View my bio

Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, July 22, 2013

Death of My Mentor

Andy Little died over the weekend. He was my first editor when I was hired for my first real news job -local TV news reporter at CBC Montreal in 1976.

A month ago, Andy was playing tennis in Florida and began to have excruciating back pains.

Rather submit to the financial indignities of the American health care system, he and his wife Dolce drove to their home in Ottawa. Andy was admitted to hospital where the diagnosis and prognosis were not good: advanced stomach cancer. Andy died at home two weeks later.

When I first walked into that Montreal newsroom, I had little exposure to the sharp elbows of daily news. Instead, I was more used to the leather elbow patches of academia. But I had with a serious case of news addiction. Andy was there to help with that transition.

He was a complicated man. Looking back, I recall being easily offended by his off-hand comments and sharp jibes he would toss out like little grenades to see who would ignore them and who would pick them up.

He was born in Detroit. Andy's father came to Montreal to work as a technician at the CBC. Andy followed in his father's footsteps over the objections of then - CBC regulations which prohibited two members of the same family working for the Corp at the same time. Andy was not allowed to be hired until his father took retirement.

Andy was a graceful and fluid writer. He was also a neurotic, anxious and often very funny man - full of tics, witty observations and unpredictable sharp turns. Andy was also one of the best professional photographers I knew.

In retirement, he wrote a series of auto-biographical books. They fictionalized his own life and that of his parents who died when Andy was still a teenager. His mother suffered from depression and was treated with CIA-funded LSD experiments by Dr. Ewan Cameron at McGill University. She committed suicide shortly after.

Andy struggled for years as an alcoholic. When I met him he hadn't had a drink in twenty years, but he was astonishingly honest about his demons, once he began to trust you.

In his drinking days, Andy would finish a shift at the CBC and head off to a nearby tavern. In those days, Montreal taverns served only beer and did not allow women in, either as servers or patrons. By law, taverns had to serve "food" with every beer. Serious drinkers were not eaters. So Toe Blake's Tavern had a cellophane-wrapped sandwich on every table. It stayed while the beers were consumed. Drinkers would play "guess the age of the sandwich" over quart bottles of Labatt's. (There are no serious drinkers like Montrealers...).

One drinking session got out of hand, Andy recalled to me. He started at Toe's on Mackay Street in Montreal and woke up in a hotel in Nassau, The Bahamas. He had no idea how he got there or how he would get back in time for his next shift.

He was seriously agoraphobic and had a terrible case of fear-of-flying which he never overcame. At one point, his neurosis was so deep that he would have panic attacks walking out of the newsroom to his car. He only felt safe at home, in the newsroom and in his car. One of his three children was killed in a car crash on an icy road outside of Montreal years later.

But in 1976, Andy took me under his wing and acted as a "mentor" (that word was not in common use back then). My over-extended stay in academia marked me as not a "real" journalist to some in that newsroom, and the doubters were probably right. I wasn't all that convinced myself. In hindsight, I can appreciate how much Andy Little did for me and for many others.

It took a few years of working on temporary contracts and strange shifts, but I finally landed a staff position, thanks to Andy's support. I suppose this career is as much his doing, as mine.

When Andy left the CBC, he and his wife Dulcie found a haven on Anna Maria Island on Florida's Gulf Coast. We saw them a few times in Washington, DC, (driving, not flying) en route to or from Ottawa to Florida, in true Canadian snow-bird fashion. He seemed happy and at peace with his life.

He leaves his wife Dolce and two children and many of us who were lucky to have had Andy help us set a course in life.

1 comment: