A survivor rewarded

Bob
Bob Wakeham
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If I found myself in Ed Roberts' imaginary shoes, I'd be taking a careful, daily perusal of The Telegram's obituary page, just to ensure that a "Roberts, Edward M." was not there, its appearance at least a possible explanation for the avalanche of honours that have cascaded into the lap of the former politician and lieutenant-governor.

In Roberts' case, the most recent high-profiled compliment was an award for excellence in public administration, and that comes on the heels, in the past year alone, of Roberts being named to the Order of Canada, chosen as alumnus of the year at Memorial University, and named by the Trudeau Foundation to its mentor program (whatever that means).

Above the sod
First of all, let me confirm that Ed Roberts is still above ground, and, as far as I know, the rumour mill of dread hasn't revealed him to be unwell to some traumatic degree.

So I must assume these honours are occurring at a furious pace because the man who came within a vengeful Smallwood whisker of becoming the province's third premier happens to be at that age, seven decades or so, when a public career is basically observed in the rear-view mirror, and your loyal sidekicks and contemporaries have decided it's time for recognition of past accomplishments.

And even his oldest enemies would have to admit that the long-time politician/survivor has made a mark in Newfoundland (OK, perhaps there's the odd PC not willing to give Roberts even a token applause, a Tory still waiting for Peter Cashin's ghost to drown - like you'd dispatch a bag of unwanted kittens over the wharf - every traitor who voted for Confederation).

But Roberts has to be given credit for - if nothing else - emerging from some of the most vicious battles of Newfoundland's rough-and-tumble political wars with still a sprinkling of sanity in place.

Hard road
What I find amazing - as one of the few journalists still half-active who actually covered much of Roberts' early career - is the fact that there was a time when this man, now being smothered with one honour after another, came close, before even hitting middle age, of being crowned forever as a poster boy for losers.

There was, of course, the poop-kicking delivered by Frank Moores to the Roberts-led Liberals in 1972.

Then, after a nasty leadership brawl in which he repelled JRS's attempted comeback, Roberts was still stabbed in the back by the old man, his mentor, the little dictator himself, when the always-vindictive Joey formed a splinter party that carved off just enough Liberal votes in the 1975 election to allow for the re-election of Frank Moores.

Back then, there wasn't a horde of journalists following each leader, with every burp (or even the reverse emission) being recorded at a senior citizens luncheon with the candidates (the way it is today).

In fact, there were occasions during that election campaign when Roberts, his assistant, the helicopter pilot and I comprised the entire entourage of the head of the Liberal party. And I was sometimes the lone witness to Roberts' frustration as voters refused to acknowledge that it was impossible to vote for both Roberts and Smallwood.

I was also there to observe Roberts' fading reputation when a full body slam to the floor of the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre by Bill Rowe and company left Roberts in shock on stage, fighting back tears, his "born loser" tag more evident than ever.

But he rebounded in mid-life, sitting in a couple of cabinets, and eventually going to Government House to hand out tea and crumpets for the Queen.

And now he's getting commendations by the bushel-load.

Not bad for a politician with a Maple Leaf-like losing streak.

I only now wish Roberts would write a memoir without an ounce of caution or reverence.

He knows where many of the skeletons are buried, and probably helped bury a few himself.

Hell, I better stop here. This is starting to read like an obituary.



Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by e-mail at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Trudeau Foundation, Government House

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ed, Canada St. John's Maple Leaf

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Recent comments

  • fintip
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    There are days I can almost warm up to Wakeham. He'll never be a Ray Guy. He can match Ray for bitterness and then some, but he can't match him for sheer insight into the human condition and certainly not his mastery of language. Yes on a good day I can warm up to Wakeham but I could never, ever warm up to Roberts. And no doubt from Roberts point of view, that's just fine. Now that he no longer depends on the votes of peons, serfs and ne'r-do-wells like myself (and maybe even Wakeham), Roberts can drop any uncomfortable pretense that he cares for anyone but himself. Although Wakeham hardly ever dons kid gloves, I sense that in this case, whether for old-times sake, fear, or some other consideration, he is being uncharacteristically deferential. If he travelled at all with Roberts he will surely have known that Ed is among the most surly, impersonal, offish, elitist and arrogant politicians you could ever meet. Smart - even cunning - I'll give him that. And it's not all bark - he has a mean bite. He came through the same privileged St. Andrews upbringing as many of his contemporaries including Rowe and Moores but along the way the others had some of the starch knocked out of them. Roberts not only hung onto his but had it ironed regularly by the hired help. And that, of course, is the real explanation why Roberts saw the promised land but never could quite get there. He might come across all right in a crowd (not really) but up close and personal - cheez, did someone turn down the heat? Why all the accolades then. Well, I think Wakeham actually put his finger on it - survival. The people who give out accolades nowadays have no idea and really don't much care what these wooden cigar store indians were like back decades ago. But longevity has its own privilege. We honour him because, unlike lesser mortals, hes still there.

  • James II
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    There once was a titular head,
    Who went into Tim Hortons and said,
    If I pay for my buns and my brew,
    At the end of the week you see,
    Then Ill save some cash,
    To add to my stash,
    By avoiding the HST.
    -Is that O.K. with yee?

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish. ~John Quincy Adams ----- Mr. Roberts may not have his own open-line show but, when the annals are written he may very well represent NL. as one of its most influential and distinguished statesman .

  • fintip
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    There are days I can almost warm up to Wakeham. He'll never be a Ray Guy. He can match Ray for bitterness and then some, but he can't match him for sheer insight into the human condition and certainly not his mastery of language. Yes on a good day I can warm up to Wakeham but I could never, ever warm up to Roberts. And no doubt from Roberts point of view, that's just fine. Now that he no longer depends on the votes of peons, serfs and ne'r-do-wells like myself (and maybe even Wakeham), Roberts can drop any uncomfortable pretense that he cares for anyone but himself. Although Wakeham hardly ever dons kid gloves, I sense that in this case, whether for old-times sake, fear, or some other consideration, he is being uncharacteristically deferential. If he travelled at all with Roberts he will surely have known that Ed is among the most surly, impersonal, offish, elitist and arrogant politicians you could ever meet. Smart - even cunning - I'll give him that. And it's not all bark - he has a mean bite. He came through the same privileged St. Andrews upbringing as many of his contemporaries including Rowe and Moores but along the way the others had some of the starch knocked out of them. Roberts not only hung onto his but had it ironed regularly by the hired help. And that, of course, is the real explanation why Roberts saw the promised land but never could quite get there. He might come across all right in a crowd (not really) but up close and personal - cheez, did someone turn down the heat? Why all the accolades then. Well, I think Wakeham actually put his finger on it - survival. The people who give out accolades nowadays have no idea and really don't much care what these wooden cigar store indians were like back decades ago. But longevity has its own privilege. We honour him because, unlike lesser mortals, hes still there.

  • James II
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    There once was a titular head,
    Who went into Tim Hortons and said,
    If I pay for my buns and my brew,
    At the end of the week you see,
    Then Ill save some cash,
    To add to my stash,
    By avoiding the HST.
    -Is that O.K. with yee?

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish. ~John Quincy Adams ----- Mr. Roberts may not have his own open-line show but, when the annals are written he may very well represent NL. as one of its most influential and distinguished statesman .