In a drafty room in the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland, a fake Christmas tree sits in the corner. It looks like it was overlooked when decorations were taken down.
At a podium by the head table, illuminated by bright TV lights, is Lt.- Gov. John Crosbie, invited to speak by the St. John’s Rotary Club.
It’s his fifth time addressing Rotary as lieutenant-governor, and his last. He will step down from the role in the next few months. This month, he and his wife Jane will celebrate their 82nd birthdays.
The lieutenant-governor’s eyes hardly open during his 45 minutes or so at the podium, but he knows what he wants to say and how to say it still. He starts, as he often does, with a compliment to Jane.
“She watches very closely to what I say and do and that’s why she is here at lunchtime,” he says of his wife. “She particularly likes short speeches, by the way.”
Grew to like the post
Crosbie is the first to admit he wasn’t struck on the idea of taking the post at first. A man so outspoken could only have reservations about the role.
He briefly mentions some of the impressive industrial goals achieved in the province, including the $4-billion nickel-processing facility at Long Harbour. But Crosbie quickly turns to what seem to be his true passions: history and books.
His first mention is of a book called “Occupied St John’s: A Social History of a City at War, 1939-1945,” edited by Steven High. It doesn’t sound like light reading, but Crosbie fires out some facts that obviously made an impression on him, and his descriptions of what struck him about the book obviously captures this crowd’s interest.
“I can’t resist pointing out that while the Canadian Navy was almost non-existent in 1939, it was the world’s third greatest by 1945.”
He also mentions a book by Susan Dodd titled “The Ocean Ranger: Remaking the Promise of Oil.”
“This is a book that should be read by every literate (person) on Earth and every interested person, certainly in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he says. “It is an eye-opener to our past history and past mistakes which we must ensure are never allowed to be repeated. That’s what makes that book so valuable.”
Local history should be recognized
While he praises things that have been written or done to commemorate local history Crosbie also criticizes the lack of recognition for other significant events.
To illustrate, he explains how Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter on board a warship off Ship Cove, Placentia Bay, in 1941. The Atlantic Charter was an agreement between Britain and the United States to fight Germany. But, as Crosbie points out, there is no marker as people get off the ferry in Argentia to notify people they are so close to the site where these two political greats met to change the world.
“This is something that really annoys me. If this site was located in any of the other Atlantic Provinces or anywhere in the U.S., hundreds of millions of dollars would have spent in the promotion of that site. What is wrong with us? What is wrong with our government that they can’t take advantage of facts such as this and use it to generate economic activity?”
Crosbie is also in full support of a sealers memorial at Elliston to commemorate the seal hunt in general, but also two great sealing disasters. In fact, he is critical such a memorial has not yet been erected.
Crosbie speaks enthusiastically about the time he and Jane spent travelling throughout the province during his term as lieutenant-governor. It was obviously the highlight of his time in the role.
“Jane and I will both miss Government House,” he says.
He says he intends to continue his interests in Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada. He quotes Martin Luther King as he finishes.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
With that, he glances at his watch and realizes he has gone over time.
“Oh my golly. I’ve got to 2:06 p.m. I’ve disgraced myself again.”
Imagine if Jane hadn’t been there.