It is a great regret that I never really got to know Peter Worthington. The founding Toronto Sun editor passed away earlier this week at 86.
I remember introducing myself to Worthington when I was hired at The Sun in 1999. Told him how much I enjoyed his dust ups with Sun legend Paul Rimstead back in the early-to-mid `70s. Rimstead wrote this rat-tat-tat column where he would riff on anything within reach, one sparse sentence-long paragraph at a time. He drank to excess and his liquid lifestyle spilled over into his column, some times without his participation.
I witnessed Rimstead`s shenanigans first hand when I was a 15-year-old bus boy at a pub called The Blockhouse at Toronto’s then new tourist attraction, Ontario Place. The man was a party on two feet and left a trail of large, empty glass beer pitchers in his wake. I had to retrieve them all, sometime from the fountain out front.
In the paper, Worthington would dryly announce in Rimstead`s space that buddy missed his deadline and was no longer working at The Sun. A week or so later Rimstead’s prose would reappear. The editor kept firing the columnist and hiring him back.
Following this internal newspaper soap opera, this airing of dirty, beer-stained laundry, was probably more fun to read than to experience in a newsroom, but as a reader of high school age I devoured every column I could get my hands on for free on the subway. It left me with a vivid cartoon image of Worthington as Jona Jameson, Peter Parker`s peppery boss at the Bugle. It also made me guess that Worthington saw enough value in Rimstead that he tolerated a ton of nonsense (and, ultimately, sadness) to get to those nuggets of genius that emerged out of the fog. It made me really admire the man.
That’s what I told Worthington, more or less–probably less. He gave me a weary smile and quickly got away from me.
Another time I got back from one of the TV critics press tours in L.A. and told Worthington his old pal Ed Asner said hello. Asner surprised me one tour by looking at my affiliation on my name tag and telling me, “I used to be your boss.”
TV’s Lou Grant, it turned out, had been hired for a day in the early ’80s to be a guest editor at The Sun, a stunt Worthington helped set up. The actor was flown up from Los Angeles, posed for some front page photo ops, and was “fired” the next day.
Worthington clearly made a lasting impression on Asner who remembered his name 25 years later, and, while he said the gig was pretty “lark-y,” he said it with a smile.
Worthington smiled at that memory too.
I wanted to ask the ex-soldier about his front row seat on history, his fearless war coverage, his incredible eye-witness moment nearly 50 years ago as Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald.
The four time National Newspaper Award winner just always seemed, even as an elder, like a real newspaperman to me, and as I was in the “candy shop” of TV and entertainment coverage, I never wanted to waste his time.
I sensed, too, that he was not a chatty, step-into-my-office-son, kind of guy. Worthington admits as much at the end of an extraordinary, adventure-packed obituary he penned; you can and should read the whole thing here.
“I tend to be a loner who treated most people decently,” he writes, “but who never encouraged intimacy.”
A tough, unsentimental assessment for a colleague, but not a bad epitaph for a reporter.