Allan Fotheringham (1932–2020)

Allan Fotheringham was born in Hearn, Saskatchewan (two of his favourite lines about Hearn: “people from Hearn are called Hernias” and “a village so small we all had to take turns to be the village idiot”), and he became the most-read columnist in Canada. His inventive wordplays, his wit, his sharp assessments of politicians and their foibles were legendary. One of my favorites: “In the Maritimes, politics is a disease; in Quebec, a religion; in Ontario, a business; on the Prairies, a protest; and in British Columbia, an entertainment.” He disliked Ottawa (“the city that fun forgot”), where he was forced to live for a while because that is where Parliament lives. His soul remained in Vancouver — where he grew up, where he began his career in journalism at the Vancouver Sun, and where his children and grandchildren still live. He loathed Toronto, though he lived here with his beloved Anne, the woman who made sure his last years were fun and interesting.

For about thirty years, he was feared and loved in about equal measure by his readers and by the victims of his wit. I remember eating lunch with him at the Chateau Laurier and watching in amazement as senior politicians, even those he had maligned in his columns, marched up to our table to engage him in lively discussions about the day’s topics in the House.

Allan and I became friends the first time we met at the old Four Seasons Hotel. He was shy and quiet (unlike his columns); I was very pregnant and very persuasive.

Malice in Blunderland or How the Grits Stole Christmas was the first Fotheringham bestseller Key Porter Books (the publishing house I co-founded) published. It launched us on a path of publishing books about Canadian politics, and it launched him into writing more books about politics, politicians, and life in high places. I think Allan was too busy to fully enjoy his successes. In addition to maintaining his position as king of the back page of Maclean’s, he wrote columns for Southam, later the Sun, and he was a panelist on Front Page Challenge, the CBC’s long-running television show. He travelled from one end of the country to the other, and when he was not in motion, he was commenting on the events of the day from Washington.
His lack of reverence for the country’s political class and the monikers he invented for them blew a gust of fresh air into the boardrooms and meeting rooms of the nation. It provided the rest of us with an opportunity to laugh at the pomposities that tended to characterize our leaders. There were “Jurassic Clark” and “Presto! Manning,” Brian: “the Jaw that Walked Like a Man,” and Jean, “the only man in Canada who can’t speak either of the two official languages.” There were the “Gliberals,” the “Regressive Convertibles,” and the “Few Democrats.”

In its 2011 congratulations to the City of Vancouver on its 125th birthday, The Globe and Mail listed the ten most influential people in its life. The list included both legendary money-maker Jimmy Pattison and Allan Fotheringham.

Malice in Blunderland began with “Someone, God knows, has to save the country,” and I was thinking about those words as I read about COVID-19 and the possibility of another election.

On August 19, my dear friend Allan Fotheringham joined the celestial press gallery where he will continue, I have no doubt, to make fun of pretentious denizens in spotless white robes. He left behind his quite extraordinary wife, Anne, who managed to hold a small but very affectionate birthday party for him — with cake, balloons, and funny cards — just a few days short of his 88th.

The country will miss him.