‘A stable rock’: Longtime former CP reporter Sufrin recalls being calm and caring

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The rising cigar smoke made it easy to spot Mel Sufrin in the newsroom. He wrapped himself around him as he coached young journalists, defended a journalists’ union, or regaled staff members with stories from his front row seat in history.

The rising cigar smoke made it easy to spot Mel Sufrin in the newsroom.

He wrapped himself around him as he coached young journalists, defended a journalists’ union, or regaled staff members with stories from his front row seat in history. His anecdotes ran everywhere, from the press box of a small Toronto baseball field to the United Nations floor.

Over the course of a 69-year journalistic career, including nearly 45 years with The Canadian Press, Sufrin has established himself as a passionate storyteller and grammar enthusiast, but his family and former colleagues mostly remember one ” gentle and caring gentleman.

Sufrin died Sept. 19 at a Toronto retirement home at the age of 96, her daughter Jodi Sufrin said in a telephone interview from her Boston home.

Sufrin rose through the ranks of the nationwide newswire from teenage messenger to vice-president of the editorial board. Jodi said her father always takes great pride in his work, whether he is a journalist, editor, or manager of a team of writers.

She remembers how her father and late mother Malcah listened to the radio together in the living room and corrected the ill-structured sentences they heard on the air.

“My father loved the English language and protected the rules of grammar,” Jodi Sufrin said with a laugh.

“There was (once) he was asked about the phrase ‘I feel bad’. And his response was to say, ‘I concede that you can feel bad if you can feel crazy or sadly So he had a lot of fun with it.

“But my dad was such a good sport and even in the last few years when he was in decline his sweetness still stuck.”

Sufrin began his career as a journalist in 1941 at the age of 16, hired as a copier for $ 11 a week by the Canadian Press after his father made him drop out of high school to join the workforce, a he declared in unpublished memory notes shared by his daughter.

Sufrin retired from The Canadian Press in 1986, but then served as executive secretary of the Ontario Press Council for 23 years until 2010. The organization, which merged with the National News Media Council in 2015, examines and investigates complaints from the public about newspapers.

Sufrin’s time at CP took him across the country with stops in Halifax, where he covered the Victory Day riots in 1945, as well as Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and across the border to New York, where he reveled in writing about the NHL at a time when the Associated Press did not have a hockey reporter.

In autobiographical notes included in his CP file, Sufrin joked that his “career (was) distinguished by the opportunity to do a lot of things once.”

This included a United Nations session, an NHL season, a Winter Olympics (Innsbruck, Austria, 1976), a Summer Olympics (Montreal, 1976), a Pan American Games (Mexico City, 1975), a Commonwealth Games (Edmonton, 1978) and a World Hockey Championship (Prague, 1978).

He was also editor of a federal election and recalled in his memoir playing bridge with Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party leader Mr. J. Coldwell on a train trip through Saskatchewan. in 1949, when he deliberately gave Coldwell a hand of four aces, four kings, four queens and a jack.

“He was so excited that (Coldwell) started showing a hand to the other passengers,” Sufrin said.

Sufrin also enjoyed his time covering the United Nations, believing it to be “easy work” during Lester Pearson’s tenure as President of the General Assembly from 1952 to 1953.

“Every morning (Pearson) invited Canadian journalists into his office and briefed us on everything that was going on behind the scenes at the UN,” he wrote in his notes.

As a parliamentary reporter in 1950, Sufrin encouraged several of his colleagues in the Ottawa office to join the Newspaper Guild, now known as NewsGuild. Sufrin said in his submissions that the head office warned guild members that they could not cover the policy out of “concern about bias,” and he was removed from the House of Commons beaten, reassigned. ” for the next few months “to the hearings of the Ministry of Transport regarding a Bell increase in telephone rates.

He told Gene Allen in a 2009 interview for Allen’s book “Making National News: A History of Canadian Press” that he refused to quit the union even if his colleagues were withdrawing their membership in order to return to political reporting.

Sufrin has held a variety of positions at CP including News Editor, Head of Image Services, Sports Editor, General News Editor and Vice President.

His colleagues knew him as a calm, thoughtful presence in a stressful, deadline-driven environment, though usually shrouded in a cloud of cigar smoke.

“I remember the cigar,” said Jim Poling, a former editor of CP who worked under Sufrin for years. “The cigar was just part of Mel. You would see him smoke that cigar and (stay) calm and think.”

Sufrin was editor-in-chief when Poling joined CP in 1969. Although Poling did not deal directly with Sufrin early in his career, he described Sufrin as “a stable rock”.

“Even in the middle of a big story, with people running around, all kinds of stuff going on, Mel was calm all the time,” he said. “If you wanted advice, Mel was the guy you turned to.

Sufrin was editor-in-chief in 1957 when a 22-year-old Keith Kincaid began reporting for The Canadian Press.

Kincaid, who later became president of CP, said Sufrin was a natural leader.

“He was dealing with a lot of rookies,” he said. “He knew how to handle them and how to make the most of them, and how to turn them into something better.

“My career has certainly benefited from it from the start.”

One of Sufrin’s first writing assignments while still a courier at CP covered the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International Baseball League. The job was to send box scores to The Associated Press with 100-word stories, all for 50 cents a game.

He praised then-editor Russ Wheatley for cleaning up his messy copy, noting that while he could type well, he “couldn’t write”. Still, the concert excited him.

“I covered 70 games in 1941 and won $ 35 which made me the richest kid in the neighborhood,” Sufrin wrote in notes shared by his daughter. eat free hot dogs and coke. “

Jodi Sufrin said her father enjoyed his time in the sport, in which he covered five Gray Cup title games and at least one Brier curling championship.

Sufrin also took up curling and golf in his spare time, and continued his passion for the sport until his retirement.

“He loved to sit in his chair and watch sports,” Jodi said. “He was passionate about all sports.”

Sufrin’s journalistic career was cut short by an 18-month leave during World War II, when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot at 17, he said in memory notes.

He spent a year and a half training in several cities in Ontario and Quebec while writing and publishing a weekly magazine for the RCAF called FLAK. He and another intern “escaped” the kitchen service at one of his stations by volunteering to write and edit a journal.

Sufrin joked that he realized he wouldn’t make a good pilot in a practice session when “after a spin the instructor asked me where the airfield was and I had no idea”.

Sufrin said he caught hepatitis while traveling to Acapulco in 1986, and blamed its lingering effects for causing “less than brilliant performance” at work, which ultimately led him to retire from La Canadian Press that year.

He became executive secretary of the Ontario Press Council shortly after, when the organization moved from Ottawa to Toronto. He retired in 2010 at age 85.

Sufrin’s wife died in 2013 from cancer while her two sons, Kerry and Mark, both died from the disease in their forties. Jodi, the only surviving child of Mel and Malcah Sufrin, said the losses of her brothers “have devastated the family.”

Sufrin also had eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. While Jodi laughed describing her father as a grandfather “not one to get down and play”, she said he was “engaged to all his grandchildren” and was enjoying it. to visit them.

Jodi had not seen Sufrin in person since before the COVID-19 pandemic due to border closures that lasted for most of the past 19 months, but she was grateful to maintain a connection via video chats.

She remembers her father as a “loving, very principled, non-judgmental and excellent human being.”

“A gentleman,” she said.

As for her favorite memory of Sufrin?

“There are so many. I could go on for hours.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 1, 2021.

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press


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