I last saw Bob Reguly just under a year ago at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show. He had been ill, his ticker giving him grief, and he’d lost a considerable amount of weight. He was so thin, in fact, I almost didn’t recognize him. But once we got talking, there was no doubt he was otherwise his same old self: opinionated, self-assured and on the trail of the next big story. At the time, Bob wanted to write a piece for Outdoor Canada about how Ontario Hydro had used Agent Orange as a defoliant in northern Ontario back in the early 1950s through to 1972. How did he know? He’d dug up some old agriculture ministry reports.
We tossed the idea back and forth over the weeks that followed, with me wanting to learn more about whether the defoliant’s harmful effects remained, particularly for anglers and hunters who routinely enter Ontario’s northern hinterland each year. In the end, nothing came of Bob’s pitch; I got busy and, unbeknown to me, he got sick again. Then, just this February, stories about Ontario’s spraying of Agent Orange broke in the mainstream press. Bob was right, again. And well ahead of the pack.
I was planning to call Bob up and invite him out for some humble pie, but that won’t be happening now. Last Thursday, he passed away after his heart finally failed, “remaining courageous and optimistic to the end,” according to his obituary in the Globe and Mail. This morning, I spoke with his son, Eric Reguly, the Globe’s European correspondent. Apparently, Bob had been in a bad way since last October, in and out of hospital, slowly losing his battle with heart disease. “At least he died peacefully at home,” says Eric. That’s one small comfort, and an exit befitting a man who’d led quite the life throughout his 80 years on the planet.
His many accomplishments as a scandal-breaking journo are legendary, especially during his tenure as an investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. He’s perhaps best known in media circles for finding Gerda Munsinger, the alleged East German spy whose affairs with two Diefenbaker-era cabinet ministers led to her deportation in 1961. When the affairs finally became public in 1966, Ottawa claimed Munsinger had died of leukemia years earlier. Bob clearly had a nose for cover-ups: he found the woman alive and well in Munich, West Germany. That scoop earned him one of his three career National Newspaper Awards.
The story goes that when Bob was a University of Western Ontario student, he moonlighted as a stunt parachute jumper to earn beer money, only to later become a firefighting smokejumper in Saskatchewan. With those kind of stones, it’s not surprising he would go on to become a foreign correspondent, starring down barrels in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. But I do think it was Bob’s tenacity as an investigative report that truly set him apart.
One of his pieces for Outdoor Canada, for example, exposed the money trail and political pandering that resulted in Ontario’s much-maligned cancellation of the spring bear hunt back in 1999. For that story, he was rewarded with two National Magazine Award nominations, in the categories of politics and investigative reporting.
Not that Bob was without his warts. His assertiveness could sometimes be unsettling, albeit usually over e-mail rather than in person, and he wasn’t afraid to offer unsolicited criticism if he thought your journalism wasn’t up to snuff (yes, he dissed me a few times for my alleged lack of news sense). And his otherwise stellar career bears one unfortunate black mark: his shared byline on a 1981 Toronto Sun piece about corruption on the part of then federal cabinet minister John Munro. The allegation ultimately proved false, invented by Bob’s co-author on the story. Bob did the right thing, though, and resigned, effectively ending his illustrious run as a newspaper journalist.
Looking back, the Toronto Sun affair seems so petty in the big scheme of things. It certainly didn’t preclude me from including Bob as one of Outdoor Canada’s field editors. Indeed, it was an honour to have worked with one of the greats of Canadian newspaper journalism—even when we didn’t always see eye to eye. Thank you, Bob. May there be scandals aplenty to uncover in the great beyond.
Bob’s funeral and a celebration of his life will be held at 2:30pm on Sunday, March 6, at the Pine Hills Cemetery, 625 Birchmount Road, north of St. Clair Aveune East, Scarborough, Ontario. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care, Mount Sinai, www.tlcpc.org, or the Schulich Heart Centre’s Structural Heart Program at Sunnybrook, www.sunnybrook.ca.