Due strictly to the nature of the reporting business, especially that part of the job that requires the scrutiny of high-profile figures in Newfoundland, I’ve been a Bill Rowe observer for more years than I care to remember.
For the younger generation, of course, Rowe doesn’t have an existence beyond that of open-line show host, doing his best to continue the saucy, cajoling, verbose, occasionally patronizing, sometimes bizarre, even once in a while effective legacy created by the likes of Ron Pumphrey and Bas Jamieson.
But for those of us with some length to our pearly whites, Rowe has somehow managed to stay highly visible for over 40 years through an amazing capacity — the result of a combination of hubris and smarts, and a performing prowess that could match that of some of our finer local actors — to constantly, and successfully, reinvent himself.
And Rowe has achieved the dubious distinction of having earned a living in three professions that are always near the bottom of the barrel of public popularity: politician, lawyer and journalist (I was lucky enough to be stuck upsetting readers, listeners and viewers in just one occupation).
New writing venture
Now, he’s the author of a piece of non-fiction, a self-described “behind the scenes” glimpse of the eight months he spent as Danny Williams’ boy in Ottawa, highlighted by the vicious spat between the premier and Paul Martin over the attempt, ultimately successful, to renegotiate the terms of the Atlantic Accord to give Newfoundland a fairer slice of the offshore pie.
Rowe was already a successful author of fiction (another notch in his belt of reinvention).
“Clapp’s Rock,” in particular, was a novel I haven’t forgotten (and this is a profound piece of information) because it proved to be a distraction for a few days when I was trying to get on the wagon back in the early ’80s, at least one way to overcome 2 a.m. heebie-jeebies. (I’ve thus established myself as the only person to cite a Bill Rowe book as a step to sobriety; to tell the truth, given the circumstances, the phone book would have been therapeutic.)
I didn’t need to tackle “Danny Williams, The War with Ottawa” as an antidote for withdrawal, but my journalistic neurons (and the fact that I’m a sucker for anything written by Newfoundlanders about Newfoundlanders) made it mandatory that I give Rowe’s book a gander.
It’s an easy and quick read, if that’s part of your criteria for literary entertainment, although there’s nothing particularly revealing about the battle over the Atlantic Accord.
Rowe did not play a major, consequential role in the Accord talks, and remained, for the most part, on the periphery.
But it was close enough for him to obtain a few colourful anecdotes about the temper tantrums of both Williams and Martin, the political self-destruction of John Efford, and how advisers in both camps handled themselves.
For instance, media types who’ve had run-ins with the premier’s press secretary, Elizabeth Matthews, should get a kick out of her moniker “the little princess,” an uncharitable bit of name-calling only heard behind her back and apparently earned for bouts of snootiness.
And there are other pieces of similar colour to give readers with an interest in the personalities of Newfoundland politics a bang for their buck (or 20 bucks, in this case).
In total command
As well, there’s an implied reconfirmation throughout Rowe’s memoir that Danny Williams runs the ship like Captain Bligh and God help the Fletcher Christian who dares to question the way in which he operates.
For what it’s worth, I believe there are much more interesting aspects of Rowe’s public life than the eight months in Ottawa that he might want to consider as material for a memoir: his time in Joey Smallwood’s cabinet; his nasty leadership battle with Ed Roberts; his leaking of the police report into the fire at Tory cabinet minister Tom Farrell’s apartment; his painful resignation as head of the Liberal Party to make way for the crowning of Don Jamieson; his relationship
with Brian Tobin; his exploits as a lawyer; and his participation in any other noteworthy events, or association with the rich and powerful, that he might wish to share with the rest of us ordinary folk.
I’d have a read.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.