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Commentary: Let us now praise famous men

Carstairs' Bob Clark and Newfoundland's John Crosbie
Dabbs Frank
Frank Dabbs is a veteran business and political author and journalist. File photo/MVP Staff

In 1936 writer James Agee and photographer Evans Walker documented the lives of impoverished American sharecroppers and their families.

They called their book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and they named it without intending to be ironic.

In their sojourn through the southern states to prepare the book, Agee and Walker came to love and respect the people whose lives they illuminated.

They made the humble subjects of their book famous.

Let us now praise famous men who are successful in public life.

In January, two beloved Canadians were honoured for lives that invoke the time-tested words that Agee, Walker and their publishers immortalized.

In Newfoundland lawyer and politician John Crosbie’s funeral attracted a congregation of politicians, business titans, extended family and ordinary Newfoundlanders.

Crosbie’s fame came from a 28-year career in elective politics on St. John’s city council, the Newfoundland legislature and Parliament.

In his funeral eulogy for Crosbie, former prime minister Brian Mulroney described his role in arranging the financing of the Hiberna offshore oil project.

Crosbie, a member of Mulroney’s cabinet, asked for $2.7-billion guarantee from the federal government to kick-start the languishing project.

He told Mulroney and the rest of the cabinet that Hibernia would give Newfoundlanders the economic future they expected when they joined Canada.

Crosbie’s request was all the more credible because, as minister of fisheries, he had closed the cod fishery and thrown 40,000 Newfoundlanders out of work.

Mulroney told the funeral that the inauguration of Hibernia was due to Crosbie’s intervention.

As Crosbie promised, Hibernia transformed Newfoundland’s economy. It also modernized its academic, cultural and social life.

In Alberta on Jan. 2, the Alberta Hockey Foundation announced that Carstairs legend Bob Clark would be inaugurated into the province’s Hockey Hall of Fame.

Clark has a 60-year career in public life beginning as a 19-year-old teacher and a founding organizer of the Junior A Olds Grizzlys hockey team.

Clark and his hockey colleagues broke the NHL’s stranglehold on minor hockey in Western Canada as well as producing a championship team.

He was elected to the Alberta legislature at the age of 23.

Clark was minister of youth, minister of education and one of the Young Turks modernizing the Social Credit Party in the late 1960s.
After the Progressive Conservative Party formed government in 1971, he was Social Credit leader and leader of the official Opposition.

His public life has included being Alberta’s ethics commissioner and chairman of the Olds College board of governors.

Many people in Mountain View County and the urban centres within it have Bob Clark stories.

One of mine is that as an MLA Bob introduced me as a young journalist to the rural roads and the people of this county by taking me to constituency meetings in remote community halls.

We Canadians don’t do enough to honour our famous men and women, but we are getting better at it.

As we praise public figures, we should also honour the meek and the humble like the destitute American sharecroppers who inspired the edict to praise the famous.

Frank Dabbs is a veteran business and political author and journalist.