Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Feast of Furey


Chuck Furey’s name has been bandied about in recent weeks as a potential leader of the provincial Liberals.


His name was mentioned to me in mid-July during Mount Pearl City Days.


I wrote off the possibility of a Furey return to politics, assuming Yvonne Jones wasn’t going anywhere.


As recently as this past Friday morning (Sept. 12th) — hours before the close of nominations — Furey was expected to “get in the game.”


In the end, he didn’t.


In Aug. 2001 — 10 years ago this month — I wrote a feature for The Telegram on Furey’s “life after politics.”


HEADLINE: Out of the limelight

DECK: Life after politics: Chuck Furey enjoys “every second of every minute of every day”


“If you walk along the side of the road and see a starving dog and feed it, it will never bite you. That’s the principle difference between and dog and a man.”

— A Mark Twain quote in a letter from John Crosbie to Chuck Furey after Fury’s loss in the federal election of 2000.

•••

Chuck Furey rises from his bed every morning and heads to the bathroom to do his math.


He stares into the mirror, settling on the reflection of a man who’s impressed with whom he greets.


Nice teeth, thick hair, clear complexion — a politician’s prerequisites.


For character, a cleft chin.


His is a photograph that could come with the store-bought frame.


A host from a recently cancelled game show — remembered, but less and less.


Furey searches deeper, beyond the flesh and frame and into the substance he says he’s discovered, since his rejection.


It's there, within the inner sanctum he channels with a mirror, that Furey works out his equation.


He takes the average lifespan of the Canadian male, 75 years, and subtracts it from his age, 47.


The remainder — “if God’s kind” — is the length of time Furey has left to savour.


“Our only ability in life is to be happy.”


Furey’s time to go, 28 years, also happens to be one more than the age of his current girlfriend.


Furey describes life as too short, “limited and finite.”


He believes that most people live “quiet lives of desperation.”


He says he’s tried never to live that life, as a youngster growing up at Mount Cashel Orphanage, as a politician elected to a district he didn’t think would have him, as a cabinet minister with power to burn.


Furey was lost, desperately so, after last November’s federal general election.


The electorate of St. John’s West knifed his ambition, gutted his political identity with each vote cast against him.


Loyola Hearn claimed the seat for the Tories.


Furey had the gall to think he could win in a riding he had little connection with, against a Tory homeboy with the same brogue as the Cape Shore crowd he’s one of.


“I really believed I could do it,” says Furey, sitting at his kitchen table where he serves himself pea soup that his mother made.


There’s home-made bread to dip into it; margarine from a tub.


“It was a punch to a federal candidate right in the provincial face,” says Furey of his defeat.


He says voters didn’t reject him so much as the provincial government he came from.


Until then, Furey was on a roll, having won five straight elections in the provincial district of St. Barbe on the Northern Peninsula.


He has served as a cabinet minister for 12 years under Clyde Wells and Brian Tobin.


He was responsible, at various points, for tourism, industry, and mines and energy.


There were times when his office logged up to 100 messages for him an hour.


Faxes were whistling, feet moving, secretaries typing, cellphones squealing, e-mails arriving, appointments waiting, assistants tugging, smiles cracking, hands shaking ...


Then it stopped.


Everything was taken away.


And Furey found himself alone, in front of a mirror.


Turn to Page 2


HEADLINE: The man in the mirror

DECK: After a 15-year feast at the banquet table of provincial politics,

Chuck Furey reflects on the calorie-reduced died of private life


A picture of a bridge hangs above the fireplace in Chuck Furey’s living room.

He walks directly toward it and into a story about its purchase.

Furey attended university at St. Fancis Xavier in Nova Scotia with an American friend who vowed he’d be a millionaire by 30.

Indeed, the man, a green thumb with cash, made his mark on Wall Street.

Then, one day about seven years ago, the man went missing.

His staff knocked on the door of his apartment overlooking Central Park and banged it in when they heard a noise.

Furey’s friend was found sprawled on the foyer floor, dressed in a three-pieced suit, the cloths of his life.

He didn’t have a heart attack, his heart “exploded.”

The man carried two cellphones in his breast pockets.

Both were ringing, buzzing over a 40-year-old dead man.

“All I could think of were electronic insects crawling over his body,” says Furey.

He left his home for a walk after he heard the news, returning with a $5,000 print by Christopher Pratt of a concrete bridge.

It reminds Furey of when he was a child, drinking water from a river.

He remembers a bridge in Manuals that was only wide enough for one car at a time.

Another car was always waiting on the other side.

The picture is colorless, empty and bleak — the dawn of a late November morning.

“It’s sad,” says Furey.

“I bought it because it was sombre — the mood I was in.”

***

It was March 1985, 72 hours before election day in the provincial district of St. Barbe.


Furey wasn’t so much the Liberal candidate as the “name on the ballot.”


His bags were packed to return to Ottawa.


Furey worked there as chief of staff for then-west coast MP Brian Tobin.


Furey predicted his chances of winning the seat were slim to none.


Tobin was a gambler, convincing Furey to put his name on the ticket.


The two met in 1981 when Furey, a high-school English teacher living in Stephenville Crossing, approached him for airfare for 30 of his students to fly on an exchange program to British Columbia.


Tobin, with his thin moustache and “buddy-buddy” charm, arranged for tickets.


When Furey landed back home, his telephone was ringing.


Tobin was calling him to see how the trip went.


The call impressed Furey, and they went out for a “rum and coke.”


Tobin laid a job on the bar and Furey reached for it.


Twenty-eight at the time, Furey swears it was a hard choice to make.


He had plugged seven years into a teacher’s pension and was secure in the embrace of a preplanned future.


Furey’s wife, a music teacher, went with him to the nation’s capital, but didn’t stay long.


Furey slows on the topic of his divorce (he had married at 21 because he was “supposed to”), inching over it like a speed bump, then motors on.


In 1985, there was no one to run for the Liberals in St. Barbe.


Furey knew the district from the map of Tobin’s riding, but not much more.


He said he had his workers handshaked and hugged before the voted were counted.


Furey won by 14 votes.


There would be more luck to follow.


From his four years in Opposition, Furey remembers calling then-Tory premier Brian Peckford a liar (the reason is secondary), and getting kicked out of the House of Assembly for it.


It was quite an event for a rookie politician, topped off the next day with his refusing the Speaker’s request to apologize.


The Clyde Wells administration took power in 1989, and Furey was brought into cabinet as minister of economic development.


He was a member of cabinet’s planning committee, the inner circle or inner circles.


Furey had come a long way from Avondale, were he was born to a father remembered for the alcohol he consumed.


His mother left her husband with eight children in tow and turned for help to the “only place it was offered,” the Catholic Church.


The bothers of Mount Cashel looked after Furey’s diaper-changing when he was two years old.


He lived in the orphanage for 16 years, from 1956 to ’72, and says he never heard of any abuse.


Boys were hit, he knew that went on, but black-sleeved blows were accepted then.


Furey speaks of the church with respect. His older sister, Sister Rosalita, a nun with the Sisters of Mercy who raised her, died last year of cancer.

•••

Furey was travelling in his district of St. Barbe in February 1997 when he found out he won the 6-49 lottery.

He stood in the living room of a house in Port aux Choix, the home of a devout Pentecostal family, and swore for all he was worth.

“F— off,” he said into the telephone, not believing the person on the other end.

“You’re not f—ing serious.”

Furey and his then-commonlaw wife, the father of his only child, Michael, had won $2.5 million.

He had 10 meetings that day across his district and kept every one of them.

He remembers the end of the day, putting his feet up at the Ocean View Hotel in Rocky Harbour, drinking a tall “Lambs and coke” with crushed ice, watching the sun “burn its way into the harbour.”

In the middle of the night, at about 3 a.m., Furey jumped out of bed and burst open the patio doors of his second-floor room to the deck outside.

“I dreamt that someone has stole the ticket,” says Furey.

The next day he called up the Pentecostal family and apologized for his colourful language.

***

Furey’s all-time favourite politician in Ed Roberts, Joey Smallwood’s protégé and Clyde Wells' equal.


“He was the most cynical bastard I’ve ever met,” says Furey, who worked with Roberts, a lawyer and Rhodes Scholar, in Wells’ cabinet.


“Ed Roberts was also the best premier Newfoundland never had.”


Wells, too, impressed Furey, who describes the now Chief Justice of the Newfoundland Supreme Court of Appeal as brilliant for his time, a “gentle soul under reptilian exterior.”


Wells didn’t take “crap” from union leaders with their “megaphone diplomacy.”


Furey himself had little time for them, arguing the public has confused “loudness for intelligence.”


He describes certain union leaders (Elaine Price of the province’s Federation of Labour), as “Gucci socialists,” wearing the finest of clothes, residing in the nicest of homes.


“They’ve wandered from the socialist path.”


Furey has become something of an armchair critic, now that he’s free to speak his mind without fear of reprisal.


He’s wealthy, taking home a provincial pension and untold thousands more each year from his investments.


But Furey will only go so far.


He won’t reveal on the record the identity of his least favourite politician, some of whom are still in office.


He does say that ministers shouldn’t be appointed based solely on geography or gender.


Of Hearn, who defeated him in the run for St. John’s West, Furey says he pities the man.


He describes the federal Progressive Conservative Party as broken and refers to its leader Joe Clark, as “Joke Lark.”


Furey says Premier Roger Grimes has had a tough first six months of office, faced with the series of political tremours that followed February’s Liberal leadership race.


Furey says he supported Efford, a backing that wasn’t blatantly obvious.


Furey, a voting delegate at the leadership convention, was turned away when he arrived minutes after the registration desk’s noon deadline.


He said he had stopped on his way to the Glacier in Mount Pearl where the convention was held to start a fellow Liberal’s truck that had stalled in the blizzard.


Furey says that his vote, along with the support he could have swung Efford’s way, would have boosted Efford over the top.


“If I had got my credentials and got down to the floor, we could have brought 20 to 30 votes back over to Efford,” he said at the time.


“I don’t think it, I know it.”


As it turned out, Furey didn’t make it past the convention door.


Efford lost by 14 votes to Grimes on the second ballot.


Furey stands by his story, that he was behind Efford “all the way,” but his support for the former provincial Fisheries minister has wavered since.


“I didn’t realize how bitter John Efford was. I thought he was a bigger person.”


Furey, in his often over-the-top way, says that Efford should have “rallied to the Liberal flag,” jumped on the “Liberal train and run over the Tory machine,” or “gone quietly into the dark night.”


“It’s never easy to lose,” he says.


“Ask me, I lost.”

***

Furey lives on Forest Road in St. John’s, a street he walked as a Mount Cashel boy.

His older home is surrounded by other, older homes that are as expansive as they are expensive.

The paint on the clapboard is rich, the trees stately.

The character is of an earlier time, with hired hands to ensure it stays there.

The new wine cellar under the stairs in the basement is made of pine, and stained for a mahogany look.

The antique desk in the study to the left of the front vestibule holds a Smallwood bust.

There’s a bear-claw tub in the second floor bathroom.

His son, Michael, has his own room with bunk beds for friends who sleep over when he does.

Furey isn’t happy with the linoleum on the kitchen floor; he’s leaning lately toward ceramic tile.

He walks the trails around Signal Hill in the morning with his golden retriever, Kodi, and works out later at the YMCA.

He stations himself at his computer for a spell in the afternoon, but doesn’t have to do a tap.

“I chose not to let my brain go in the garbage can.”

Furey gives regularly to his “special” charities, although not so much since the market plunged.

He’s traded his Landrover for a silver Auddi.

“I’ve always loved German cars.”

***

Furey has lost 23 pounds since the general election and says the voters of St. John’s West may have saved his life.


He says there are too many sauces in a politician’s life, food dripping with calories and cholesterol.


Those meals ended soon after November’s election loss.


He has one regret, that he didn’t hold town meetings to say goodbye to the people of St. Barbe before he left them for a shot at being a federal star over St. John’s.


He didn’t make it and, for a long while after his defeat, felt a “lostness.”


Furey couldn’t adjust to the world outside the political bubble.


Since then, Furey has walked a personal pilgrimage across Spain, basked on the beaches of the Bahamas, and fly-fished on the Northern Peninsula.


He has slowly pulled himself from the quicksand that is politics and “meta-morphasized” into a new, more laid-back Furey who reads two books at a time and cooks spicy foods that go down well with wine.


It took a shove to get Furey moving.


A friend who he hadn’t seen in years telephoned Furey out of the blue to say he had seen him on television.


“He said I looked like a fat slob,” say Furey.


It was then that he looked in the mirror.


The above feature was nominated for the 2001 Atlantic Journalism Award for feature writing.


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