Hawkes was the first person to say it to me. Or I was ready at that very moment in time to hear it and ingest it. It stuck.
It’s the foundation of critical thinking, though I didn’t know it back then. I say it to every class I teach on the first day of classes. Often more often than that throughout each term.
It’s the rubric for discerning accuracy. Reality versus fantasy. Sanity versus insanity.
It’s the first step in being able to see the world with balance.
Thus began my life as a journalist. A writer. That’s why I’m here, right now, listening. Hanging on your words. Waiting for you to react.
See you later. Hope you’ve had a Happy Boxing Day.
* This story is recounted in the meticulously researched and lovingly written biographical “tribute” Canada’s Newspaper Legend, The Story of J. Douglas MacFarlane, (ECW Press, 2000) written by his son Richard MacFarlane. I met Richard when he worked in the library of The Toronto Sun in the 1970s and early 1980s. We became fast friends. Richard turned himself into a journalist his father would have respected, working tirelessly for years on researching his father’s life story and getting it published, after “J.D.M.” as he was known to those who worked for him, died on April 27, 1995.
When J. Douglas MacFarlane left his post as Chair of Ryerson’s Journalism School in the fall of 1976, while I was still a student, he became the first and only “Editorial Director” of The Toronto Sun ~ a rather dubious title, for no one before or since did what J.D.M. did for “The Little Paper That Grew,” as it was known during its glory days from 1971 to 1995. He left his mark.
His legacy lives on in all who knew him. He helped make that feisty little tabloid a landmark in Canadian journalism. It was a great paper, in large part, because of what and whom JDM brought to it. Including me. He launched my career and was responsible for my being hired, when many people didn’t want to take a chance on me. He changed the course of my life. He believed in me. He always did. I wouldn’t be here right now were it not for him.