Beaton Tulk has worn many hats – teacher, businessman and this province’s seventh premier. The one role he cherishes more than any other is being a dad
Beaton Tulk has a commanding presence. His voice is strong – gruff even. His larger-than-life laugh carries. Even his hands are large, like those of a man born to hard work. He’s proud of the work those hands have done.
“My parents were what you’d call ‘good Newfoundland stock’. They worked hard. I was blessed to have them as my role models, and I never forgot that,” he begins with pride.
In his autobiography, A Man of My Word: A Memoir, co-written by author and friend Laurie Blackwood Pike, the now 73-year-old Tulk shares that growing up in Ladle Cove, his parents taught him the value of working hard and taking care of family.
“I’m proud of where I came from. Roots are very important. I’ll always be the boy who came from Bonavista Bay,” he says.
But Tulk, a school principal who was first elected to the House of Assembly in 1979 as the Liberal MHA for Fogo, was a fighter, too. Even if it was wrestling with a former premier in a rural hotel room.
“He was a hard cuss. He’s a hard fella to keep down. Every time I’d turn around he’d be coming again. I’m bigger than he was, and I was just as fast then. He sent me an email after the book came out; I hope you put down who won the wrestling match in Burgeo, he said. I sent back and said; I didn’t need to, everyone knows who would have won that.”
Tulk laughs heartily. Which former premier was he referring to? “Don’t Say. Tell them to pick up the book and find out,” Tulk jokes. Perhaps the man known as Captain Canada for his feistiness, Brian Tobin? There’s a sly wink.
“Tobin used me in a good way. Yes he used me, of course he did. Some may want to make a snarky comment about it, but I was his minister. Of course he used me. He let me do my job. If I messed it up I got the blame, if I didn’t, he took the credit, which was the way it has to be. I was good with that.”
That anyone is interested in what he has to say surprises him, truth be told, he shares. “I said, no one will read this anyway. But I think we did pretty well just the same. It was a great adventure, but it was a lot of work. When you are living it, you don’t really think about things. It was important to me to look back at life growing up. To reflect on family as well as on politics,” he shares candidly.
Tulk, who now makes his home in Musgravetown with his wife Dora, opens up about the bruising on his hands. He’s being treated for prostate cancer, a disease he’s been fighting for 14 years. Thinking back to his diagnosis, he says it was like being struck down hard with a sledgehammer “right between the eyes.”
“Cancer is something that makes you look at the bigger picture. Focus on the family you have, and how you were raised. Don’t forget where you came from. I’ve had a good run, I’ve certainly lived a great life, but life is still precious. Every second you have with your loved ones counts and it matters. If you are fighting something like cancer, don’t give up.”
Tulk once had dinner with Prince Phillip, but titles didn’t matter.
“He wanted to know where I came from. Being a bayman seemed to break down barriers between us. Keep things simple. Everybody has common ground, royalty, premier; everybody. I feel like I grew up in a cocoon, protected from the ills of society. No roads. No televisions. I grew up where everybody took care of you, yes, but took you to task for the ills of your ways. It gave me the values I’ve carried through my life. Work hard and keep going. And treat everyone, no matter who they are, with respect.”
Tulk says he grew up reading the Bible and the Sunday Herald. “That’s all we got,” he says.
Tulk holds great respect for the late Geoff Stirling.
“My second day being premier, I walked into the NTV studio for an interview. When I walked in, there was another chair. In walks Geoff. And he has a different way of thinking about things, and we got into a really great discussion. The interview went on for maybe an hour, or an hour-and-a-half.
“It was played and I started getting calls from people saying, how come you’re not trying to stay premier? But I couldn’t do that. I didn’t want the job. Once I got the job I liked it. But I couldn’t run. I promised that if I took over as premier I wouldn’t run. If I did run those guys who were running – Roger Grimes, John Efford, Paul Dicks – they would have skewered me and that’s fair game. I had given my word, and that was that,” Tulk said.
Roger Grimes became Liberal leader and premier in February 2001, putting an end to Tulk’s four-month run as premier.
Praise For All Premiers
Tulk goes back to Stirling for a moment. The Christmas he was premier he was on the cover of the Herald as Santa. “I really liked that. I was only going to be premier for a bit, so I could have a bit of fun.”
Tulk shares he has high praise for all the premiers this province has had. Even the current day one. “Everyone who steps into a role like premier wants to do a good job. Joey Smallwood has taken knocks, but to this day I thank him for the work he did. He brought us out of the dark ages through education and that gave a fellow like me a shot,” Tulk said.
But throughout his book filled with an inside glimpse of politics in his day is woven threads of what’s most important; family. “Take to heart that being premier was an important job. But being a dad was always what I was, and am, most proud of.”
Next Week/Part 2: More insight into the life and times of Beaton Tulk