He was larger than life. That is a good expression for Don Jamieson. His presence filled up a room. There are people like that. His was the classic story of local boy makes good. From being a bell hop at the old Newfoundland Hotel, he went on to become a successful broadcaster and anchor for News Cavalcade on CJON TV. He was perhaps the best known Newfoundlander at one point, second only to Joe Smallwood. Don Jamieson parlayed that broadcasting and journalism career into becoming a Member of Parliament for the federal district Burgeo-Lapoile. From there he became a federal cabinet minister in several portfolios and, eventually, the Canadian High Commissioner in London. He rose to the very top of the heap in government. Not bad for a St. John’s boy who came off the streets.
I have known lots of politicians over my years in journalism and I know many were nice to me often because it suited their purposes. Politics is like that, unfortunately. Joe Smallwood told us one time that the first job of a politician was to get elected; the second job of a politician was to get re-elected. If you don’t get elected you can’t do anything. I can tell you that Don Jamieson was kind to me when I was just starting in news. Once I had been assigned to a “Law of the Sea Conference” in Ottawa. It was at the top floor Lester B. Pearson Building looking out over the Ottawa River and I was nervous because I was in our nation’s capital playing with the big boys. At the end of the Law of the Sea session, there was a formal press conference and Don, after an opening statement, said he was open to questions from the journalists present. Then he said the first question would go to Jim Furlong of NTV News in St. John’s. I never forgot that. It was an act of kindness to give me first question in what an international press conference. I remember that well and, as an aside, I remember a reception later in the evening where there was lots of liquor and scallops, as big as softballs, and shrimp the size of a baby’s arm. In that matter of the first question, he gained nothing by giving me, a little snot from St. John’s, the first question. He just did it.
Lots of politicians, if not most, would have opted for the first question going to one of the national networks or one of the major newspapers. Not Don Jamieson. He always was a Newfoundland boy.
The only other time our paths crossed in news is that years later they sent me and a cameraman from St. John’s down to Swift Current on the Burin Peninsula to pick up from Jamieson a clip on Canada’s place in the world. CTV gave me the question and told me to hurry back to St. John’s with the film to send the interview up to Toronto. I asked the question, and then another for our local news of the next day, and I was done. We started to pack up our gear after the interview and got ready to head back down the highway. Don stopped us. “You can’t leave without having something to eat and a quick drink,” he said. That was Don Jamieson. He treated us like we were reporters from ABC or CBS in New York. We had some soup his wife had made and a drink of Scotch by the fireplace in his home. Then we headed back to St. John’s with our story.
Those are two little stories , not about how important Jamieson was, but rather about how important he made a young local reporter feel. In our conversation his interest was about my work at CJON and the people still working at NTV that he knew. Here I was with the task completed, sipping Scotch with one of Canada’s most important ministers. I never forgot his kindness to a young reporter. It remains for me a highlight and a monument to human decency. I never forgot it.