The sudden death this weekend of Earl McRae, an award-winning columnist and author, gives us the opportunity to recall his contribution to Canadian magazine journalism -- namely his superlative profiles, mostly published in the weekend supplement The Canadian. He died of a massive heart attack in the newsroom of the Ottawa Sun, where he had lately been a columnist. He was 69.
Roy McGregor, the columnist and author, who worked with McRae at The Canadian starting in 1975, is quoted in a Star article as saying that McRae was the funniest person you'd ever meet. I can attest to this from my experience at the Toronto Star. Nothing he liked better than holding a whole table, or a newsroom, in thrall with a complicated, hilarious story, replete with physical impersonations. He described himself as "a lippy little shin-kicker".
McRae was nominated nine times for National Magazine Awards for sportswriting and won two gold medals for articles in The Canadian. He wrote two books based on his magazine profiles: A Requiem for Reggie; and The Victors and the Vanquished. The 1975 profile of Reggie Fleming in The Canadian was described by Stan Fischler, the dean of hockey writers, as "the best hockey story ever written." It's particularly apt in light of current controversy over fighting in the NHL. The article was reprinted by the Ottawa Sun at the time of Fleming's death in 2009 and it's well worth rereading, both as an example of what magazine profiles can be and as a recollection of what we've lost with McRae's death.
[Photo (2006): Pat McGrath, Ottawa Citizen]