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Peter Worthington: The Immortal Times’ gain, our great loss

By Mike Strobel, Toronto Sun

Doug Creighton and Peter Worthington.

Doug Creighton and Peter Worthington.

Through the Pearly Gates, take a right, into the newsroom of the Immortal Times.

Typewriters clatter, wire machines chatter, tobacco smoke gathers, papers fly, tough men — Creighton, Gross, Rimstead, MacFarlane — yell “copy!” Internet? Web? Wazzat? To catch fish?

Today, the jangle and din is edged with excitement. The Immortal Times editors’ best reporter just showed up for his first shift.

Their biggest s--- disturber, too. Look at him. This may be heaven, but that’s a most devilish glint in his eye.

Also, their sanest commentator. As you know, heaven is populated mostly with conservatives and Peter Worthington was one, but not as zealous or dogmatic as many columnists left or right. Mostly he preached whatever was fair and sensible.

And smart? A mobile Encyclopedia Britannica, this guy. I was editor of the Sun when the Balkans exploded in the 1990s and, since I’d never even heard of Herzegovina, I phoned Peter for help. In an hour, off the top of his head, he filed a spread explaining who hated whom over there, and why. His mind cut like a diamond, right up to the end.

The Immortal Times’ gain, our great loss.

Frankly, I thought he’d never die, though he had more stitches than a throw pillow.

I’m a grizzled newshound, but it seems I was barely out of diapers when I first spied that wonderful, leathery old man floating across the newsroom, with that mischievous spark, the fierce brows and that wry “I know what you’re up to, buster” grimace.

Part smile, part scowl. Oh, the stories behind that fiery mug. Larger than life? They didn’t make life big enough for a Peter Worthington.

They say he was 86, but I just did the math and he was 140 if he was a day. There was so much to cram in.

Worthington never met a war, invasion, coup or revolution he didn’t like, popping up like a brainy Forrest Gump in the major moments of our time.

Find a copy of his memoir, written in 1984, in his prime. You will either march straight down to journalism school and sign up, or you will go pale with fright and pass out.

The book is called Looking For Trouble. Was he ever. And did he ever find it.

He craved it, like others crave a drug or a vice, even before his newspaper days.

“I was depressed when the war ended,” he wrote of his stint in battle. No, not the War of 1812, silly. Korea. He was a platoon commander and, if I’m not mistaken, singlehandedly halted the advance of the Communist Chinese army.

But how do you feed your habit when the bullets stop whizzing by your head. Some people jump out of airplanes — actually he did that, too — and Worthington went newspapering.

He was in that Dallas garage for the Toronto Telegram, the Sun’s pappy, when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald who shot JFK. You can spot Peter in some of the grainy old photos, the wry grimace a little tighter than usual.

There’s Peter in every deadly corner, hot spot and fly-bitten crossroads of the world, tete-a-tete with the population of history texts, from King Hussein to Schweitzer to Nasser to the Dalai Lama to Chiang Kai-shek.

He filed from Afghanistan in his 70s.

How he found time to help launch this newspaper is beyond me.

Ronald Reagan got credit for bringing down the Soviet Union, but really it was Peter, who opened the first Canadian newspaper bureau in Moscow just to drive the Kremlin nuts.

A free world fox among the Commie chickens, our man Peter. “Cold Warrior!” the state newspaper Pravda called him. “Bloodhound Worthington!”

If you’ve ever read Worthington, on any subject, you know Pravda, for once, spoke the truth.

Son of a gun, he outlived the Soviet Union by two decades.

The Commies never stood a chance.

Read all about it in the Immortal Times.

Strobel’s column runs Wednesday to Friday, and Sunday. mike.strobel@sunmedia.ca, 416-947-2265 or twitter.com/strobelsun


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