Journalist Bob Saunders helped shape the lives of numberless people, but very few knew it[Ted Byfield Blog] I was not a happy person on that February morning in 1952 when I assumed my new job on what was known as “the rim of the desk” in editorial department of the Winnipeg Free Press. I was one of six sub-editors, seated on the outer circumference of a huge semi-circular table. We were pencil-editing copy and writing the headlines for the stories in that day’s paper. In the centre of the semicircle, facing all six of us sat the “slot man,” our boss, who must fire me if I couldn’t do the job. I was frightened and had good reason to be.
VIDEO: Grade 11 history project on the Winnipeg Free Press and the changes that it has undergone to be a successful newspaper. [Apr 23, 2011]
My wife and our two boys — one going on two, the other two months — were staying with her family near Toronto because I couldn’t support them. Twenty-three years old, I was Toronto-born and raised (not a plus in Winnipeg, as I soon discovered) and had spent five years in the news business (copy boy on the Washington Post, cub reporter on the Ottawa Journal, sub-editor on two Northern Ontario dailies). In the course of this I had got married, invested what little savings I had trying to start a weekly newspaper in a Northern Ontario town. It had failed and I was now impoverished. I needed a job and the Free Press was trying me out in one.
The Free Press was paying me sixty dollars a week—forty-five of which went to my wife. I lived in one rented room with a hot plate to make meals. So we could survive. But how could I put my family back together again? Moving our furniture half way across a continent plus railway fares would cost around five hundred dollars. It would take me at least six months to save that. So even if I could do the job, I still had a huge problem. Yes, I was fearful, in fact desperate.
I looked at the other five people on the rim — three men and two women. They were courteous enough, even friendly, but for one. The man sitting beside me, about my age, seemed at first a rather severe person — tall, grave, who looked straight into your eyes when he spoke, But speaking evidenced his striking disability. He had a serious stammer. You could easily understand what he said because he spoke so slowly and painfully as he struggled to enunciate. But the stammer was only one of his two chief distinctions. The other, I soon discovered, was his quick perception of absurdity. His comments on the passing scenes, though labored, could be hilariously funny. He may be a little slow getting it out, but what he said was well worth waiting for.
His name was Bob Saunders. Like me, he was a Toronto boy, so we would endure this handicap jointly. Because of his stammer, he had never served as a reporter. But he was one fine copy editor, I was told, and early on I found something else about him. Everyone in the place was obviously fond of him. He was cherished, even loved in the sense of philia, the kind of love that binds a regiment together, or a ship’s company, and rarely (though I have known it to happen), the editorial staff of a newspaper.
This article continues at [Ted Byfield Blog] Farewell to the speechless man who made it all happen