Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Insiders tell their Doer stories

Little difference between the man and the renowned political success

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Gary Doer was doing something familiar in an unfamiliar place Friday.

He was facing a scrum of reporters on Parliament Hill, but this time as Canada's ambassador-designate to the United States, not as premier of Manitoba.

When explaining how the federal government had to do its due diligence and check his background before announcing his appointment, Doer said they had to determine: "What kind of guy am I?"

I suppose most Manitobans already have their own answer, at least about Doer the politician.

To me, Doer the politician and Doer the person were indistinguishable.

Just for fun, though, I posed the question in a different way to people who had a closer look than most.

"What's your favourite Gary Doer story?"

 

"ö "ö "ö

DAVID ASPER (corporate executive/law professor) on Doer as the leader of the party

When the Bombers played in the 2001 Grey Cup in Ottawa, David felt they should take the premier out for a "fancy" dinner. David asked a big Bomber eater, centre Mike Sutherland, for a recommendation. "On Mike's advice we wound up at an Italian place that was about one-quarter the size of the premier's office and decorated... well, it actually wasn't decorated. The menu consisted basically of spaghetti either on a big plate or a small plate, and I think the wine was being made in the back, seconds before it was being poured. I was mortified. However, our fearless premier brought out his jovial self and led us merrily into what turned into a fun night."

Oh yes, Gary Doer was a gifted party leader.

 

PETER GINAKES (restaurateur) on Doer as leader of the party again

Peter, who's my wife's cousin, loves to talk about the time Doer hustled Jean Chrétien away from a scheduled lunch at a downtown hotel and walked him up St. Mary Avenue to the Pony Corral. Doer wanted to give the prime minister a taste of the place where the premier often went for an after-work pint. "There was no room," Peter said. He ended up finding a place in the back corner of a backroom where they had chili burgers and Fort Garry beer.

By the way, Doer often did a great Chrétien impression over a beer at the Pony. Somehow I doubt he did it over that beer at that lunch.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

JACK FARR (retired radio host and Doer pal)

Doer has scads of pals from way back with whom he still golfs and fishes, but one of his favourite characters is Jack "Fighter" Farr, who met Doer over a beer at the Union Centre nearly three decades ago. Now they're neighbours at Laclu in northwestern Ontario. One day, knowing Doer is an excellent swimmer, Jack challenged: 'I bet you can't swim across the lake.' " It's about a mile-and-a-half.

The bet was set. If Doer didn't make it, he would pay Jack $50. If he did, Jack would have to take out an NDP membership card.

"The next day he went out and swam it with ease," Jack said. "And I joined up."

But he only had to do it for a year.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

ATHINA PANOPOULOS (sales executive/my wife) on Doer the happy person

One night, Athina and I chanced to meet Doer at the Noir bistro in Osborne Village. It was early summer of 2007, just after he had won a third term and Doer was already scouting new talent for the next election. He told Athina she should run for the NDP. It was in a safe Tory riding, mind you, but she was flattered, of course. But what she remembers even more fondly is how Doer responded when she asked how he was doing.

"He said, 'I'm living the dream.' "

That was only a few months before the prime minister and the premier shared a plane ride to Churchill and the door was opened to Doer becoming Canada's ambassador to the United States.

 

KEN GIGLIOTTI (photojournalist) on Doer the photographer's dream and wood chopper

Ken suggested that unlike most politicians, Gary Doer was always ready for his close-up. He was a natural, who exuded energy and knew how to pose even when shaking hands. But something else separated him from the rest. "He was absolutely fearless of a camera," Ken said. He recalled being on a trip to northern Manitoba where an aboriginal keeper of a sacred fire asked the premier to split a piece of wood. "It had to be the greenest, most twisted piece of wood because there was no way it would be split." Doer's media handlers, sensing a photo op gone horribly wrong, wanted to put an end to it. "He said, 'They can't control me.' And he finally split that piece of wood. It wasn't going to beat him."

 

"ö "ö "ö

Before I began preparing this tribute, I told my colleague Ken Gigliotti that it felt like writing an obituary.

"It is," Ken said. "But now he's gone to heaven."

I'm not sure Washington, D.C. is so heavenly, but the job description is a perfect fit, at a perfect time for him.

Gary Doer has a rare package of gifts, as these stories and his political record suggest. He gave them to us for a decade or even more. Now it's the rest of North America's turn.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2009 B1

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