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A telling-off that proved thrilling

Peeved subject proved to be model gentleman

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The aspects of the story Irvin Goodon was displeased with were those that are most admirable about him.

BILL REDEKOP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

The aspects of the story Irvin Goodon was displeased with were those that are most admirable about him. Photo Store

Asking me to pick a favourite story for the year is like asking a parent to pick a favourite child.

Actually, our year-end assignment was to write about a story that touched us. But I don't usually go into situations where emotions are charged, like by a death or rescue or serious illness. Reflection has usually set in by the time I arrive.

For example, one of my most moving stories was visiting Fort Prince of Wales in Churchill this summer. The fort was started in 1731 and made out of a northern granite called greywacke. Visiting the fort was like looking into the eyes of a 300-year-old man who lived in the harshest conditions on the most desolate place on Earth. Even so, there was 300 years distance between that man and myself.

But perhaps my most moving story in 2013 was writing about Irvin Goodon. Goodon is a Métis man who went from living in a home with a dirt floor in the backwoods of the Turtle Mountains to becoming a self-made millionaire businessman in Boissevain.

That was remarkable enough. But what I found interesting about Goodon is how put-downs and acts of racism, particularly in the 1950s when it was the norm, had motivated him. It compelled him to show people they were wrong. It was a big part of what drove him to be successful in business.

By coincidence, within days of the story running, I happened to be staying in one of the hotels Goodon owns, the Wilderness Inn in Boissevain. I got a call at 8:30 a.m. in my hotel room. Irvin wanted to see me, the person on the phone said.

Now Irvin, I know the last thing in the world you would have wanted is for me to write about you again. So I apologize in advance. But hear me out.

So I padded the carpeted hallway to the dining room to meet him, dread building inside me. Goodon talks in a very soft, low voice so you have to strain to hear him. He grimaced and said he didn't like the story. He explained several things he didn't like.

It would be unfair of me to divulge much of what he said and whether or not I agreed with it; for the most part, I didn't. One thing I can say for the edification of readers is reporters don't write headlines. But my experience with being told off, and I'm a wise old veteran of it by now, is people don't usually want to hear what you have to say. They just want to say their piece.

What I think I can reveal is Irvin was unhappy with the very thing I had admired about him: how people's smirks and sly words had burned inside him; how the people who looked down on him had only served to motivate him. He didn't blame me for including that in the story, admitting he had said those things. But he didn't like the way it looked when it came out in the paper. It made him look "too combative," he said.

Yes, combative, that was the word. That was also a word that would probably describe my late father at times. Perhaps that's why I had taken a liking to Goodon. Perhaps it's also a word that would describe me at times, although I'm probably not the best judge of that.

Do I motivate myself from slights and rejection? Absolutely! Would I say publicly it's some higher cause, like truth or justice, that motivates me? Of course. We're all bloody liars. So when I profiled Goodon, I thought, here was someone who called us all out on that. Here was someone with the courage to admit what often truly motivates us is knowing others want us to fail.

Then he stood up, shook my hand and headed off to attend to some business in the hotel.

Boissevain is a small enough town that you can walk everywhere, and I headed out to my next assignment on foot, into the cool, morning air. I could still feel emotion in my chest. It sat like a bag of wet sand at the bottom of my rib cage. It hadn't been my intention to cause him grief.

But at the same time, I felt strangely exhilarated. I'd never been told off so nicely before. It was the most courteous and respectful telling-off I'd ever experienced in my life. It had been done so gentlemanly. Then he shook my hand!

And, in a way, all the admiration I'd felt for him beforehand seemed trivial compared with what I felt now. I felt a deeper, almost inexpressible respect.

Because he'd surely known many snubs and insults over his lifetime. But here, when he had a chance, he did not perpetuate them. He had broken the chain.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2013 0

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