Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Legendary writer influenced newspaper career

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This is a storyteller's story.

A Free Press storyteller's story.

Gerald Flood shared it Tuesday evening with those he had worked with over his 33 years at the Free Press, a career crowned with his role as editor of the newspaper's storied editorial pages.

The occasion was a retirement party.

A "mugging," as it's known in the business, where departing colleagues are given engraved vessels meant to be hoisted with good cheer.

As it turned out, it was a farewell Gerald would share with another Free Press storyteller who, as best I can recall, wasn't "mugged" when he disappeared from our pages 30 years ago.

An enigmatic man who, in his day, looked like a cross between a beatnik and a GQ model, and whose flare with a feature once moved author Peter C. Newman to anoint him "Winnipeg's most literate journalist."

His name is Ted Allan.

Why did Gerald choose to share his night with a legendary writer he only briefly shared a Free Press newsroom with in the early 1980s, but never met? Well, Gerald got around to explaining that. But first...

"I want to tell you a story," Gerald said. It was about how he got his first job in newspapers; delivering them as an 11-year-old for the Winnipeg Tribune. The route had nine papers.

Even as a child, he said he knew the Free Press was a better paper because it had twice as many readers.

"So I determined then," Gerald recalled, "that I was going to become part of the Free Press."

A couple of years later he got a Free Press route in the same area that had 65 papers. But it was a fateful event that happened when he was 11 that hooked him on his route in life -- the one that would take him to the Free Press newsroom. As kids, he and his sister had roles on a CBC radio show called Sunday School of the Air. Going to the CBC and seeing the newsroom, with all the smart people putting together stories, had a life-altering impact.

"It was magical. And right there, this 11-year-old kid found out that media was where he wanted to be. And the Free Press was the biggest and best media in Manitoba."

Even though Gerald knew that's where he wanted to be, he didn't take the direct path. Bored in high school, he dropped out three times before finally finishing his degree at summer school and later graduating from the University of Manitoba with an honours BA. He was finally hired at the Free Press in 1981, but even then he took the backroads to get there.

He hadn't been to journalism school.

He learned about the business by reading the Free Press while working at weeklies in The Pas, Dryden and at the Brandon Sun.

"And mostly when I was reading the Winnipeg Free Press, if I saw this name, Ted Allan, I would read it. It wouldn't matter what it was about, if it said Ted Allan I would read it. He was just this terrific writer."

That's all he would ever know about Ted Allan. That and what people told Gerald about him.

"That Ted Allan was sort of an odd character, kind of deadline-averse. But he could come in and bang out a great read on deadline."

Gerald said he only had one ambition when he arrived at the Free Press, and it wasn't being like Woodward or Bernstein.

"I thought, 'What would it be like to be like Ted Allan?' And that was what I always tried to do."

To be what he was, not who he was.

Along the way, Gerald would be nominated for two National Newspaper Awards, be dispatched to write as an eyewitness to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and travel the world and the country writing story after story after story. Trying to be like Ted Allan, he told his audience, "has been really good to me."

"And now I'm retired," he said.

Happily, it seems.

I think that's because he hasn't given up writing. Gerald's work will continue to appear periodically in the Free Press. And he can continue to do what he's always done: be like the legend who inspired him.

"End of story," Gerald said.

Not quite. Because Gerald's story is an inspiration in itself. It reminds me that even at a time when the traditional role newspapers and big media in general play is being challenged by change, there are two constants. The need to tell stories in big media ways. And the need for young storytellers to be like Ted Allan.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2014 A2

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