Lucky Man: Remembering Hartley Steward

???????????????????????????????When Hartley Steward was the London correspondent for the Toronto Sun, he got to be friends with Vic Chapman, the Canadian who at the time was the press secretary to Prince Charles.

Vic and his wife were provided with the sort of beautiful apartment near Buckingham Palace that you usually see only in movies about the British aristocracy. One New Year’s Day while I was staying with him, Hartley dragged me around to Vic’s place for a drink.

We found the Chapmans huddled in a couple of badly furnished rooms off a dazzling set of sitting rooms full of priceless Queen Anne furniture. They were so afraid of damaging these irreplaceable antique pieces, they never ventured near them. They were not living in luxury; only living adjacent to it. The four of us sat together, having a drink, laughing at the ridiculousness of Canadians trying to adapt to a Royal lifestyle without sitting on the furniture.

Memories like that came flooding back yesterday afternoon when I heard that Hartley had died. In addition to being the friend who changed my professional life any number of times, Hartley was also one of the country’s great editors, a guy who at different times in his long and varied career was the publisher of the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Ottawa Sun, and editor of the Toronto Star.

For good measure, he was also a formidable writer who wrote elegantly for the Canadian magazine in its heyday. I was dazzled by him. He seemed to move through life with such cheerful effortlessness that you could not help but be attracted to him. Even though he held some of the most powerful jobs in Canadian journalism, it was hard to find anyone who didn’t like–no, love–Hartley.

You can count me among the lovers–although he might not care for the way I worded that sentence.

I met Hartley when Sun publisher Doug Creighton brought him in to fix up the fledging but badly stumbling Sunday Sun. I was writing for the paper’s magazine section. What had started out as a tremendous opportunity to create Canada’s first Sunday newspaper, had quickly become something of a journalistic embarrassment.20121027firstsun

Hartley sort of floated onto the scene, a handsome guy, slightly stooped, with dark brown hair, and tinted glasses, armed with an offhand sense of humor and a casual style that immediately put you at ease.

In no time, with remarkably little kicking and screaming on anyone’s part, Hartley worked the Sunday Sun into shape so that it actually resembled a newspaper containing real news stories. Given the circumstances, it was an amazing transformation.

He was my boss but soon after we discovered we were neighbors in the Beach area of Toronto, we became friends. Hartley enjoyed good writing and sitting around with a drink in his hand talking about good writing. We did plenty of both in those days–the drinking and the talking.

We saw each other through a number of incarnations over the years. When he left the Sun to freelance, he convinced me to become a magazine freelancer as well. When he went to the Star to start  a magazine called The City, he pressed me into writing the first cover story (about then-mayor David Crombie).

When I needed a shoulder to cry on, Hartley was there. A broken marriage, a futile love affair, a professional setback, he showed up with a calming voice and pretty good advice. That’s how I ended up in London. “You’ve got problems,” he said on the phone. “There’s no way you’re spending New Year’s alone. Get on a plane and get over here.” Good old Hartley.

Another time I was sitting in the depths of depression, unexpectedly single and miserable about it, the freelancing business going steadily south. Then the telephone rang. It was Hartley, by this time (I believe) managing editor at the Toronto Star.

“Listen,” he said, “I’m going to take advantage of your misfortune.”

His idea of taking advantage was to hire me as the paper’s movie critic. That phone call not only saved my professional life, it also gave me the job I had coveted since I was a kid. Once again, Hartley to the rescue, this time making a life-long dream come true.

Now Hartley wasn’t perfect by any means. Much to the astonishment of everyone who knew him, he married five times. Even in the chaotic world of journalism where no one ever seemed to stay married for too long, that was something of a record.

He never took particularly good care of himself–although he always looked great–and he had heart problems throughout his life. Once he was onboard a cruise ship when he suffered a heart attack.

By the time the ship docked and Hartley got to hospital his current marriage had fallen apart. I found out he was back in Toronto and recuperating alone, just up the street from me.

I insisted he move into my apartment. I was on my way to Paris to write a movie and the place would be empty for a couple of months. Hartley could recuperate there. He moved in, and after a week or so of deep discussion about the vagaries of life and love–and reaching no helpful conclusions on either subject–I headed for France.

Hartley RemeberedBy the time I got back to Toronto, Hartley had met someone new. I couldn’t believe it. I ended up being the best man at the wedding. Alas, that marriage didn’t take either.

When I last saw him, he was happily remarried to the second Mary in his life. We promised each other we would keep in touch, but we didn’t, and now it’s too late. The guy who enriched my life with his friendship, warmth, and endless generosity, is gone.

Despite all his success, he never took himself too seriously. He remained a kid from Northern Ontario who never lost that boyish sense of himself. He counted himself, I think, a lucky man.

But not nearly as lucky as I am to have known him. Go well old friend, and safe journey…



Author of "The Sanibel Sunset Detective" and "The Strange." Ron spends part of the year on Sanibel Island, Florida, where he writes detective novels featuring private eye Tree Callister. When he is not in Florida, he resides outside Toronto, Ontario with his wife, Kathy.

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5 comments on “Lucky Man: Remembering Hartley Steward
  1. Joan Sutton says:

    Ron, you have captured Hartley….he saved me too….when I believed I had to leave the Sun, because of the Rimstead incident, and resigned, with a mortgage to pay, two teenagers to support, and no job in sight……he grabbed me up for the Star…helped me there do some of the best journalism of my life……a good man. I do hope that he finally found personal happiness…….

    • ronbase says:

      Joan, as always so wonderful to hear from you–even at this sad time. A lovely, and loving memory of Hartley…and I hope you are right. I hope he finally found personal happiness…

  2. Fred Hussey says:

    Terrific job Ron. As a young man of 24 years of age, Hartley assigned a corporate project to me that seemed to be well out of my depth. I represented the Toronto Sun at a meeting of all Canadian dailies, sitting in a room of executives who had more years of experience than I had birthday candles. Hartley’s warm assurances gave me the confidence to flourish in the role. I still have his hand-written note of congratulations.

    • ronbase says:

      Thanks for this, Fred. As I keep hearing stories like yours, and I sit thinking back on the Hartley Years, my hope is he knew how much he meant to so many of us fortunate enough to cross his path…

  3. Tom Alderman says:

    I didn’t know Hartley well, but enjoyed working with him at The Canadian. He was a good editor. Also a decent human being. Lots of fun to be around, and immensely likeable – even as he light-heartedly picked holes in my writing. Much as I hated to admit it then, he was invariably right – and he ended up improving my work time after time. I’ll miss knowing he’s no longer on this side of the grass. You seem to have captured him well, Ron.

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