“Maverick Publisher: J. Patrick O’Callaghan; A Life in Newspapers” is the culmination of a labour of love for Pat’s widow, Joan O’Callaghan, a founding member of the Mesdames of Mayhem. Lynne Murphy talked to Joan about her work on the memoir and Pat O’Callaghan’s life.
The launch will be held on November 26th from 7 to 9 p.m.at Owl’s Nest Books, 815A 49th Avenue, S.W., Calgary, Alberta.
L.M.: First I want to ask about the title. Why the term “maverick”?
Joan: We took the title from a comment by Brian Brennan, a former Calgary Herald journalist, on his blog. He described Pat as a “maverick publisher.” Editor of the book, and former employee of Pat’s at the Windsor Star, Ed Piwowarczyk, thought it was an apt title and I agreed. Pat did not run with the herd. He lived and breathed newspapering and did not hesitate to stand up to government, Southam head office, or anyone whom he felt placed obstacles in the way of an effective and free press. He was something of a pioneer. He was one of the first to appoint women, outside of family-owned newspapers, to senior editorial posts (The Sun used to refer to the “girls who ran the Herald”) and was the first in Canada to convert a large auditorium in the Herald building to a daycare centre for the children of Herald employees. This did not endear him to other publishers who found themselves lobbied by their own employees to follow suit. He also broke the sex-barrier at the Petroleum Club in Calgary, which prior to this, did not accept women as members.
L.M.: Pat was born in Ireland. What brought him to Canada?
Joan: Pat was born in Ireland but grew up in England. He was working at the Liverpool Daily Post when it bought the Red Deer Advocate in 1958. Pat was sent to Red Deer in 1959 as Managing Editor to turn the paper from a weekly to a daily. But before going to Red Deer, he spent six months at the Peterborough Examiner learning about the Canadian newspaper industry. He worked for Robertson Davies!
L.M.: He worked on a number of Canadian newspapers before ending his career at the Calgary Herald.
Joan: Yes, after Red Deer, he went to the Edmonton Journal as Assistant to the Publisher, later to the Windsor Star as Publisher, back to the Edmonton Journal as Publisher, and then to the Calgary Herald as Publisher.
L.M.: Mme. Rosemary McCracken, who was a reporter on the Calgary Herald during Pat’s time there, says he was the best publisher she ever worked for. What made him so good at his job?
Joan: A combination of factors, I’d say. First of all he was a working journalist. Exactly four weeks before he died, he wrote an article that was published in the Globe and Mail. He was one of the last publishers to come up through the editorial stream so he knew what constituted a good newspaper and insisted on putting out as good a product as humanly possible. His battles with Southam’s head office over new presses for the Edmonton Journal nearly cost him his health, but in the end he got them. Reporters and editors respected him for his talent, his skill, and most of all his integrity. Second, he believed in his staff and supported them wholeheartedly but at the same time he wouldn’t put up with nonsense. There was a reporter at the Herald who was just obnoxious – as an example, he had a habit of driving staff cars out onto the prairie until they ran out of gas, then calling the paper, cursing and swearing until someone drove out to get him. Pat fired him.
L.M.: I understand a number of members of the Mesdames have helped you with getting the memoir ready for publication.
Joan: The Mesdames have all been wonderfully supportive and cheering me on. I have to give credit to Rosemary McCracken. I don’t think this day would have come without her invaluable advice, support and encouragement. And I have mentioned Ed Piwowarczyk, and of course, Carrick Publishing.
L.M.: As Pat’s widow, was it difficult for you working on his memoir?
Joan: Actually, no. To the contrary, I enjoyed it. Pat wrote the memoirs with a light touch and a conversational tone. When I sat down at the computer to work on the book, it felt like I was having a visit with him, that he was sitting next to me, telling me his stories. It was very comforting – so much so that once I have the actual print copy in hand, I intend to put it at my bedside where I can dip into it.
L.M.: You are a writer too. What influence has Pat had on your work?
Joan: Pat was wonderfully encouraging! When Scholastic Canada sent me the contract for my first book, Amazing Days, he ran around the house shouting, “Author! Author!” When Scholastic told me that they wanted the manuscript for the second book submitted on disk (this was the mid-nineties), he went out and bought me what was then a state-of-the art computer. He would get excited when we saw my books displayed prominently in bookstores or when Scholastic’s clipping service sent me reviews. I could not have asked for a more wonderful life partner. He made me believe that I could be whatever I wanted to be!
L.M.: Thank you, Joan. We look forward to reading Pat’s memoir.