And so my former colleagues at the Globe and Mail have another big change at the top to mull over in the bars tonight. That is, if newspaper types still go to the bar during these daze of social media, wine and healthy eating….

John Stackhouse, editor of the Globe since 2009, has been abruptly shown the exit. The new man through the revolving editorial door is David Walmsley, returning to the Globe after a six-year stint that he cut short in 2012 to take on the difficult task of directing news content at the shrinking CBC.

The latest shuffle is proof positive that the tough-guy approach of publisher Phillip Crawley continues unabated. Stackhouse is the fourth editor he’s axed since taking over as publisher in 1998. Those turfed include William Thorsell, editor when I joined the paper in 1990; Richard Addis (not actually fired, his contract wasn’t renewed); “Fast” Eddie Greenspon, and now, Stackhouse, my co-correspondent in Asia during the 1990’s.

Phillip Crawley is the best publisher I ever worked for. His competitive fire basically saved the Globe, when it appeared its loosey-goosey culture and esoteric leadership might have doomed the paper, in the face of the a concerted challenge from Conrad Black’s brash new National Post. Crawley took no prisoners fighting the Post, and the Globe prevailed. But as the newspaper industry has struggled in recent years, he has become increasingly demanding in his quest for cutting costs, while  trying to keep the paper’s bottom line above water. Content, space and editorial ranks are shrivelling, which disheartens longtime, loyal readers like myself. Is this the way to the future, offering readers less as revenues decline? He’s also been very tough in his dealings with the Globe’s hardly-militant union.

On the other hand, the paper has mostly retained its superb fleet of foreign correspondents, while other Canadian newspapers and wire services have not. The continued, on-the-spot excellence of Mark Mackinnon, Geoffrey York, Stephanie Nolen, Nathan Vanderklippe, Paul Waldie and the various U.S. corros are alone worth the daily price of the paper.  Keeping these reporters in the field is not cheap, and the Globe should be applauded for keeping them there. When people complain there’s nothing in the Globe, they’re certainly not reading their on-the-spot reports from around the world.

As well, there’s nothing quite like the B.C. section of the Globe and Mail, not seen by those in the rest of the country. Seven news reporters fill those three pages every day, plus Marsha Lederman, Dave Ebner, Brent Jang, brilliant photographer John Lehmann and Iain Marlow on the arts, sports, business, and Asia-focused business. There’s also regular freelancer Frances Bula, who knows more about Vancouver issues than perhaps anyone else in the city. This all costs money, but the Globe still does it, in the face of ebbing profits.

Okay, back to the top. Stackhouse was/is a superb journalist, winning numerous, well-deserved National Newspaper Awards, but he was sometimes an p358511699-3awkward fit in management, short on people skills. Impossibly-still boyish, bright, hard-working, and dedicated to the Globe, he nevertheless  witnessed an escalating exodus of top-flight managers and reporters from the paper, while he was in charge. That had to have played a part in Crawley’s decision, especially when the paper just received 14 NNA nominations.

Now, the new guy. David Walmsley was someone I greatly enjoyed working for while I was at the Globe. He’s a lovely man, who appreciates reporters and adores news, particularly investigative stories. One of his endearing traits was asking reporters to dig into an angle that seemed to percolate only in his own fertile imagination. Better that, however, than taking everything at face value. He cares, deeply, about the business, and David Walmsley is someone you relish sharing a pint of Guiness  or four with. As the new editor of the Globe and Mail, he’s got a tough job. I don’t envy the arduous task he has ahead. It ain’t easy, in these difficult newspaper times. From my retirement perch, I wish him, and the good old Globos, the very best. If the Globe goes down for the count, we all lose.

Here are the various memos announcing today’s big shuffles, courtesy of the excellent Canadian Journalism Project. Note John Stackhouse’s quite classy memo of departure. Unlike Eddie Greenspon, who came to work one morning and within an hour was out the door with a few mementos in a cardboard box, Stackhouse was given notice of his demise.



Dr. Garson (Gary) Romalis never sought the limelight. He was thrust into it in the most terrible way, with two serious attempts on his life. Dr. Romalis was targeted because he provided abortions to desperate women, which of course are completely legal procedures, paid for by medicare.

The first attack came within an ace of costing him his life. A sniper’s bullet fired through his kitchen’s glass doors, as he ate breakfast, tore into his left thigh, rupturing a key artery. He would have bled to death on the kitchen floor, if he had not been able to use the belt from his bathrobe as a crude tourniquet. As it was, he spent months in hospital and never recovered completely.

Six years later, he was stabbed as he walked through his clinic’s office lobby. Again, he survived.

Sadly, Dr. Romalis did not survive a serious bout with pancreatitis earlier this year, and he passed away towards the end of January at the age of 76.

My full-length obituary on this remarkable man appeared in the Globe and Mail a few weeks ago. It’s here, if you missed it.

He was exceptional in so many ways, and even with all that newspaper space, there were still aspects that had to be left out.

This is from a powerful speech Dr. Romalis gave in 2008, marking the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision that removed all restrictions from abortion access in Canada.

As he began, Dr. Romalis talked about a tragic case he encountered more than 50 years ago, when he was an aspiring young obstetrician/gynecologist at the University of B.C. It’s a chilling reminder of the dark days in Canada before abortion was permitted.

“I was assigned the case of a young woman who had died of a septic abortion. She had aborted herself using slippery elm bark,” said Dr. Romalis. “I had never heard of slippery elm. A buddy and I went down to skid row, and without too much difficulty, purchased some…Slippery elm is not sterile, and frequently causes spores of the bacteria that cause gas gangrene. When it gets wet, it feels slippery, making it easier to slide slender pieces through the cervix where they absorb water, expand dilate the cervix, produce infection and induce abortion.

“The young woman in our case developed an overwhelming infection. She had multiple abscesses throughout her body, in her brain, lungs, liver and abdomen. I have never forgotten that case.”

In addition to his courage and commitment to providing services to women in the face of the violent attacks against him, what I also found laudatory about Dr. Romalis was his modesty and quiet, yet determined approach to the cause. He was not a crusader, seeking neither recognition nor headlines, quite unlike his outspoken friend, Dr. Henry Morgantaler.

But his views were just as unwavering.  After his shooting, and those of other abortion physicians, he began to advocate for a woman’s right to an abortion in a way he hadn’t before, albeit still in his typical low-key manner. He did this through selected media interviews, mentoring young doctors in the provision of abortion services, and organizing a day-long teaching symposium. All this from a doctor who loved nothing better than delivering babies. (After my obituary appeared, several friends told me they had children delivered by Dr. Romalis. He hated giving it up, because of the physical toll of his injuries.)

“I didn’t sign on for danger pay. I didn’t think I would be on the front line in a war zone,” he told reporters. “These are acts of terrorism designed to frighten doctors into stopping performing abortions and they threaten the health of women.”

Of course, there was more to Gary Romalis than his heroism as a doctor. His good friend, veteran Vancouver lawyer Howard Shapray, cites his extreme loyalty, away from the stethoscope, to those around him. Shapray recounts his ongoing relationship with a former psychiatrist he knew well, who was later diagnosed with acute schizophrenia, ending up on the city’s bleak Downtown Eastside.  Dr. Romalis made a point of lunching with him almost every Saturday.

And when he switched from his long-time barber to a more conveniently-located hair trimmer, Dr. Romalis went to his old barber, apologized for making the change and gave him a bottle of Scotch. “Things like that were the measure of a guy,” Shapray says. “He was a man of complete integrity. He always wanted to do the right thing.”

Nor was Dr. Romalis without an irreverent sense of humour. Two years after the shooting, the Globe and Mail’s Robert Matas asked him what cautionary advice he provides for other abortion providers who might feel at risk: He replied: “I tell them to buy a bathrobe with a belt.”

Throughout his career, Dr. Romalis consistently stressed that an abortion – safe, legal, and relatively quick – can rescue a woman from the most stressful situation of her life. One day, after speaking to a class of UBC medical students, a student approached him, as he prepared to leave. She told him: “Dr. Romalis, you won’t remember me, but you did an abortion on me in 1992. I am a second-year medical student now. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here now.”

Garson Romalis, Braveheart, RIP.




Enough with the Canucks, a subject too depressing even for Mr. Blue, here.

Time to soothe my battered soul with a riff on classical music. I realize there are those who believe classical music, particularly a solo piano recital, is somehow elitist, difficult to sit through, and dull. Go to a concert and try to find young people who aren’t music students. They’re almost as rare as a goal by the Sedins. Most wouldn’t be caught dead at something old fogies go to. Music without words that they can’t dance to or download easily on to some iPod thingamajig. You kidding me, pops?

I come by this honestly. Eight hundred years ago, in the time of typewriters, I was young, myself. Did I attend classical music concerts? Not a chance. Bring on the Doors, man. Luckily, in the early days of a long romance, my friend was far more worldly than I, images-1o callow youth. She had tickets to a piano recital by the great Russian pianist, Vladimir Ashkenazy. Dutifully, I went, expecting to be bored out of my gourd. Instead, much to my surprise, I found myself completely enthralled, mesmerized by the sheer beauty and brilliance of Ashkenazy’s playing and the music, itself. The concert resonates with me, still. It opened me up like a can opener to so much I’d ignored all my life. Classical music, opera, Renaissance music, the lot. I now embrace it all. There’s an added cultural richness in my life that wasn’t there before.

Anyway, if you’re one of those referred to above, who, like my pre-Ashkenazy self, can’t relate to classical music, I offer you some examples of just how pulsating that music can really be. Yes, these are merely the program notes for a wonderful, recent recital at the Chan Centre by the acclaimed Murray Perahia. But wow. Who could resist buying a ticket to this sort of excitement? I offer some modest examples.

Bach’s French Suite No. 4 in E flat major, BMV 815 displays “more leaps than a skateboarder’s trick set…”

Beethoven’s Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 is “one of Beethoven’s most emotionally charged and ‘edgy’ compositions…that pushed piano music to new extremes in dynamics, in technical difficulty, and in sheer expressive power.” It includes “an extended coda that reaches its emotional climax in a virtuoso cadenza spluttering with rage and apocalyptic fury…The work ends…stomping , skipping and finally racing to its finish in a whirlwind of F-minor broken chords cascading from the top to the bottom of the keyboard.” Phew. AC/DC, anyone?

Chopin’s Étude in A flat, Op 25, No. 1: “Particularly perilous are the exhilarating leaps – in opposite directions! – at the emotional climax of the piece.” That’s ‘perilous’, folks.

Chopin’s Étude in E minor, Op 25, No. 5: “To each attack in the right hand is attached, like a barnacle, a chromatic inflection a semitone away that makes it walk like it has a stone in its shoe.” Ouch.

And the pièce de resistance…Chopin’s Scherzo in B Flat minor, Op. 31: “It opens with a dramatic exchange between a whimpering triplet figure and an explosive salvo of raw piano resonance, only to be followed by an ecstatic exclamation arriving from the extreme ends of the keyboard, which then in turn morphs into a yearning, long-lined lyrical melody singing out over a sonorously rippling accompaniment in the left hand.” Yikes.

Thanks to written notes maestro Donald G. Gislason, who certainly had my pulse racing before a single key was struck. And thanks, too, to one of this city’s cultural treasures, the indomitable Leila Getz, founder and artistic director of the Vancouver Recital Society, who has been bringing such great artists to our shores for more than 30 years.

Next up at the Chan, on March 9: the startling young pianist, Behzod Abduraimov from, of all places, Tashkent. Based on his last appearance here and Leila Getz’s absolute raves about him, this could be one of those Ashkenazy moments Still a few tickets left, if you can stand the excitement. As for me, I’m going to try and cope by not reading the program notes. There’s only so much stimulation a guy can take.