Because everybody dies.
A few days ago, overheard a snippet of a stranger’s conversation - “If I die…” and I thought… if? It’s when.
But I thought I was years off from the age when your friends start dying. It turns out I’m not.
I hadn’t seen my friend Bill MacLoughlin for a few years now - he was in Edmonton, me in Toronto… We had lunch a couple of years ago and he’d clearly been very ill. He’d never been what you’d call the picture of health. Those old-school news guys rarely were.
He’d demanded I be hired at the provincial radio station, CKUA, just off my audition tape. Sight unseen. It was a news editor job, to edit and read the morning news five mornings a week. And a producing job, to produce his weekly political radio round table and commentary.
He was serious old-school journalism, right down to the last name. No one could pronounce Hamminga, so he took his mother’s Irish maiden name, which went better with his Philosophical Irishman approach to everything. It’s what they did before 1980 in commercial radio, Anglicizing the shit out of everything on the air.
Within three weeks he’d also gotten me my first (but not last) threatening letter from a lawyer, after he’d pissed off the Premier’s communications guy, walking right up to the line of slander in one of his columns. The flack whined, so Bill then walked right back up to that line in his next column, and took the reporting equivalent of a piss on it. I still don’t know how the station manager talked the Premier’s office down off the ledge, perhaps by pointing out that they’d be suing for their own money - we were provincially funded - or that there was nothing to sue, as we were not well-paid either.
When the province then unceremoniously pulled the plug on the station (go figure), he asked a high profile labour lawyer friend of his to make sure I didn’t get screwed over in the packaging-out. Pro bono.
From Bill I learned how to make builders tea (2 PG Tips, brewed until it looks like coffee. Dash of milk), drink Guinness and how to not sound completely hung over on the air.
He helped me look for my brand new kitten, Max, who had managed to vanish in my apartment. I was supposed to be producing his show, but I was hysterical. I’d only had her for five days. “I’ve KILLED her!” I wailed. “Sardine oil”, he said. “She’ll come out for sardine oil.” She was napping in a hole behind the dishwasher. That was 17 years ago, now. Max died last year.
Everybody dies eventually.
I left reporting ages ago, because it had changed so much from what I wanted to do. It became a sausage factory. Bill kept going, right to the end, he kept a blog, and his last entry challenged what was happening to media in Alberta after the government threatened a very young and inexperienced reporter about a story of mould in a local hospital. A warning of what happens to a democracy when you don’t let reporters be reporters.
I got regular missives from him. Like me, he was an internet kind of guy. Acerbic comments, or just checking in. He was worried about me, about my health, never giving much mention to his own, just that he had “more bad days than good”.
I was just about to tell him a guy I knew was going to work for the new Premier and to give the newbie total hell.
Bill loved politics more than anything, except the coastal town of Dingle in Ireland.
It struck me, he died just after Peter Lougheed. It was probably his silence on this very subject that caused his friends to worry and check on him, praying it wasn’t the worst. And this time, it was.
I’m going to make myself a whiskey and have a good cry. I know everybody dies, but it is still painful. He’s gone. Just… gone. And I miss him.
Read more from Bill here: www.mcloughlinreport.com
Bill also made an amazing documentary about his dad, a teen who escaped Nazi occupied Holland to become a spitfire pilot for the allied forces.