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COPPLE o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-01-16 published
Bluesman made his mark
Canadian harpist's brush with greatness was frustrated by his battle with the bottle
By Bruce Farley MOWAT Special to The Globe and Mail Thursday, January 16, 2003, Page R9
He will be remembered for creating some of the high water marks in the history of popular music in Canada. Blues harpist Richard NEWELL, also known as King Biscuit Boy, has died. He was found dead at his house in Hamilton on January 5.
Richard NEWELL's story is the stuff of legend, but not legendary. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary defines legend as "a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical, but unauthenticated."
Nearly all the career anecdotes surrounding King Biscuit Boy have been verified. Yes, he really was recruited for the Allman Brothers in 1969, for Janis JOPLIN's Full Tilt Boogie Band in 1970 and for a mid-seventies session with Aretha FRANKLIN. The stellar Houston blues guitarist, Albert COLLINS was recording a version of Mr. NEWELL's Mean Old Lady, before he died in 1994.
Mr. NEWELL, though, would rarely volunteer to offer up such information, unless you prodded him for it. He didn't think it was important.
He was born the son of Lily and Walter (Dick) NEWELL, an Royal Air Force airman stationed in Canada during the Second World War. Richard NEWELL developed an early interest in music, from the country of Hank WILLIAMS Sr. to the jump blues of Louis JORDAN, to the frenetic sounds of such original rock 'n' rollers as Little Richard. At age 12, he purchased his first harmonica after discovering the blues via late-night AM radio.
Mr. NEWELL spent seven years rehearsing his ever-expanding collection of blues 45s, which he purchased on regular hitchhiking forays to Buffalo. Few of his Friends at the time were even aware that he played harmonica and guitar.
In 1963, Ronnie COPPLE's sock-hop rock 'n' roll group, the Barons, recruited Mr. NEWELL as its lead singer. Mr. NEWELL had heard a recording of their instrumental original, Bottleneck, and came by with an record by the prototypical American electric blues slide guitarist, Elmore JAMES.
Within weeks of his joining, the group was transfigured into the flat-out, deep blues band, The Chessmen Featuring son Richard. The sound was guitar driven and harmonica-heavy, certainly not the type of thing you'd find at the average mid-sixties Southern Ontario teen dance. The band made it to Europe the following summer, playing successful shows at U.S. Army bases to predominantly black audiences.
Back in Canada, Mr. NEWELL would go on to become the lead singer of Richie Knight and The Mid Knights in 1966. He also made his debut professional recording at this time, as a session harmonica player on a recording by country singer, Dallas HARMS, best known for writing such hits as Paper Rosie for American country singer Gene WATSON.
When ex-Mid Knight and future Full Tilt Boogie band member Rick BELL was recruited for the Ronnie HAWKINS band in 1968, Mr. NEWELL's name came up. After one audition, he was hired on the spot and rechristened with the royal King Biscuit Boy moniker, a title he was never totally comfortable with.
Back in his native Arkansas, HAWKINS had rehearsed in the basement of the old KFFA radio station where blues harpist, Sonny Boy Williamson 2nd (Rice MILLER,) did his King Biscuit Flour Hour broadcasts. To HAWKINS, Mr. NEWELL must have sounded like a letter from home.
When JOPLIN scooped BELL and guitarist John TILL from HAWKINS's band early in 1970, Mr. NEWELL and drummer Larry ATAMANUIK were left with the task of re-assembling the band. That group would become the first King Biscuit Boy-led outfit, Crowbar. In a fit of pique, HAWKINS had inadvertently given the band its name in an exchange of parting shots at the Grange Tavern in Hamilton. "You guys are so dumb," he yelled, "you could fuck up the moving parts of a crowbar."
As the bandleader, singer, harmonica player and guitarist on Official Music, Mr. NEWELL was responsible for building a razor-sharp and singularly intense sound. The rehearsals for these sessions were apparently tension-laden affairs, but the payoff came when the album muscled its way on to the Canadian charts, (without the benefit of Canadian-content regulations), the fastest-selling domestic release to date.
Mr. NEWELL and the band would part ways after King Biscuit Boy and Crowbar had scored on the singles chart with the traditional piece, Corrina, Corrina. In 1971, Crowbar (without King Biscuit Boy) earned a place on the bestseller charts with a song that was to become a perennial Canuck rock anthem. Oh, What a Feeling was the first domestic single to take advantage of the newly legislated Canadian-content rules for broadcasting.
Fate intervened throughout the following years to rob Mr. NEWELL of his career momentum. The backing band he assembled to promote Good 'Uns, the 1971 followup to Official Music, was beginning to work on a third album, when the funding for it ran out.
With the momentum lost, that unit disintegrated, with guitarist Earl JOHNSON leaving to form the hard-rock outfit, Moxy.
In 1974, sessions produced by Allen TOUSSAINT, the architect of many a New Orleans Rhythm and Blues classic, would culminate in the Epic label release of a self-titled recording. Mr. NEWELL would tour the United States the following year with The Meters (featuring future members of the Neville Brothers) as his backup band. When the Epic label cleaned house later that year, though, he was one of the acts dropped.
In 1972, Mr. NEWELL wed Jacqueline WILLETTS but found that married life did not curb his increasingly frequent drinking binges. The couple divorced in 1979. Alcoholism was also the source of most of his professional woes for the better part of his life, as key shows were either cancelled, or worse, rendered into shambles. Musicians who worked with him tended to admire him, but found it incredibly frustrating that such an enormous talent was being squandered.
At several junctures in his career, Mr. NEWELL managed to quit drinking. Of the three albums he recorded and released in the eighties and nineties, two were the direct dividends of his abstinence. Those recordings earned him Juno nominations, in 1988 for Richard NEWELL aka King Biscuit Boy,and in 1996 for Urban Blues Re: NEWELL. The latter is still in print on Holger Peterson's Stony Plain label. Official Music, along with Good'Uns and Badly Bent, a best-of compilation, are available on the Unidisc label (http://www.unidisc.com). The rest of the King Biscuit Boy catalogue, including the 1980 Mouth of Steel album, is out of print.
In 2000, Mr. NEWELL's mother died and he left regular stage work, preferring the seclusion of his home in the central Mountain neighbourhood of Hamilton. His last recordings include a version of Blue Christmas, available on the Hamilton Hometown Christmas Compact Disk compilation assembled by saxophonist and long-time friend, Sonny DEL RIO. An original composition, Two Hound Blues, along with material recorded by DEL RIO and Mr. NEWELL in the late seventies (the Biscuit With Gravy sessions) is planned for release this year.
Mr. NEWELL, who leaves his father Dick, brother Walter (Randy,) and son Richard James Oddie, made his last public performance in a cameo appearance with The Little Red Blues Gang on September 12, 2002, at Mermaids Lounge in Hamilton. The 60 or so audience members present were treated to a version of his hit, Corrina, Corrina, which is strange, because he never particularly cared for that song.
Richard Alfred NEWELL, musician; born March 9, 1944, in Hamilton died in Hamilton, January 5, 2003.

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COPPS o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-01-22 published
She danced on tabletops of Ottawa
Former reporter with capital connections hosted parties for the powerful and waged a spirited campaign to save railway cabooses
By Randy RAY Special to The Globe and Mail Wednesday, January 22, 2003, Page R5
Most who knew her have a story to tell about Starr SOLOMON, a journalist and public-relations practitioner who for years hosted glamorous parties in Ottawa that attracted a who's who of cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and media people.
Ms. SOLOMON, the widow of Hy SOLOMON, former Ottawa bureau chief for The Financial Post, has died in Toronto. She was 64.
Long-time friend and colleague Walter GRAY/GREY remembers the time Ms. SOLOMON convinced former Prime Minister Brian MULRONEY and Liberal Member of Parliament Sheila COPPS -- for years Mr. MULRONEY's nemesis -- to sing together at the National Press Club in Ottawa in the mid-1980s, following the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner.
"They sang a duet. The song was You Made Me Love You," says Mr. GRAY/GREY, a former Globe and Mail bureau chief in Ottawa, who played the piano while the two politicians crooned in tandem. Ms. COPPS is now Canada's heritage minister.
Edna HAMPTON, one of Ms. SOLOMON's closest Friends, said acquaintances, colleagues and politicians always looked forward to dinner parties at the SOLOMON home in Ottawa's trendy Glebe neighbourhood. Trouble was, you never knew when the meal would be served.
"I always used to eat first because the parties would zip along and she would let dinner go. You might eat at 8, you might eat at 11 . . . but you always knew the food would be good," said Ms. HAMPTON, a retired journalist.
Ms. SOLOMON was born in Ottawa and moved to North Bay, Ontario, as a child, where she attended elementary and high school. In the late 1950s, she landed a reporting job with The North Bay Nugget, where Ms. HAMPTON was a senior reporter at the time. Later, The Ottawa Citizen hired her as a reporter and she wrote under the byline Starr COTE, the surname of her first husband.
"She was always full of energy and fond of fun assignments," recalls Ms. HAMPTON. " She would cover anything from a royal tour to a St. Patrick's Day event up the Ottawa Valley."
Among her plum assignments was the visit to Ottawa by U.S. president John F. KENNEDY and his wife, Jacqueline. She also wrote restaurant reviews for The Citizen, where she developed a reputation as a lively writer who was quick-witted, entertaining and personal. Ms. SOLOMON often fought it out for the big local stories with Joyce FAIRBAIRN, a reporter with the now-defunct Ottawa Journal. Ms. FAIRBAIRN later became a Senator.
Ms. SOLOMON left The Citizen in the mid-1960s and moved to Toronto, where she worked with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as a writer/producer. She married Mr. SOLOMON on January 23, 1966. The couple lived in Toronto until Mr. SOLOMON was transferred to Washington to open a bureau for The Financial Post.
When the SOLOMONs returned to Ottawa, Ms. SOLOMON and a partner formed a public-relations firm. She quickly became a fixture in the city's media and political circles, a move Mr. GRAY/GREY calls "networking at its best. She had a wide range of Friends and she used these connections to her greatest advantage. I wish I had her Rolodex."
For about 10 years in the 1980s, Ms. SOLOMON and Mr. GRAY/GREY worked at the same public-relations firm, where they teamed up on a variety of projects.
"There was the day the African chief Butelezi arrived in Ottawa as a front for a group of Canadian businesses trying to develop business relations with South Africa. I was assigned to shepherd the chief around town," says Mr. GRAY/GREY. " Starr was to accompany his lady, the lovely Princess Irene, whose sole interest was to shop -- especially at Zellers. As they made their departure laden down with Zellers bags. I think the princess gave Starr a tip for her services."
The pair also worked together on an unsuccessful campaign to stop the Canadian National Railway from eliminating railway cabooses. "The cabooses disappeared, but to this day, the Save the Caboose sweatshirt has been the most comfortable sweatshirt in our respective wardrobes," says Mr. GRAY/GREY.
Over the years Ms. SOLOMON volunteered her public-relations skills for many campaigns. She was a founding member of the Legal Education and Action Fund, which was established to advance women's equality rights, and served on the board of directors of the Ottawa Civic Hospital.
As a couple, the SOLOMONs were known in Ottawa for throwing glamorous parties, some planned, some spontaneous, that attracted the leading cabinet ministers, writers and journalists of the day. Ms. SOLOMON entertained and amused guests with her wit and political insights, while her husband was an engaging conversationalist whose business and political insights held the attention of politicians and bureaucrats.
Those who attended their soirees remember Ms. SOLOMON as a welcoming hostess and terrific cook, whose specialty was Greek and Mediterranean dishes. When guests arrived, she was always beautifully dressed and "the records were on the turntable," recalls Mr. GRAY/GREY. " Patsy Cline was her favourite. But also lots of jazz -- her friend Brian Browne, Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones." Often guests would sing and dance around the SOLOMONs' dining-room table.
"We did have serious discussions on serious subjects, from time to time," adds Mr. GRAY/GREY.
Former Ottawa Citizen food editor and restaurant reviewer Kathleen WALKER remembers Ms. SOLOMON as "literally . . . the kind of person who danced on tabletops. She was just wonderful and wild. We had a ball together. Great sense of humour. A terrific lady."
She will also be remembered as a great friend "who was there in thick and thin if you had a problem," says Mr. GRAY/GREY.
After her husband died in 1991, Ms. SOLOMON moved back to Toronto, where she did volunteer consulting and public relations work for various organizations, including Legal Education and Action Fund and a Greek nursing home. She was also a trustee of the Hyman SOLOMON Award for Excellence in Public Policy Journalism, established to honour her husband's legacy.
Ms. SOLOMON leaves her two sons, Adam and Ben, two grandchildren and two brothers. A celebration of her life is to be held at the National Press Club in Ottawa on January 29 at 5: 30 p.m.
Starr SOLOMON, journalist, public-relations specialist; born Ottawa, February 27, 1938; died Toronto, January 3, 2003.

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COPPS o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-08-20 published
Trudeau-era cabinet minister John MUNRO dies, aged 72
By Jeff GRAY/GREY With reports from Campbell CLARK and Canadian Press Wednesday, August 20, 2003 - Page A2
Former Trudeau cabinet minister John MUNRO, whose federal political career ended with a lengthy legal fight, died yesterday of a heart attack in his Hamilton home. He was 72.
Former colleagues remembered Mr. MUNRO, the member from Hamilton-East from 1962 to 1984, as a politician who fought hard for working people around the cabinet table, where he held several key portfolios.
"I think he was a feisty, progressive person of conviction, and was, I guess, part of a somewhat diminishing breed called a real Liberal," said Lloyd AXWORTHY, who served in cabinet with Mr. MUNRO in the early 1980s.
Mr. MUNRO, a Hamilton lawyer, was re-elected eight times and was a cabinet minister for most of the years between 1968 and 1984, handling health and welfare, labour and Indian affairs. As minister of welfare, he brought in the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which helped lift many senior citizens out of poverty.
But in 1989, after he left government, an Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation accused him of corruption during his time as a minister. The charges were eventually thrown out, but Mr. MUNRO, hobbled by an estimated $1-million in legal bills, launched a civil suit to get the government to cover his costs. He eventually received about $1.4-million in a settlement.
Prime Minister Jean CHRÉTIEN, who was elected to Parliament a year after Mr. MUNRO, remembered him as a hard-working minister.
"We were very good Friends, and I'm terribly sorry that he passed away, and I would like to offer my condolences to his family," Mr. CHRÉTIEN told reporters. "He was a very good member of Parliament, and he was a very good minister and a guy who worked very, very hard in all the files that was given to him."
Heritage Minister Sheila COPPS, the minister from Hamilton and daughter of the city's former mayor, said Mr. MUNRO gave her some political lessons when she served as a poll captain for his election in 1968.
"He was a great Canadian; he was a great parliamentarian, and also someone who will be sorely missed in Hamilton. He was well loved, and had politics in his blood."
Tom AXWORTHY, who was prime minister Pierre TRUDEAU's principal secretary, said Mr. MUNRO was a key figure in Mr. TRUDEAU's cabinet.
"He was a man who always had a great heart. He had tremendous empathy for the disadvantaged," he said.
Mr. TRUDEAU looked to Mr. MUNRO to fight for his social liberal positions at cabinet meetings, his former aide said. "When we had those kind of debates, he would kind of look over to MUNRO when he wanted to hear the liberal perspective on the issue."
The complex political scandal left Mr. MUNRO fighting for his reputation, instead of Liberal policies.
"That was a sad and distracting end to what had been a pretty good career," Tom AXWORTHY said.
"He'd spent his whole life fighting battles for the little guy, and then he ended fighting all kinds of battles against allegations and so on."
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police filed more 37 charges against Mr. MUNRO -- corruption, breach of trust, fraud, conspiracy and theft -- going back to his time as minister of Indian affairs. At the centre of the case was the allegation that part of a $1.5-million grant to the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) actually went toward Mr. MUNRO's usuccessful 1984 Liberal leadership bid.
The 1991 trial lasted several months, but the judge tossed out the charges before even hearing evidence from the defence.
Things did start to turn around. In mid-1998, Hamilton's airport, which he fought hard to expand, was named after him.
"In a time when Canada, I think, needs liberal voices, we've lost a great one," Tom AXWORTHY said.

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COPPS o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-08-30 published
A man of uncommon passion and drive
Despite hints of scandal, the scrappy former Liberal member of parliament, who spent a lifetime fighting for social safety nets, earned a reputation as a tireless crusader for the working people
By Ron CSILLAG Special to the Globe and Mail; With a report from staff Saturday, August 30, 2003 - Page F8
He died with his boots on.
John MUNRO, a Trudeau era Liberal warhorse once described as a rumpled fighter who had gone too many rounds, had just put the finishing touches to a barn-burning speech, to be delivered to a Rotary Club, on the evils of concentration of media ownership when he suffered at heart attack at his desk in his Hamilton home on August 19. He was 72.
It was almost just as well that he went suddenly, his daughter, Anne, said in a eulogy, for her father could not stand suffering. Rather, he would not abide it. Suffering had no place in Canada, he reasoned, which is why his name is so closely associated with such social safety nets as medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and improvements to Old Age Security.
More than 500 well-wishers, including old political pals, steel-workers, artists, business people and labourers, packed the James Street Baptist Church last Saturday to laud Hamilton's favourite son, a scrappy lawyer who earned a reputation as a tireless crusader for working people, despite the recurring taint of scandal.
As the Member of Parliament for Hamilton East from 1962 to 1984 and through five cabinet posts, he was proudly on the left of the Liberal Party, alongside people such as Allan MacEACHEN, Judy LAMARSH, Lloyd AXWORTHY, Eugene WHELAN -- and probably Pierre TRUDEAU himself -- fighting for medicare, against capital punishment and in favour of a guaranteed annual income. As minister of national health and welfare, he didn't win the battle for a guaranteed annual income, but he did get the Guaranteed Income Supplement that has made life easier for many seniors. He was also known and often ridiculed -- for being a chain-smoking health minister.
Prime Minister Jean CHRÉTIEN, who entered Parliament a year after Mr. MUNRO, mourned the death of his former cabinet colleague. "We were very good Friends, and I'm terribly sorry that he passed away. He was a very good member of Parliament, and he was a very good minister and a guy who worked very, very hard in all the files that were given to him."
The political bug bit early. At 18, Mr. MUNRO ran for president of the Tribune Society at Westdale Secondary School in Hamilton. Mark NEMIGAN, a lifelong friend, remembers his resourcefulness: "He went to a local bus stop and festooned all the park benches with banners reading, 'Vote for John.' It worked too. He had uncommon drive and passion, even then."
Born in Hamilton on March 26, 1931, to lawyer John Anderson MUNRO and Katherine CARR, a housewife, John Carr MUNRO became a municipal alderman at the age of 23 while attending law school at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.
"I have no idea how he did that," Mr. NEMIGAN says. "The guy didn't sleep."
Mr. MUNRO took his first run at federal politics in the seat of Hamilton West in 1957, but was beaten by Ellen FAIRCLOUGH, who went on to become Canada's first female cabinet minister. In 1962, he switched ridings, and won the seat he would hold for the next 22 years.
With the election of Mr. TRUDEAU in 1968, a string of cabinet positions followed for Mr. MUNRO: minister without portfolio, amateur sport, health and welfare, labour and Indian affairs and northern development, the last earning him the hard-won respect of aboriginal groups.
In the 1968 general election, an aggressive young poll captain named Sheila COPPS worked on Mr. MUNRO's re-election bid. She would go on to replace him in the seat in 1984.
Tom AXWORTHY, who was Mr. TRUDEAU's principal secretary, recalled that the prime minister often turned to Mr. MUNRO for support on progressive positions at the cabinet table: "When we had those kind of debates, he would kind of look over to MUNRO when he wanted to hear the liberal perspective on the issue."
Mr. MUNRO's support for the decriminalization of marijuana led to a perk in December, 1969: A 90-minute chat about drugs with John LENNON and Yoko ONO, fresh from the duo's "bed-in" at Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Documents unearthed this spring by a researcher for an Ottawa Beatles Web site revealed that Mr. LENNON joked that while Mr. TRUDEAU and Mr. MUNRO, then health minister, were members of the "establishment," they were both "hip."
"Mr. MUNRO's speech [on the decriminalization of marijuana] was the only political speech I ever heard about that had anything to do with reality that came through to me," Mr. LENNON is quoted as saying in the 12,000-word document.
Contacted by a reporter in May, Mr. MUNRO recalled that the incident, and his stand on cannabis, didn't go over well. "Yeah, I was in a little hot water at the time," he laughed. "Everybody thought I wanted to give the country to the junkies."
Mr. LENNON and Ms. ONO made a distinct impression, he said. "The more I think about it, the more I remember he and his wife were very polite and committed people."
In 1974, the water became considerably hotter when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided Mr. MUNRO's campaign headquarters during a probe into kickbacks and bid rigging on Hamilton Harbour dredging contracts.
Around the same time, Mr. MUNRO was criticized for accepting a $500 campaign donation from a union whose leaders were under investigation.
In 1978, he was forced to resign from the cabinet when it was revealed that he had talked to a judge by telephone to give a character reference for a constituent on the day of the person's sentencing for assault. But he bounced back with a tenacity that Mr. TRUDEAU was said to have admired and in 1980 won reappointment to the cabinet.
Mr. MUNRO's stamp on Hamilton was legendary, from the reclamation of land that gave the city Confederation Park, to the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, to the fundraising of more than $50-million for the local airport, renamed in his honour in 1998. "Without a doubt, he was the feistiest, most stubborn person I knew in public life," former mayor Bob MORROW remarked. "I don't think we will ever meet his equal of scaring up funds for Hamilton."
When Mr. TRUDEAU retired in 1984, Mr. MUNRO ran for the Liberal leadership and prime minister. He finished a poor fifth in a field of six. There began what his daughter called the "decade from hell," starting with a four-year Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation so vigorous, the Mounties even considered using a helicopter to track Mr. MUNRO because the officers assigned to tail him couldn't keep up with his car.
That investigation killed a re-election bid in 1988 and scuttled his marriage to Lilly Oddie MUNRO, a minister in the former Ontario Liberal government. It eventually produced 37 flimsy charges of breach of trust, conspiracy, corruption, fraud and theft stemming from his years as Indian affairs minister. After a trial that dragged on for most of 1991, the judge threw out nearly all the charges without even calling for defence evidence. The Crown later withdrew the rest.
Mr. MUNRO welcomed the verdict as "complete exoneration" but was left with legal bills estimated at nearly $1-million and a reputation in ruins. Swimming in debt (he had to rely on Ontario Legal Aid), he filed a civil suit in 1992, claiming malicious prosecution and maintaining he had been targeted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to embarrass him. He attempted a political comeback in 1993, only to have Mr. CHRÉTIEN refuse to sign his nomination papers. Mr. MUNRO responded by filing an unsuccessful court challenge seeking to strip Mr. CHRÉTIEN of his power to appoint candidates.
Mr. MUNRO, who had returned to an immigration law practice in Hamilton, felt betrayed by the government's refusal to pay his legal bills, and it took an emotional toll.
"I'm not mad at the world," he said in 1996. "I realized this could totally destroy me if I didn't live a day at a time. You have to impose discipline, or you're finished. The motivation to carry on is voided. There's nothing to look forward to except endless grief."
He finally won nearly $1.4-million in compensation from Ottawa in 1999, but most of the money went to pay taxes, legal bills and other expenses. He could have avoided problems by declaring bankruptcy, but insisted on clearing his debts.
"He was no saint, but he was dedicated and hardworking," said his daughter Susan. "He was deeply hurt."
Mr. MUNRO had no interest in the personal trappings of wealth, she said, adding that he had a weakness only for Chevy Chevettes and homemade muffins. Good thing too, for a proposal for bankruptcy he filed in 1995 showed a monthly living balance of $476.
His last political gasp came in 2000 when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Hamilton. Asked in 1996 about writing his memoirs, he said: "I'm not ready. There's no last chapter yet."
Mr. MUNRO leaves his third wife, Barbara, and four children.

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