Peter C. Newman 1929-2023
After serving five years as press secretary to Robert Stanfield, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, I tried to get back into journalism, but no one would have me. I guess they thought I would sneak Tory propaganda into my writing. So I became director of public affairs for the Bank of Nova Scotia. Two years later, suitably drycleaned, I tried again.
Peter C. Newman, editor of Maclean’s, was about to take the magazine weekly in 1978. My job interview with him took place during his lunch hour. He was sitting in the slot of a kidney-shaped desk, unwrapping his sandwich. He removed the top slice of bread and threw it into the waste basket. The lettuce met the same fate followed by the tomato slices. Down to the chopped egg, he ate what was left. I thought, “What else would an editor do but strip something down to the essentials?” He hired me as business editor. Two issues later, I wrote the cover story about Conrad Black who had just acquired Argus Corp. What a way to return to journalism!
At some point, Peter said to me, “I’m not going to do a book about the banks, why don’t you?” It was classic; he gave me something he didn’t want. But I embraced the idea and began research and writing what became “The Moneyspinners,” published in 1983, that spent fourteen weeks on the best seller list.
I even mimicked Peter’s writing habit – get up at 4:30 a.m. so you can write and then go do your day job. After a while, I said to him, “I’ve written sixty pages and I can’t get the first chapter stopped.” “You write the first chapter last,” he said, “it’s the epilogue.” With such advice, one can prosper.
For all Peter’s savvy, I did not follow all his ways. Many politicians accepted his invitation to come to his office for an interview and then be featured in his weekly editorial. Such a one was Joe Clark, PC leader after Stanfield. In his editorial Peter described him by saying something along the lines of: He came into the room like a faun eating broccoli from a cupped hand. This was the kind of situation where Peter stopped being a journalist and became a writer of creative non-fiction. He wrote that sentence before they even met.
Peter had detractors for other reasons. Historians dismissed him because his books sold better than theirs. Lazy journalists robbed material from his research without giving credit. For me, Peter was a wonderful mentor. Without his prompting, I wouldn’t have written seventeen successful books in the last forty years. So, thank you, Peter. One last time.