Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Peter Gzowski--still remembered

It has been twelve years since Peter died and almost 17 years since his last radio show.  Recently came across "Remembering Peter Gzowski , a book of Tributes" that brought back a lot of memories.  His voice was not the melodious type associated with radio announcers, but his words and manner of speaking drew us in.  There was more to it than that as he played a role in choosing guests and topics that enveloped the whole country.

Mostly remembered are the radio shows.   As a traveling salesman making mostly cold calls I was able to arrange my time to listen to many of his shows.  I took my job seriously trying to cram in as much face to face sales time as practical, but noticed that I tended to linger in my car a little longer as he was finishing up an interview, then further noticed that other people seemed to do exactly the same thing.

There were so many interesting conversations that there are actually few I can recall.  There used to be a regular political discussion amongst Dalton Camp, Eric Kierans and Stephen Lewis that was wonderful. They didn't try to top one another, but under Peter's guidance talked about serious (and some not so serious) topics in an intelligent manner.  Quite a contrast to what one would hear on today's cable tv.

He had lots of artists and writers on his show.  Robert Munsch, and W. O. Mitchell were two that got my attention.  Musically I remember Natalie McMaster and Raffi.  Two humorists I enjoyed were Danny Finkleman and Stuart McLean.  I don't recall Rick Mercer, on the show, but have learned Peter helped him get rolling after his daughter Alison Gzowski encouraged him. Peter also interviewed plenty of non celebrities that helped give different perspectives on Canada.  I recall him saying that when approached by Americans for broadcast positions he asked them if they included a budget for visiting small towns and that he rejected such offers because he loved the freedom given to him by the CBC.

On a personal note, I was able to play in a press softball league (at Christie Pit in Toronto) and was quite thrilled to play against Peter (and Danny Finkleman).  Peter is often described as shy and my one experience would back that up.

Peter was known as much as a writer and I did read some of his articles, but not any of his books.  I was vaguely aware of his interest in literacy affairs.  Literacy is one of my concerns, but didn't realize that Peter raised over $7 million dollars with his golf tournaments in that cause.

In his last years he acted as Chancellor of Trent University.  He wasn't content to just be a ceremonial figure.  Although it was the nearest university to my high school for that reason I avoided it.  Years later visited the campus and was struck by its setting on the Trent River.

He died of emphysema which hit a nerve with me.  I watched my non smoking mother die of it and it is truly frightening.  Peter was nonchalant about smoking most of the time, but he realized that it led to terrible things and he seemed to have repented towards the end.

He added a lot of enjoyment to me and I feel fortunate that I was able to take advantage of circumstances to listen to him as often as I did.

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