A Christian Gentleman | JIM FURLONG

I note with interest the passing of Edsel Bonnell earlier this month. He was part of the history of NTV. Edsel worked with us in the 1950s when we were still CJON. He worked in radio and was an important part of the CJON coverage of the IWA dispute of 1959. In a television interview a couple of years ago for my Reflections program, Edsel told me a wonderful story about how he was in a bar near Badger at the height of the IWA dispute. Members of the International Woods Workers of America frequented that bar. Some remarks were made towards him by some of the bar patrons because he was part of the much-mistrusted news media. It was a nod from IWA leader H. Landon Ladd himself, though, that told the crowd in the bar that Edsel Bonnell wasn’t the enemy of the union but was instead “a straight shooter.” That is a great compliment to a reporter to be branded as someone who was fair and honest in the middle of a bitter labour dispute. It is as much as you can ask for.

As most people will know Edsel Bonnell went on to become a print journalist and eventually the owner of the now gone St. John’s Daily News. He moved from there to the public relations business and then became Chief of Staff in the office of Premier Clyde Wells. That is where I met him for the first time and he became an important part of the history of the rise of NTV News. That was in the late 1980s.

Many people over the years have occupied the post Chief of Staff in the premier’s office. It is an important post and really in some ways is the “gate keeper” to the premier. All kinds of people have held that position through various administrations, but it was Edsel Bonnell who stood out as someone who was hard as nails but was always a gentleman. He also treated us with respect at NTV at a time when we were trying to earn respect.

Where I had direct dealings with Edsel was in negotiations for the traditional televised leaders debate which has become part of any general election in provincial politics. There was a time when the draw for podium positions and for the order of speaking in the debate was an enormously important big deal. I remember I had special coins done up in the colours of the Liberals, the P.C.s and the NDP that we used in the draw. NTV hosted the debate that year. With great solemnity the political parties gathered in the board room of our station and the draw went ahead. Edsel told me after in a quiet moment that he didn’t care where Clyde’s podium was located or where in the debate order he spoke. Edsel said Clyde was going to win. Edsel Bonnell was just playing the game and really placed little value on such things as podium positions. I no longer remember where Clyde Wells stood or in what order the speakers spoke in the debate. I do remember that Clyde Wells won the election.

Fast forward now to the departure of Clyde Wells from the political stage. The Liberal Party, through Edsel, asked us to edit a video tribute that I guess had been written by Edsel. He was a master of public relations. The Liberals wanted access to our news footage. I looked at the script and knew immediately what we had and didn’t have. I asked Edsel if he would mind if I did a re-write based on what I knew existed in terms of film. It made sense and he agreed in a heartbeat. I wrote and edited the piece myself based largely on what he had submitted.

Well, time marches on and Clyde Wells retired and Edsel Bonnell ventually retired but we weren’t done yet. Our paths would cross once again. On the half hour Reflections program that I referenced earlier; Edsel Bonnell was the feature guest. He was great as a guest because he was part of political history and part of broadcast history. He knew “where all the bones were buried” as the expression goes. That is still one of my favourite programs from the “Reflections” series.

All of that was interesting enough but there was more. I had encountered Edsel at the funeral of Dr. Harry Roberts. I think it was at The Kirk. The Gower Community Band was playing under the direction of Edsel Bonnell. It was an odd juxtaposition of areas of expertise. Here was a veteran of the cut and thrust of hard journalism in the 1950s and a man who had been Chief of Staff to Premier Clyde Wells. Edsel Bonnell had throughout that remained devoutly Christian and with a baton in his hand was directing the Gower Band and was offering up “a joyful sound to the Lord.”

The life of Edsel Bonnell was well lived.

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]