February 9, 2012 - Sometimes, a news story is so well done, so powerful, you just know it’s going to win awards.
Curtis Rumbolt has produced such a story – that is, series of stories – about Pat Stamp, the worker who was badly burned in an industrial accident in April 2006, on board the MV Kometik. Stamp’s co-worker, Wayne Dalton, died in the incident.
The stories aired on CBC Here & Now in two parts, on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The CBC Radio Morning Show aired several stories on the same subject. You can watch all of it, plus some extras that weren’t shown on TV, at:
If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you dart over now and watch (just be sure to come back when finished). It will take a few minutes, so pull up a chair. And have a few tissues handy – it’s an emotional piece that’s bound to wet the eyes a little.
This story has generated a lot of buzz since it aired. It was picked up by the national CBC network, as well as by CNN in the United States. The web feature received 30,000 hits within 24 hours of it airing locally.
“The response has been amazing,” Rumbolt said, in an interview. “I can’t tell you how many people told me in the last 24 hours that they teared up just watching it… And I can’t believe the response I’m getting on Facebook.”
Rumbolt has done previous stories about Pat Stamp and has come to know him fairly well. Late last year, Rumbolt was stopped at a traffic light when Stamp’s truck pulled up beside him.
“I rolled down the window to say hello, ask how he was doing, and he said he was getting a new nose in December, so the light changed and I said ‘I gotta go now, Pat, but I’ll call you when I get a chance.’”
Rumbolt raised the story idea at the next newsroom meeting, and the reaction was generally positive, so he called Stamp for more information. Rumbolt had assumed Stamp was going for plastic surgery. When he learned that the nose and ears would be prosthetics, crafted by Ron Barron, a former disguise specialist with the CIA, well, that piqued his attention.
“Within 24 hours I had talked with Pat, everyone here had signed off on it and tickets were bought.”
Rumbolt and camera operator, Bruce Tilley, had full access to Stamp’s meetings with Barron, who had already crafted the new nose and ears from moulds taken during a previous session. Rumbolt said it was difficult to be a “fly on the wall” during these appointments.
“I don’t know how much of a ‘fly’ you can be, with a big camera going around. Bob Barron was very professional, and he got into his work. They all concentrated on that. And they were all so accommodating because, for TV, you have to shoot things from different angles and sometimes shoot things twice… But they were really open and hospitable and just great people to work with.”
It was an emotional scene, as the prosthetic appendages were slipped into place and instantly, almost miraculously, blended seamlessly into Stamp’s face. You could not tell where the prosthetic ended and skin began. The change was astonishing, and both Stamp and his wife, Madonna, were overwhelmed with emotion.
This was the moment when thousands of eyes, watching at home, were filling up. I asked Rumbolt if he was also emotional at that moment.
“I was amazed at the time. But you’re doing your job – you’re focused on that. I never got emotional. I was really happy for Pat, and it was amazing to see the transformation before your very eyes. I saw what Barron did for other people, and kind of knew he was going to have a good outcome. But they didn’t know that. They were anxious about it, so there was that level of tension there, and it was so good to see it play out. Watching it now, I tear up a little bit. I fill up just watching it go by, now that I’m just watching.”
Rumbolt said he is grateful for the access granted by Stamp and his wife, and for the trust they placed in him, as a reporter.
“Actually, it was an honour and a privilege that the Stamps would let us stick so closely to them, while they went through something like this, that was so personal. They are such a giving couple. I felt privileged to be in the room that day, and see him go through his transformation.”
And it was indeed a transformation. You could see the change come over Stamp, almost immediately upon receiving the prosthetics. The smile was genuine. His eyes sparkled. He seemed to walk taller. This was affirmed by his wife, Madonna, who said she now has a "new Pat."
The prosthetics cost about $15,000 to create, plus several thousand more for travel and accommodations – a bill that was covered in full by Workers’ Compensation.
“Pat really thinks it’s worth it,” Rumbolt said. “He lost his health, his looks, and his livelihood to this. I think it’s a small price to pay. He gets his life back. He can go through the mall now and people don’t stare. He’s just another face in the crowd.”
Rumbolt spoke with Stamp soon after part two aired.
“He said he was very pleased with it. He watched it with two of his grandkids and their eyes were stuck to the screen... They didn’t say a word for all two parts, he said. They would look at the screen and look at him, look at the screen and look at him, but didn’t say a word the whole time.”
Rumbolt now considers Stamp a friend, and plans to have coffee with him in the near future. He will bring along Bruce Tilley as well.
“You share something so personal with people like that, and they’re such nice people, you form a friendship. And you can’t always do that in this business.”