You meet and make friends with an enormous number of people when you spend a lifetime in the newspaper business. I started learning that a very long time ago.
For me, it has held true for over 60 years.
I always considered it one of the special gratifications of the profession. Colleagues, competitors and contacts become an important part of everyday experiences. Many of them become good friends.
I think of Wilkie Taylor.
You couldn’t ask for a better inspiration, better consultant, better associate. In his career, he was a good writer, a good editor and, above all else, a good person.
The other morning, when his wife Esther phoned to tell me he had passed away — at the age of 89 — it saddened me greatly.
His death brought back so many memories — many fond memories — of someone who was a gentleman and a gentle man. In all my years, I never saw him speak badly of anyone — in print or in person.
My association with Wilkie began the very day my career began as a young teenager, writing high school sports for what was then known as The Evening News.
Ricky Fraser had arrived to be the new sports editor at the time, and one of his first acts was to hire me. Wilkie, older than both of us, was already at the News, in writing and editing capacities.
We soon became a good threesome, all interested in sports, all interested in helping to make the paper a better product for its readers. Our paths would cross almost daily.
A few years later, I became the Pictou County bureau chief for The Chronicle Herald, responsible for news, photos and — to my delight — sports events. For 10 years, I was in that position and, on many occasions when conflicts occurred, Wilkie stepped in to help by covering hockey or ball games.
In the early 1960s, Ricky Fraser moved to Ontario to become sports editor at the Barrie Examiner, later becoming a staff reporter with each of Toronto’s three main dailies, the Telegram, the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.
His departure left a void in the sports chair at The Evening News until former sports editor Charlie Stevens came back to his old post after a few years in a business venture in Providence, Rhode Island. Who filled in between Ricky and Charlie? Wilkie, of course. He was capable of doing any newspaper duties.
One memory is a photograph I still have. It’s a picture of Wilkie and Esther’s older son, Paul, just a small tot at the time, being held by Toronto Maple Leafs star Frank Mahovlich. It was when I brought the Big M to town and he stayed at our home in New Glasgow. The photo was taken in the living room.
In 1969, my wife Jane and I moved to Metro when the Herald transferred me to the Halifax office. My replacement in New Glasgow? Yes, Wilkie Taylor.
Eventually, Wilkie, too, was moved to the Halifax newsroom. He and Esther became our neighbours in Dartmouth. Esther babysat our youngsters and we socialized many times together. Good memories, that’s for sure.
Wilkie and I worked side by side on the Herald desk at times, until I was moved into sports to become the sports editor, and later a sports columnist.
I can tell you one thing: Wilkie knew news in those days of typewriters, teletypes and hot lead. The same thing was true when the computer age reached the paper in the early 1980s and created many new challenges.
Whatever he did, staff members always had respect for him. As I said in my second book, Remembering Pictou County, he was the kind of person who made a positive impact on everyone around him.
As the years passed, I had a countless number of articles written about me. Many of them were disposed of long ago. But there’s one in particular that I’ve kept since the 1960s, written by Wilkie in his Evening News column, Striking Out.
I normally don’t like to quote things said about me, but right now I do want to make an exception about what Wilkie wrote that day, mainly because it helped inspire me to fulfill my aspirations and dreams in life. It meant enough to me that I used the quotation in my book that was published last year.
I use it here to illustrate the type of ways Wilkie wrote positively about others.
“Hugh is a top-notch writer,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m a judge, but for the past six years my job has been to read copy that comes in over the Canadian Press wire. When I have the time to spare I read all the out of town papers that come to the office.
“With this background I have no hesitation in saying that for good, tight, clear cut, straight writing Hugh Townsend is the equal of any I have read. He could write sport or news for any paper or wire service on the continent. He has the ability and the ambition to become one of the best in the country.”
How could a person not be inspired by those words, knowing they came from a man I’ve respected for six decades? How could I not have retained that clipping for all this time?
After Wilkie and I carried out our responsibilities in the Herald newsroom for a long time, he and Esther moved back to New Glasgow.
They bought a home on the town’s west side, where they journeyed through the years and into retirement, where less than a year ago Wilkie began to develop symptoms of dementia. He reached the stage where he was taken to the Aberdeen Hospital. Esther had hoped she would be able to bring him back home.
That day never came.