EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Robert Fife from Chapleau, winner of national newspaper awards and best selling author leaves Ottawa Bureau Chief of CTV News to join Globe and Mail

CHS Student Council 1972-73 Bob seated front second on right side
Robert Fife was not sitting in his assigned seat when I arrived in Room 104 at the new Chapleau High School in January 1969 to teach Grade Nine history -- "The British Epic"-- replacing a teacher who had become ill and would be away for some time.

UPDATED: November19,2015. Bob is leaving CTV News to become Ottawa Bueau Chief of The Globe and Mail.

I had never been in the new school on the hill opened in 1966, as I had attended the high school on Pine Street where the Chapleau Civic Centre is now. It was the last place I expected to be on this winter morning as I had been home visiting my mother, Muriel E. (Hunt) Morris, and was planning to return to the newspaper business.

However, when George Evans, the school's assistant principal called to ask if I would replace a teacher, and the pay was $25.00 a day, I accepted and put plans to travel to either Vietnam to cover the war there or Beirut, Lebanon, to write about drug smuggling on hold for the time being -- it is now over 40 years later and I have never been to either place.

So there I was in Room 104, first class of the day, history with Grade Nine "A", having been given the text books, a day book and student seating plan. I put my name on the blackboard, turned and looked at the seating plan, and immediately sensed all was not right. In my best Dr. Karl Hackstetter voice, I yelled, "Get back in your right seats NOW." (For those who never met Dr. Hackstetter. trust me, he could yell.)

It worked. Students scurried to get to where they belonged, and there in front of me was Bob Fife, since February 2005 the Ottawa Bureau Chief for CTV NEWS, then in Grade Nine at CHS. He is also the Executive Producer of CTV's Power Play and Question Period.

Bob Fife far right listening to J.B. Walsh
Several days later, Bob appeared at the staff room wanting to speak with me. It turned out that the teacher I was replacing had been directing a play and Bob asked if I would take over as director. By his reckoning, because I was a reporter, I must know something about drama.

Bob played the leading role in a delightful one act comedy called 'Sunday Cost Five Pesos' and we expanded the production into a student talent night, which continued in the 1970swith Bob being named best actor for his performances on several occasions. For several years at CHS we did two productions a year involving a large number of students.

Also in 1969, the Chapleau Little Theatre was founded with Margaret Costello. a distinguished journalist and actress in Canada and the United States, who had moved to Chapleau, in a leading role in Kay Hill's comedy "Three to Get Married." Just days before opening night, a cast member became ill, and Bob very quickly took over the role and pulled it off as if he had been rehearsing for months.

I should have realized he was eventually headed to prime time television.

Somehow, in 1969,I ended up replacing the Midget hockey coach on a trip to Timmins and "Fife" as I came to call him almost ended my coaching career before it really started. There was a fight during the game, and after we returned to Chapleau, a letter arrived from James Aspin, long time secretary manager of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association alleging that the Chapleau coach had been yelling at his players to "Fight! Fight!"At a meeting in the old Town Hall basement, of course I denied it. Earle Freeborn asked me if I had yelled anything.

David Mizuguchi collection
After a moment I said yes. I had yelled "Fife! Fife!" at Bob who was involved in the fight trying to get him to the bench. This explanation was sent to the NOHA and I lived to coach another day.

During his years at CHS Bob was also active in other student activities and served as president of the Student Council in 1972-73.

Shortly after I joined Facebook a couple of years ago, Charlie Braumberger, who was in the same class as Bob messaged me saying, "You must be really proud of Bob's success."

I paused a bit before replying. Of course I am, but I have been proud of every student I ever had in the 32 years I spent in the classroom at Chapleau High School and College of the Rockies. To anyone who ever asked me about students, I have had a standard reply, "I have never met a bad student."

Bob Fife with Tom Corston
But I know what Charlie meant. Bob was interested in the news and peppered me with questions from the first moment he knew I had been a reporter and editor. Our conversations on the issues of the day continued for years.

Bob, who was born in Chapleau,  is the son of Margaret and the late Clyde Fife. Bob's grandfather George Fife was manager of the Chapleau Electric Light and Power Company and served as reeve of the Township of Chapleau from 1938 to 1942.

His father served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, and I recall to this day, Clyde telling me the story of my parents Jim and Muriel being at the ceremony in Toronto when he got his wings, and my father tried to make him laugh while on parade. Clyde, who was my father's best man at the wedding of my parents in 1940 also claimed that he "looked after" my father after I was born in Hamilton.

Our grandmothers were the best of friends and enjoyed playing golf on "Ladies' Day" at the golf course in Chapleau. Bob and I also got a chuckle over the time that his grandmother went to visit mine on Elgin Street when the snow banks were really high. Bob's father dropped his mother off and she assured him she could get to my grandmother's house. Somehow Mrs. Fife got stuck in the snowbank. My grandmother, Lil Morris, was watching and immediately called Clyde to come and rescue his mother. All went well and they had their visit.

After graduating from CHS Bob attended the University of Toronto where he earned the Bachelor of Arts degree.

In 1978, Bob started his journalism career in the parliamentary bureau of NewsRadio and then he worked for United Press International. It was his contact with UPI that got me one of my most interesting reporting assignments, covering a test of the nuclear winter theory in 1985 at Chapleau. Bob got me the assignment.

He then became a senior political reporter for the Canadian Press and later spent 10 years as Ottawa Bureau Chief and political columnist for the Sun Media chain. At one point in the 1980s Maclean's magazine called Bob the best investigative reporter in Canada.

After the National Post was founded he joined it in 1998, and he became Ottawa Bureau Chief for CanWest News Services and the National Post in 2002.

In 1991, Bob's first book, 'A Capital Scandal' which he wrote with John Warren came out, and I recall going to a bookstore in Cranbrook to see if I could get a copy. There it was prominently displayed in the new book section, and as I thumbed through it and noted that he dedicated it to his mother Margaret, I became a bit emotional which caused the lady in the store to ask if I was all right.

"I am fine," I told her. "I know Robert Fife and I am so proud of him." I went on to tell Bob's background and left with the book. As I write, it is beside me on my desk -- and the story it tells about politics in Canada and the need for the reform of Parliament it calls for is as relevant, perhaps moreso today, than it was 20 years ago.

In the acknowledgments Bob mentions Derik Hodgson who was an incredibly good reporter of my generation with whom I had worked at the Kingston Whig-Standard and Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. It so happened that by 1991 Derik had become communications director of the Canadian Labour Congress and had organized a conference for editors of labour union publications. I was the editor of Insider, the faculty magazine at College of the Rockies and attended the conference in Vancouver,

Small world that it is, there I was with my old friend Derik drinking coffee in the Hotel Vancouver, discussing a book by a Chapleau boy, who we both knew, albeit coming to know Bob in different ways. We were agreed on the message of the book.

In 1993, Bob's second book, 'Kim Campbell: The Making of a Politician' was published. She became the first female prime minister of Canada. Again, it remains a must read for a better understanding of politics in Canada.

Robert Fife, CTV NEWS
He has won the Edward Dunlop Award for Spot News and two National Newspaper Citation of Merit for political reporting.

However, it has been the past six years after Bob became Ottawa Bureau Chief of CTV News that he has become a household name in Canada. Especially since I have been on Facebook, many of his old friends have messaged me, "Did you see Bob on the news last night?", "Bob is interviewing the prime minister", "Did you teach him?" and so on, but I am guilty too.

While I was scanning photos of Bob for this piece at Walmart, I was getting help from a lady there, and pointed to photo of Bob with Tom Corston, and asked her, "Do you ever watch CTV News?" to which she replied she did.

"Do you know Bob Fife?" and again the answer was yes. Pointing to Bob holding an umbrella over Tom, who is now Anglican bishop of Moosonee, I said, "That's him when he was in Grade 9", adding, "Bob is from Chapleau." My email is mj.morris@live.ca


Chapleau High School Student Council of 1972-73 when Bob Fife was president. Front row from left Jamie Doyle, Eileen McRea, Tom Tangie, Bob, Patty Desbois. Middle row from left Rusty Deluce, Joan Lapointe, Walter Sonego, Dan Plouffe, Michael Dillon, Mary Ann Morris, Doris Delaney. Back row Robert Doyle, Gary Legros, Leslie Doig, Maurice Blais, Pat Connelly, Keith Marsh

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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