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"BHH" 2005 Obituary


BHH o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2005-11-12 published
I Remember -- Beland HONDERICH
By Geoff STEVENSON, Saturday, November 12, 2005, Page S9
Brentwood Bay, British Columbia -- Beland HONDERICH (also known to his staff as BHH) was one of the few newspaper publishers in the world who was in the office almost every Saturday.
From 1973 to 1976, I edited the Saturday edition of the Toronto Star. Bee would appear in the newsroom mid-morning as we readied the final edition (the Star was an afternoon paper in those days), always dressed in grey flannel slacks, navy-blue blazer, white shirt and tie -- and highly polished black shoes.
One morning, he came by to tell me he'd been listening to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio, which had carried a report by English researchers who had found that the loneliest people in Britain were those in big cities -- although, paradoxically, they were surrounded by myriad things to do. Bee thought our readers would be interested in the research.
The Star's switchboard soon found Frank Jones, the Star's resident reporter in London (this was long before the advent of cell phones), and I briefed Frank on the story, asking him to file for Monday's paper.
The story arrived over the weekend -- with the notation " BHH requested." I had no further involvement with it, but it appeared on the front page on Monday. The Star was the only Canadian paper to carry the story.
It was not a remarkable story. What was remarkable was Bee's passion for his paper: He was in the office when most other senior managers were on the golf course or at the cottage -- and he knew an interesting story.
He was a difficult man to work for, but then, aren't all really good managers demanding? He was a giant on the Canadian media scene.

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BHH o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.toronto_star 2005-11-09 published
He made his mark on city and nation
By WARREN Gerard, Special To The Star
Beland HONDERICH rose from plain beginnings to become one of the most influential Canadians of his day, using his power as publisher of Canada's largest newspaper to influence the agenda in politics and business at every level.
At the same time he set new standards for informed, in-depth, responsible reporting.
HONDERICH, publisher of the Toronto Star for 22 of his 52 years at the paper, died in Vancouver at 86 yesterday following a stroke.
HONDERICH was a fiercely private man, almost reclusive, but that didn't keep him from being an impatient perfectionist, a leader whose principal ethic was work.
The Star was his life, his passion.
Among his many honours, and one he treasured, was his election in 1986 to the News Hall of Fame by journalists across Canada for leading "Canadian newspapers into a new direction, taking readers backstage to explore and explain the current events that shaped their lives."
HONDERICH left the publisher's office in 1988, going on to become board chairman of the newspaper and its parent company, Torstar Corp. He retired from that position in 1994, but maintained an office across from the newsroom on the fifth floor at One Yonge St. until 1999.
Beland Hugh HONDERICH was born in Kitchener on November 25, 1918, and grew up in the nearby village of Baden. He was proud of his pioneer roots -- Mennonites from Germany who found religious freedom in Waterloo County in the early 1800s.
"My father was a man who stood for religious freedom, and I am proud to follow in his footsteps," HONDERICH once said.
His father, John HONDERICH, was ostracized in the staunchly traditional Mennonite community because he and young Beland went to hear a speaker from another Amish sect. The shunning, as it was called, meant that other Reform Mennonites were forbidden to sit down to eat with them or to shake their hands.
Nor did his father quite fit in with his thrifty, hard-working neighbours in other ways. A sometime beekeeper, homespun village philosopher, printer and pamphleteer for liberal causes, he was "not a very good provider" in a community where work was next to godliness.
His mother, Rae, was the family's main breadwinner. She was the local telephone operator, a job that included the use of a train station in Baden which served as a home for the HONDERICHs and their six children. HONDERICH recalled that the family never went hungry, but there was little money for anything but food.
He gathered coal along the railway tracks to heat their home and carried water in summer to gangs of workers repairing the roads. In the mornings, he worked around the Canadian National Railway station, sweeping and cleaning up for 40 cents a day.
Despite winning a regional debating championship with his sister Ruth -- they defended the proposition that the Soviet way of life was superior to the American way -- he struggled to pass high school entrance examinations.
HONDERICH didn't do well in high school. And it didn't help that he had to hitchhike 16 kilometres to and from school in Kitchener. As a result, his attendance was spotty and his marks were poor. He was demoted in his second year to a commercial course "where at least I learned to type."
Discouraged, he dropped out of school and got a job as a farmhand at the beginning of the Great Depression, much to his mother's displeasure. "You can do better than that," he recalled her saying on more than one occasion.
The farm job didn't last. His introduction to reporting came about because his father was hard of hearing and took his son to public meetings and political rallies to take notes. It taught the young HONDERICH, who was later to battle deafness himself, to write quickly and accurately.
He inherited a Kitchener-Waterloo Record paper route from one of his brothers, which led him to become the paper's correspondent for Baden at 10 cents a column inch. He created news by organizing a softball team and covering its games for the paper.
When he was 17, fires on successive nights destroyed two barns owned by a prominent Baden farmer. Arson was suspected and the young HONDERICH's coverage so impressed his editors that they offered him a tryout as a cub reporter in Kitchener at $15 a week.
He showed up for work in a mismatched jacket and pants and with his two front teeth missing from a tough hockey game the night before. He didn't shine as a reporter.
The publisher, W.J. MOTZ, concluded after a week that HONDERICH was in the wrong line of work and told city editor Art LOW/LOWE/LOUGH to fire him. But LOW/LOWE/LOUGH saw something in the youngster and persuaded MOTZ to give him a second chance.
LOW/LOWE/LOUGH worked HONDERICH hard. He gave him an assignment each evening to go along with his day job. Ed HAYES, who worked at the Record in those days, recalled in an interview that HONDERICH (or "Bee" as he was nicknamed) was determined to succeed.
"Each reporter was supposed to turn in a story every afternoon at the end of his shift. Bee wasn't satisfied with that. He'd turn in two, three or more.
"He was the darling of the city desk."
As time went by, he improved, becoming more and more confident. He was also developing into a perfectionist. So much so, in fact, that he'd bet an ice cream with an assistant city editor that he would find nothing that needed to be changed in a HONDERICH story.
At first, he recalled, it cost him a lot of ice cream cones, but later he rarely had to pay off.
In those early days at the Record, HONDERICH knew he had a country bumpkin image. So when he had saved enough money, he went to a quality menswear store and asked the manager to show him how to dress. He bought a dark pin-striped suit, complete with vest, and that look became his uniform in life.
A fellow staffer at the Record recalled HONDERICH borrowing a bike from a delivery boy and speeding off to an assignment in his pin-striped suit.
And co-workers described him as a loner who rarely headed for the beer parlour with the boys after work, though he was known to sip a scotch on special occasions. Mostly, he went to Norm Jones' restaurant for a milkshake.
Though he spent most of his time working, he taught Sunday school at a Presbyterian church, and served as secretary for a minor hockey league.
This involvement brought him into contact with Milt DUNNELL, the legendary Star sports columnist, who had made a name for himself at the Stratford Beacon Herald before heading for Toronto. He told HONDERICH that the Star was looking for reporters to replace those who had enlisted to serve in World War 2. HONDERICH, who had been rejected by the Royal Canadian Air Force and merchant marine because of poor eyesight and hearing, applied to the Star in 1943 and was hired as a reporter for $35 a week.
He was proud that the Kitchener city council gave him a vote of thanks for his fair reporting. And MOTZ, the publisher who thought he would never make it in the newspaper business, begged him not to go.
Stepping into the grandly marbled lobby of the Star's building at 80 King St. W., HONDERICH recalled that he was "scared as hell." But he was in the right place. This was the world of Joe ATKINSON.
As publisher, Joseph E. ATKINSON had guided the paper through most of the first half-century and was seen by friend and foe alike as one of the country's leading reformers. It turned out that the publisher and his new employee had some things in common.
Both had come from large, impoverished, God-fearing families in small-town Ontario, and quit school early to put food on the table. "One thing I had in common with Joe ATKINSON," HONDERICH recalled, "is that I knew need."
There was a major difference, however. ATKINSON was a star of Canadian journalism in 1899 when the new owners of the Toronto Evening Star hired him at 34 to run the paper. HONDERICH was 24 when he arrived at the paper, an unproven asset at the time.
But he didn't take long to prove himself. His work was soon noticed by Harry C. HINDMARSH, ATKINSON's son-in-law and the man who ran the newsroom.
HINDMARSH sent HONDERICH to Saskatchewan for the election that brought Tommy Douglas and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (later to become the New Democratic Party) to power in 1944.
The next year he was sent back to do a progress report on North America's first socialist government. His stories were so enthusiastically some thought naively -- positive that the Saskatchewan government asked permission to reprint them.
They also caught the eye of Joe ATKINSON, whose reform ideas were at home with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation's, although he never endorsed the party at election time. HONDERICH was marked as someone worth watching. He was asked to fill in as an editorial writer, the newspaper job he enjoyed most of all.
Some critics said HONDERICH's writing lacked flair or style. But it was clear. He explained complicated matters in simple, accurate terms. His idea was to dive right into a story, delivering the promise of the headline in the first paragraph.
In his reporting career, HONDERICH covered a wide variety of assignments, collecting his share of scoops, enough to impress HINDMARSH. In 1946, he called in HONDERICH, congratulated him on a story, then remarked, "Oh, by the way, the financial editor left today. I'd like you to start as financial editor on Monday."
"But I don't know the difference between a stock and a bond," HONDERICH replied.
"You'll learn," HINDMARSH said.
HONDERICH told HINDMARSH he would take the job on the condition that he be allowed to go back to feature writing if it didn't work out.
"If you don't make a go of it, you'll go out the door," HINDMARSH said in a menacing way.
It goes without saying that HONDERICH made a go of it.
One of the first things he noticed from his new desk was a tailor at work in a building across King St. He decided his business section would write for that tailor, for the ordinary person.
His News Hall of Fame citation noted: "He led in turning the writing and presentation of financial news into a readable subject in terms that interest the average reader." He criticized the stock exchange, questioned banking methods, recommended profit sharing, and supported credit unions and other co-operatives.
But when there were major stories to be covered, HINDMARSH often took HONDERICH out of his financial department and sent him all over the globe -- to Newfoundland on the eve of its joining Canada, to Argentina where press freedom was under attack, to Asia with Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent for the first round-the-world trip taken by a Canadian prime minister, and to Britain for the funeral of George VI.
In 1948, HONDERICH, along with 12 other employees, chartered the first Canadian local of the American Newspaper Guild. As president of the union, he signed the first contract with the Star.
Some members of the union were suspicious, however, thinking that as financial editor he was "a company stooge" trying to make sure the Guild didn't fall into the hands of disgruntled left-wingers.
They weren't aware, however, that he knew all about bad working conditions because he had done both day and night assignments as a young reporter in Kitchener.
He served three terms as Guild president and helped win better pay and working conditions. Later, on the other side of the negotiating table, he continued to believe in the need for an organized newsroom, although that view was severely tested in a bitter strike in HONDERICH had become a major force in the newsroom when ATKINSON died in 1948 after nearly 50 years as publisher of a racy paper with principles.
His death, however, created a crisis at the paper. ATKINSON's will had left the Star to a charitable foundation to be administered by his trustees. However, the Ontario Conservative government passed the Charitable Gifts Act, which said no charity could own more than 10 per cent of a business.
The government may have viewed the will as an attempt to escape death duties, but more likely the legislation was an attempt to muzzle the Star, a liberal thorn in the Tory side.
Nevertheless, it became a distinct possibility the paper might be sold to outside interests. Bidders, including beer baron E.P. TAILOR/TAYLOR, were lining up for a chance to buy what had become Canada's most profitable daily.
The Star was granted stays of execution however, and HINDMARSH, the founder's son-in-law, succeeded ATKINSON until his own death in 1956. In the HINDMARSH years, the paper seemed to lose direction and much of its fairness, particularly in the reporting of politics. The paper's reputation was going downhill.
Meanwhile, HONDERICH had been appointed editor-in-chief in 1955 and a couple of years later he was appointed to the board, after HINDMARSH's sudden death. It put him in the position of becoming an owner of the paper.
Walter GORDON, an accountant who was to become finance minister in Lester Pearson's Liberal government, worked out a plan for the trustees to buy the Star by putting up $1 million among the six of them, including HONDERICH. The paper was valued at $25.5 million.
At the time, the sale price was the most ever paid in Canada for a newspaper, and it turned out to be a steal. Under HONDERICH's leadership, Torstar, the Star's parent company, would become a more than $1 billion enterprise over the next 30-plus years.
For readers and the staff, the HONDERICH years had begun, although he didn't take over as publisher until 1966. Immediately, however, he went about remaking the paper. Headlines didn't scream any more, and the silly and the sensational disappeared from the paper.
HONDERICH was putting his stamp on the Star. Reporting only the facts wasn't good enough. He demanded thorough backgrounding of stories to make them understandable to the average reader. Or, as he said, for "my barber."
He created a great newsroom that included sports columnist DUNNELL and leading Canadian writers such as Pierre BERTON, Peter NEWMAN, Charles TEMPLETON and Nathan COHEN, as well as award-winning cartoonist Duncan MacPHERSON.
HONDERICH returned the Star to the principles of Joseph E. ATKINSON, including a reform-centred editorial policy. Unemployment, affordable housing, adequate welfare benefits, medicare, pensions, minority rights, the need for an independent Canada -- these became subjects he demanded be dealt with on a daily basis.
In one of his rare public appearances, he told a group of editors in 1961 that "the basic function of a newspaper is to inform, to tell the public what is happening in the community, in the nation and in the world. You will notice I did not use the word, entertain." He felt that television had made entertainment a secondary function for newspapers. "How much better then, to concentrate on what we can do best, and that is to inform the public."
The change was most evident in the Star's treatment of politics and economics. The background feature gradually became commonplace in North American journalism, and a poll of U.S. editors rated the Star one of the world's 10 top foreign papers.
Critics of the HONDERICH way -- many of them highly placed in the paper -- couldn't wait for HONDERICH's grey, humourless Star to fail, but they were doomed to disappointment, just as surely as the Star's competitor -- the unchanging Telegram -- was doomed to extinction.
Not only did the Star's circulation grow, so did its profits.
Honesty and integrity were words that most people associated with HONDERICH. But many on his staff found him a demanding taskmaster, an uncompromising and often difficult man to deal with. There was never any doubt that Beland HONDERICH was the boss. He wasn't one for chit-chat.
Early in his career as publisher, he all but cut himself off from the social whirl of movers and shakers. He admitted to becoming almost reclusive after finding himself challenged at social functions and parties to defend Star policies he felt needed no defence, especially since he had put them into place.
But he never felt that way about the public at large. The so-called Little Guy could get him on the phone more easily than a celebrity could. His home number was in the book. And in the days when the Star was an afternoon paper, it wasn't unusual for an evening editor to get a call from HONDERICH, who in turn had received an irate call at home from a reader whose paper hadn't been delivered.
The paper would be delivered by taxi, and the taxi company was instructed to report to the editor the moment the paper had arrived. Then HONDERICH would phone the reader to make sure he was satisfied.
The first part of his 12-hour working day was spent poring over page proofs, quarrelling about leads of stories, questioning something in the 25th paragraph, asking for more background, and demanding follow-ups.
He was articulate, often painfully so for the person at the other end of his complaints. His editors took great pleasure when he demanded "antidotal" leads. He meant anecdotal leads.
Notes with the heavy-handed BHH signature on them rained from his office.
The difficulty everyone had in pleasing him and the way he prowled the newsroom won him the nickname "The Beast." And he was called "Drac" by some editors who thought he, like the vampire, sucked the staff dry.
When the paper departed from what the reader had come to believe was a Star tradition, he took to the typewriter to explain the reasons himself. In 1972, for example, he put his initials on an editorial that explained why the Star was supporting Progressive Conservative Robert Stanfield over Liberal Pierre Trudeau in the federal election.
In his rare public appearances, the nasal flatness of his voice often disguised the passion he felt for a subject. However, he was an effective spokesman for the causes he championed. In defending the Star's strong stand on economic nationalism, he told the Canadian Club it was based on the need to preserve the differences between Canada and the United States.
"I think our society tends to be more compassionate, somewhat less extreme and certainly less violent," he said. "We put more emphasis on basic human needs such as health insurance and pensions."
He warned that increased U.S. ownership of Canadian resources would endanger our ability to maintain those differences.
In a 1989 speech at Carleton University in Ottawa, he caused a stir when he argued that objectivity in newspapers was neither possible nor desirable.
"No self-respecting newspaper deliberately distorts or slants the news to make it conform to its own point of view," he said. "But you cannot publish a newspaper without making value judgments on what news you select to publish and how you present it in the paper.
"And these value judgments reflect a view of society -- a point of view if you will -- that carries as much weight, if not more, than what is said on the editorial page."
Just as ATKINSON used the news pages to popularize reform ideas, HONDERICH used them as a weapon in his own causes.
One example was his reaction to a document leaked to him outlining then-prime minister Brian Mulroney's government strategy on free trade. It said the communications strategy "should rely less on educating the public than getting across the message that the free trade initiative is a good idea -- in other words a selling job."
HONDERICH made sure all aspects of free trade were put under the kind of scrutiny the government wanted to avoid, particularly the possible effects on employment and social benefits.
Simon REISMAN, the bellicose chief trade negotiator, accused HONDERICH of personally waging a vendetta against free trade. He said HONDERICH used the Star "in a manner that contradicts every sense of fairness and decency in the newspaper business."
In reply, the unrepentant publisher said: "The role of a newspaper, as I see it, is to engage in the full and frank dissemination of the news and opinion from the perspective of its values and particular view of society. It should report the news fairly and accurately, reflect all pertinent facts and opinions and not only what the official establishment thinks and says."
As publisher, he demonstrated an impressive business savvy for a man who once said he hardly knew the difference between a stock and a bond. In 1972, he moved the paper to new quarters at One Yonge St.
And later, in his position as chief executive officer of the parent company, Torstar Corp., he acquired Harlequin Enterprises, the world's largest publisher of romance books, and 15 community newspapers to add to the 14 the Star already owned in the Toronto area.
At the same time, HONDERICH still was very much making his mark in journalism. He was the first in Canada to introduce a bureau of accuracy and to appoint an ombudsman to represent the reader in the newsroom. In a wider sense, he was the main force behind the establishment of the Ontario Press Council, where readers can take their complaints to an independent body.
As well as his election to the News Hall of Fame, he was honoured in other ways, receiving doctors of law degrees from Wilfrid Laurier and York universities, and the Order of Canada in 1987.
HONDERICH was married three times, the last time on New Year's Day 2000 to Rina WHELAN of Vancouver, the city where he lived until his death. He had two sons: John, who followed in his father's footsteps to become publisher of the Star, and David, an entrepreneur and one daughter, Mary, a philosophy and English teacher. He also had six grandchildren.
Even into his eighties, HONDERICH exercised daily and loved to play bridge, golf and fish.
Charles E. PASCAL, executive director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, recalled golfing with HONDERICH after he had entered his eighties. PASCAL was in his mid-fifties.
"I expected to be slowed down by playing with a couple of guys in their seventies and one in his eighties," PASCAL said. "Bee, as with everything else, played golf with determination, focus and tenacity. I was quite impressed with his golfing. He was very competitive."
After HONDERICH stepped down as publisher in 1988, and as a director of Torstar in 1995, he lost none of his zeal for pursuing causes. He did this through the Atkinson Charitable Foundation and his own personal philanthropy.
"His role on our board was absolutely essential, forceful, radical," PASCAL said.
"I had the sense that the older he got he became more and more impatient. He was impatient, just impatient, about all that is yet to be done by governments and others to reduce the inequities for those who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own."
He was generous in his giving and, as was his character, he had no interest in public recognition or praise.
"He just had no time whatsoever for personal recognition," PASCAL recalled.
"I think he would have liked to have been around forever if for no other reason than to contribute more."
At HONDERICH's request, there will be a cremation, after which the family will hold a small private gathering to celebrate his life.

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