Bard of BC Blog: First up... a tribute to Bob Hunter
... A Hurricane of Compassion and A Symphony of Intrinsic Spin
Hey folks… welcome to my Bard of BC Blog here on Forest of Faith.
I’m using Substack for all my writing now for the simple reason I have refused all along to play Facebook’s algorithmic gatekeeper game of pay through the nose or you are going nowhere with promoting your work. Maybe I’m not the brightest at self promotion, but I don’t care. I’m not rich and have never liked the platform for that and a lot of other reasons, but I won’t get into that just now. I’m super happy to be here on Substack with other writers and readers and it already feels like home.
Around the beginning of the pandemic, my partner Wendy asked me if I would write a bit about him for her wonderful niece Laura who is a doctor here in beautiful British Columbia. Laura is a big fan of the work Bob did co-founding Greenpeace, for our beautiful planet and for each and every living creature here. He was a hero of mine and I loved the man heart and soul.
I had a unique relationship with Bob which you can read below. I will probably add more posts about him in the days to come, but this is what I wrote about him for another hero of mine, Dr. Laura, as she is known in the family. And yes, I am indeed the only man alive who got an “A” in investigative journalism from Robert L. Hunter for handing in a short story. It’s fairly safe to say in this instance I had more balls than brains. That’s a for sure. :)
For a Doctor:
A Hurricane of Compassion and A Symphony of Intrinsic Spin
You are so loved Laura. It takes unbelievable strength, courage and knowledge to do your job. Thank you from the depths of my heart.
Your aunt told me last night that Greenpeace is an organization you love. She asked me if I would write a bit for you on what it was like being a student of co-founder Bob Hunter. I’m happy and thankful for the opportunity. We had a funny and unique relationship.
Bob Hunter was my investigative journalism teacher in the early 1980s, not too long after Greenpeace became a reality. As you know, he and Paul Watson started Greenpeace. They literally showed us How to Change the World. That is the title of the documentary honouring Bob’s life and work. It continues today. For anyone who has not seen it, please do. The trailer can be seen by clicking the link above.
If we all cared and stood up for nature and each other like this, the world would be in good hands.
What was he like? Let’s see, first, like you, he was a hurricane of compassion, strong and sensitive in equal measure, someone who could do no harm. He was witty as Mark Twain, wise as Walt Whitman and had the heart of a Lion Saint.
The last time I saw Bob was in the summer of 2004. I’d just come back from a visit to Woodstock where I had helped a friend open the first raw food eatery in upstate New York. We bumped into each other, him coming in and me out of a 7/11 at the corner of Woodbine & Gerrard in Toronto. At the time, he was still working as environment reporter for CITY TV. He was dying of advanced prostate cancer and eventually passed May 2, 2005. He was still reporting from home in his bathrobe until he was too weak. It was very hard to see. Hearts broke around the world the day he died. He was 63. Little did I know I would be diagnosed with intermediate stage prostate cancer just two years after - just after my 51st birthday in 2007.
It hit me like a ton meeting him so many years later. We looked at each other and he remembered me instantly.
Then his face lit up.
He had a laugh like nobody else.
I think I said, “Oh my God. Bob.”
He couldn’t forget me. Nor I him. Ever.
You see, I got an “A” in investigative journalism from the co-founder of Greenpeace for handing in a silly little short story. It was about the game of horseshoes as a metaphor for Life. I kid you not.
Talk about having a horseshoe where the sun don’t shine.
Here’s how it went down. I’d screwed up the investigative piece I was to hand in. And only one was required… for the entire course. In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad. Back in those days nothing got printed unless you had two solid sources on the record. I only had one. We had talked about the piece all semester and he thought early on I might want to look elsewhere. I think he sensed source #2 was not reliable.
This man could smell a deuce a mile away. And he suffered no fools when it came to journalistic integrity – I think except for me.
When show time came downstairs in the print room where we put the paper to bed Friday night, I got called up to give him my piece. It was the last class of the semester and Bob was taking us down to the Jolly Alderman Pub for a few beers afterwards. What a night! I explained to him I was rolling the dice on what I thought was my best stuff. He squinted, frowned and looked over his glasses at me as I handed it to him.
I thought, “Oh, oh… this is not good. I’m in trouble.”
And then he started to read the story, which I have since adapted to a feature length screenplay called A Symphony of Intrinsic Spin.
He started laughing. It had to be either lead or second sentence. And he just kept laughing throughout. When he handed it back to me he looked at me and said,
“Anyone who can a make me laugh like that gets an A… now…. smarten the fuck up and do something with your life.”
Literally shaking and feeling like I was naked, I promised him I would.
Almost 25 years later, we talked while leaning back against the hood of his car. We drank soda and talked about life. He asked me about my time in Woodstock and thought it was so cool opening the raw food joint. He asked me what else I’d done with my life and I told him. I wasn’t ever really sure I wanted to be a reporter and I ended up working in social services managing mental health programs and such. I just wanted to help people, write good fiction, humour and poetry and maybe be a writer one day. It’s been a slow march but I’m working on it.
And we also talked about his days. I asked him about charging whaling vessels on the high seas. I told him I could not believe his fearlessness.
He looked at me with his patent, “Are you kidding me?” look, but said nothing.
Bob used to say, “If there’s intelligent life on the planet, it ain’t necessarily us.”
There’s a t-shirt online with that quote.
Thinking back now… I think Bob was more kind to me than I have been to some others sometimes. He saw a spark in me that had not yet been fanned. I will always be grateful he didn’t fail me because he had every right to.
The lessons of life can’t be learned in a day, according to another Bob, and that would be Dylan.
He talked openly to me about his prostate cancer. He shared that he had tried everything. He was beyond what the medical system could treat. Alternative methods did not work either. It was his time to pass on.
Bob Hunter lived and died with courage and changed the world. He changed me. He made me want to try to be like him. I’m still trying to keep the promise I made to him.
We shook hands.
He looked me straight in the eyes and last thing he said to me was, “It was good to see you, Paul. I’m proud of you.”
I went home and wept. Those words meant more to me than I can ever say.
Some people light up every room they enter. And I know you do.
You are our brilliant Hurricane of Compassion.
God bless you and keep you safe, Laura.
We love you and will soon all meet to celebrate as a family.
We are going to beat this virus!
People both here and on the Other Side are cheering you on!
Let’s change the world through kindness, compassion, and with love.