Farewell and thank you to a great teacher, September 27, 2009
Friday, Sept. 18, 2009, mid-afternoon: I get into my car, start it, and the newscast comes on and the item that comes on right away is the passing of Douglas Fisher, a day short of his 90th birthday. He’s described as a giant of the Parliamentary Press Gallery for more than 40 years, a former MP, a soldier, a miner, forest ranger, head of Hockey Canada and a teacher. I sat there and thought, “My favourite teacher just died.”
Sept. 1955, Port Arthur Collegiate Institute: I’m a Grade 10 student and my new history teacher is Doug Fisher. He’s a bear of a man, booming raspy voice, tweed jacket, horn-rim glasses. For the next 10 months he ignites in me what was to become my lifelong interest in history, politics and appreciation of the English language. He taught English too. He was a great teacher! Canadian history was thought to be pretty dry and boring. He brought it to life. He backgrounded it, showed the nuances so that the whole subject made sense. The blackboard was used to show the salient points of his lesson and then tied everything together. Don’t forget that blackboard.
He was not without a sense of humour. It was said that on D-Day, June 6, 1944, he landed on Juno Beach with the words “Vote CCF” written on his back.
Giggling teenage girls annoyed him, usually because they missed a point. He didn’t suffer students who bluffed badly. It was a game, and it was fun. During that school year, a new high school was being built in my part of town. In September 1956 I transferred to my new school and PACI became a fond memory, but Doug Fisher never went away.
In the federal election of 1957, Doug Fisher was the CCF candidate running against C.D. Howe, Liberal (“Minister of Everything”). Television had only been in Port Arhur/Fort William (now Thunder Bay) for about three years, so it was pretty basic. So there was Doug Fisher, campaigning on TV, with a blackboard beside him, making his political points. Ever the teacher. His victory is considered one of the greatest political upsets in Canadian political history.
Unusual for the time, he started to write for a Toronto newspaper, backgrounding what was happening in Parliament. This was to supplement the then- meagre salary of an MP who was raising a growing family. It is known that he was courted by the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties, to no avail. In 1965, he left Parliament, to become, in the next 40 years, one of Canada’s greatest political analysts and commentators in print and TV. I was now living in Winnipeg, and he in Ottawa. I made it a point to read or watch as much of his material as I could. I may not have agreed with some of his stuff, but he made it relevant to me. He, ever the teacher; I, ever the student. Some years ago, he was to speak at a Canadian Club luncheon, and I hoped to see him. Alas, it was cancelled some days before the event.
Over those years I became politically involved. In the Sharon Carstairs era, 23 years ago, I was the Liberal candidate in Assiniboia riding. I guess what Dad did politically sort of rubbed off on my children. My son worked for the Liberal candidate (a former mayor) in his campaign for Parliament. My daughter Sharon is a sitting member of the NDP in the Manitoba legislature. (She ran around with a different bunch).
Douglas Fisher was my best and favourite teacher. He started with a 14-year- old boy and enriched his life, opening doors to appreciate the human condition in all its aspects, and kept it up for 40 years. The now-retired senior citizen will let that 14-year-old say to his teacher: “Thank you, sir.”
- '72 Series
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- In loving memory
- Stan Blady, Winnipeg Free Press
- Andrew Cohen, Ottawa Citizen Special
- Jim Kelly, THUNDER BAY CHRONICLE-JOURNAL
- Sandra Martin, Globe & Mail
- PETER WORTHINGTON, SUN MEDIA
- CBC News.ca
- IAN ROBERTSON, SUN MEDIA
- John Geddes, Maclean's
- Norma Greenaway, Canwest News Service
- Roy MacGregor, GLOBE & MAIL
- Allan Fotheringham, Sun Media
- Peter Worthington, Sun Media
- Tim Creery, Southam News Service '64
- Jim Coleman, Hockey is Our Game
- Peter Newman, Maclean's Magazine '61
- F. Abbas Rana, The Hill Times
- Larry Zolf, CBC Viewpoint
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- The Sun’s sage on the Hill bids adieu
- THE NEW PARLIAMENT … BY THE NUMBERS
- Doug’s Columns 2006
- THE ORIGINS OF CANADA’S ‘TWO SOLITUDES’
- MULRONEY, NEWMAN AND ME