Life and Bravado of Allan Fotheringham

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

The gall of the man.

Here he is, just out of UBC, working as a reporter at the Vancouver Sun and the chief honcho offers him the job as sports editor. With that, Allan Fotheringham, a cub of 24 unseasoned years, promptly quits and bums around Europe for three years. “I knew I could make it in the business,” he rationalized.

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As a friend and one-time boss, I was sad when Murray Allan (Scott) Fotheringham died this week at 87, but relieved that his suffering was over and that this loquacious and active public figure, his voice stilled by dementia, his once- rugged physique hobbled by age and illness, had found rest.

It all began in the hamlet of Hearne, Sask. “The town was so small,” he often said, “it couldn’t afford a village idiot. Everyone had to take turns.” There his widowed mother, Edna, raised four children during the Depression, supporting them by running a post office in her home and giving violin lessons. But the world opened to young Fotheringham, born on Aug. 31, 1932, when he read the newspapers and magazines borrowed from the post office boxes of the locals. He decided then that he wanted to see the world. What he didn’t know at the time was that he was born to write.

Fotheringham claims, with some legitimacy, that he “invented” Brian Mulroney, “the jaw that walks like a man” by spotlighting him early as the next likely Conservative leader. He also said: “His alarm clock didn’t ring; it applauded.” Mulroney took it all with good grace and hosted “the Foth” at his Harrington Lake retreat. “He was the best and most influential journalist in his day,” Mulroney told me last week. Even when they had a falling out over free trade, he added, “I continued to admire his body of work.”

In the same way, Fotheringham predicted the rise of another putative Prime Minister, Paul Martin. And he observed of Jean Chrétien: “The only man in Canada who can’t speak either of the two official languages.” He reserved his harshest barbs for Conservative Leader Joe “Jurassic Clark” and Pierre “Elliott Reincarnation”—both Prime Ministers he actually admired.

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All of that brought accolades: national magazine and newspaper awards, a regular panelist spot on CBC’s Front Page Challenge, the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award. Plus barrels of cash: in one year alone his total income from all sources, he wrote, was $492,000. He boasted that he had been to 91 countries, always on expense accounts. I signed a lot of those cheques.

And yet, there was the little known private Foth. He loved being with women and had a ton of female friends. He said he found them more interesting than men. “He’s told everyone in North America that I slept with him,” said one, “and I didn’t!” His colleague at FP Mary Janigan said, “he never spoke as much as he listened.” His relationships with men tended to be the jock-locker-room style of friendly barbs and insults. His dear friend and book publisher Anna Porter, wife of his libel lawyer Julian, acknowledged that Fotheringham often confided his self-doubts to her. “He was very insecure,” she noted. He once alluded to this trait indirectly: “Most humourists are inherently troubled people, or very sad inside.” Lashings of wine and gin often fuelled his writing sessions.

And the Foth faced adversity: he never knew his father, who died when he was two and competed with his siblings for his mother’s attention. His first marriage to Sallye Delbridge ended after 17 years, he lost a son to a heart attack, he himself stared down death after botched surgery in 2007. But he had the good fortune to meet and marry Toronto art maven Anne Libby. She not only curated his image but supplied the loving support—and ego boost—he needed to keep going. He called her “the gem.” Of their 22-year marriage, she said: “Allan gave me a life beyond my wildest imaginings. Like all marriages, it was not perfect. But the one thing that stands out is he never left me behind. As the inside of my wedding band says, ‘Pari Passu’ which means ‘Side by side, equals together.’ ”

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