As a journalist, I kept a close eye on Brian Tobin, the politician.
He had his share of positive press, no doubt. Reporters, male and female, practically swooned over him, and some, I imagined, even swore to never wipe Tobin’s spittle from their mikes.
Someone in the media had to be critical.
From the amount of public money that federal Fisheries minister Tobin spent on new Ottawa office furniture, to the salary of the chauffeur who drove premier Tobin around Town, the copy practically wrote itself.
At one point, after I had written a particularly stinging article for The Evening Telegram about how the then-premier and his cabinet had cruised to Labrador aboard a Canadian Coast Guard ship, feasting on filet mignon and lobster tails, Tobin went on CBC’s Fisheries Broadcast to call me a “fake” journalist.
We had our moments.
Another evening, after a few exhausting weeks on the provincial election trail, Tobin and I had a late-night drink at a George Street bar.
Tobin was fond of cigars and offered me one. I didn’t smoke cigars at the time, but I accepted, curious to see what Tobin was like one-on-one; the person behind the politician.
Make no mistake, I liked the guy, personality plus, although he almost lost it when I casually dropped the cigar to the floor and crushed it. (The cigar, I later learned, cost almost as much as my shoes.)
Tobin had a way with people, a movie-star effect.
Little old outport ladies blushed brighter than schoolgirls when he surprised them in their kitchens, campaign bus idling outside. Construction workers were mightily impressed when he scampered up a scaffold in dress pants and shoes. Mall rats were smitten when he walked by and bummed a French fry. (He had them at ‘Hey b’y.’)
As for his political legacy, federally and provincially, that’s a whole other blog post, and the least of his worries as of late.
There are rare occasions when politics must be put to the side.
Tobin has been in the news in recent weeks after his son Jack was charged with several offences in the death of his long-time friend, Alex Zolpis, following an accident in an Ottawa parking garage on Christmas Eve.
Leaving the court with his son, Tobin told the TV cameras he and the family were devastated, and he looked it. Jodean, his wife, wept openly.
I remember sitting with Jodean on an election bus years ago, drifting from one campaign stop to the next.
We talked about our children, how we were both fond of simple but strong names.
She mentioned Jack, her youngest. Her love and pride were obvious.
The day after the 1999 election campaign, Tobin, who won a second term by a landslide, granted me a wrap-up interview in his 8th-floor Confederation Building office.
When it was done he went to an office closet and retrieved a copy of Wayne Johnston’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, which he had read and raved about, and wrote the following inscription:
(the day after)
When you are older you’ll realize that only the politics of Nfld and Lab could keep your Dad away for a few weeks. My apologies.
I would never accept a gift from a politician, Tobin knew that (I had returned a cartoon of cigarettes in the past), but the book was for my son, and I couldn't say no.
We were parents first and foremost.
From one father to another, take care of yourself and your family Mr. Tobin.