The Argus Grab

Yesterday’s testimony at the Conrad Black trial by his long-time secretary, Joan Maida, brought back memories of my dealings with a previous office-holder. It was 1978, and I had just joined Maclean’s as business editor.

Conrad, then 33, had recently bought Argus Corp. but no one had interviewed him on the topic. I phoned his secretary, lodged my request and got nowhere so I used one of the oldest techniques in the journalism handbook, the campout. At 2 p.m., I showed up at his borrowed digs at Dominion Securities and asked his secretary if I could see him. She said, “No, he’s busy for the rest of the day.”

Having established that he was actually there, I said I’d wait, and parked myself in the reception area. At 5:20 p.m. he invited me in and said, with a smile: “I suppose you’re here to talk about Duplessis,” referring to the biography he’d just published on Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis.

He held forth for more than two hours and “The Argus Grab” was my first cover story in Maclean’s. So eager was he to read the results in the June 26 issue that he came to the Maclean’s office to pick up a copy. Our son, Mark, then a budding young photographer, happened to be in the office with his camera equipment, rode down on the elevator with Conrad, and convinced him to be photographed, leafing through the issue with the John de Visser photo on the cover.

On later occasions, Conrad was less willing to talk. He was on the board of Confederation Life, but declined to be interviewed for my book, “Who Killed Confederation Life?” Ditto for “The Eatons,” despite his lengthy relationship with the Eaton boys as a friend and director.

I look at photos of him now, aging before our very eyes as he enters and leaves the courthouse in Chicago, and feel the pain of what has happened to that young man of such promise.

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