THE BLOG
10/21/2011 09:19 EDT | Updated 12/21/2011 05:12 EST

Farewell Ron Haggart

When prisoners rioted at the Kingston Pen over Dickensian conditions, taking hostages along the way, they demanded that Ron Haggart be present to guarantee the negotiations. He saved lives that day.

The poet Emily Dickinson provides guideposts to deal with the going.

"Dying," she writes, "is a wild night and a new road."

We said farewell to Ron Haggart last week. Haggart knew something of both -- the nights and the roads. In his time he was a great newspaperman, writing for the Star, the Globe and at the Tely, pioneering the first municipal column in Canada. His reputation as being on the side of the shit disturbers was legendary. When prisoners rioted at the Kingston Pen over Dickensian conditions, taking hostages along the way, they demanded that Haggart be present to guarantee the negotiations. He saved lives that day.

Eventually he brought his editorial and diplomatic skills to the CBC, its journalistic reputation shattered by the cancelling of This Hour has Seven Days. He brought editorial gravitas back to corporation. He became a founding senior producer at the new fifth estate, where I met him, joining the start-up. He became a mentor and a chum.

Ron's preference in stories was to take the road less travelled. "Everybody knows," someone would assert in an editorial meeting. "What everyone knows," replied Haggart, "is usually wrong."

For Haggart, there was no forbidden territory, whether it was the John Kennedy Assassination, CIA brainwashing in Montreal, or a nest of Slovak Nazi collaborators in Southern Ontario, defended by a mining billionaire.

Ron demanded our films be bullet proof factually, but he would also ask for the "So What" of a story. Are we doing our job as public broadcasters? He promoted journalism that afflicted the powerful, and powerfully, comforted the afflicted.

In our own shop Haggart was compassionate as hell, giving the fallen second and third chances.

At the fifth, he helped plant the roots so deep it's been impossible to kill it no matter how often they move it.

Ron started as a print guy. He was exceptional with concision. In the edit suite, with an intense deadline, he was legendary for finding le mot juste, or the perfect paragraph that would keep CBC lawyers Danny Henry and Michael Hughes happy, as at the same time, elevate the episode from being just good to becoming an award winner.

Besides his splendid journalism, Ron was a boon companion, at times Falstaffian. One weekend we invited him and his then partner Maggie Siggins to join us in the country. Ron called. Could they bring Carrie May, still in swaddling clothes? No problem.

The next day, another call. Could they bring the nanny? The more the merrier I said.

It became a magic autumn weekend. With help from my brother Terry we roasted a saddle of lamb, ate a field of corn, our glasses brimming with Beaujolais. The sun was slanting golden through the red maples as we started down the country road.

I will never forget him. In one hand he had a glass of red wine and a smoke. In the other a coffee, carefully balanced with a cognac -- and on his face, what a life affirming grin!

Now he's at the Heavenly Hop and Grapes, at the bar with Eric Malling and Peter Reilly, waiting for the rest of us.