Doug Fisher: The wisest guy in Ottawa, August 13, 2006
In the dog days of summer, the heat oppressive, the 129 applicants for the Liberal leadership absolutely invisible, the biggest news out of Ottawa is the retirement of the wisest guy in Ottawa. Doug Fisher, at 86, has put his typewriter in the grave and written his last column for the Sun Media chain. He claims that his muscles have withered so much that he could no longer type. He’s gone from one cane to two and he may soon buy a scooter and move into a retirement home.
The only thing that will never retire is his brain — nor sense of humour. Fisher has five sons — their names being Matthew, Mark, Luke, John — and Tobias. I once asked Toby Fisher why his dad’s Biblical joke didn’t continue. “When I was born,” he explained, “Dad was out of town and mum got her revenge and named me.”
Fisher has been the “Dean of the Parliamentary Press Gallery” for decades because he is so goddamn wise, and because of his unique background. He was a school teacher in what is now Thunder Bay, and under the socialist CCF (now the New Democratic Party) he astoundingly beat the famous C.D. Howe, Ottawa’s “minister of everything.”
Fisher tells a great story about the day he met in the House of Commons the youngest MP ever elected, a chap called Jean Chretien. He tried to explain the seating arrangements on the floor of the Commons — where the Opposition sits at two sword lengths from the government, as in British parliamentary tradition. The kid said, “Just tell me, where does the prime minister sit in the front row. That’s where I’m going.”
Fisher sat in the CCF benches, a great admirer of leader Tommy Douglas. He quit politics in 1965, attempted a comeback in 1968, then turned to journalism. After the Toronto Telegram folded in 1971, he — a CCF socialist — joined the new conservative tabloid founded by Doug Creighton and Peter Worthington: Where he remained until July 30.
In the press gallery, he was very fond of the late Marjorie Nichols, a firecracker out of Red Deer who wrote for the Ottawa Citizen. She was one of the first women ever accepted into the male bastion of the gallery.
FAKE OR PHONY?
One day, my buddy Marjorie told me her buddy Fisher had warned her, “You’ve been hanging around too much with Fotheringham and Webster” — Jack Webster being the refugee from a Glasgow ghetto who became the highest-paid broadcaster in Canada with his hot-line show on Vancouver’s CKNW. Fisher warned: “One of them is a fake and the other is a phony.”
This both amused me and, obviously, intrigued me. Was I the fake or the phony? I asked Doug — we always got along well — which was ‘ He changed the subject.
A smart young Ottawa Sun reporter working on a story about Doug’s retirement last month asked me for my praise about this very wise man. I gave it to him and told the fake/phony story — now 20 years old.
The reporter asked Fisher to end the mystery. Fisher, with a grin, replied, “Webster was the fake, and Fotheringham was the phony.” I’m still not sure which I prefer. All I know is that when I meet Webster, who died in 1991, in Heaven (where he surely resides if not Below), we will dispute the decision.
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