Camp, Dalton (Obituary)
Dalton CAMP's preferred seat at DJ Purdy's in Fredericton's Sheraton hotel was nestled in the back, off to one side on a raised platform and hidden in the shadows. From this well-chosen perch, Camp could see everyone in the bar. Sipping wine (Italian, Masi, red, please), he watched from under heavy eyelids as political bigwigs and business heavyweights hobnobbed over steak and fries. It was from this seat - an old, cracked-leather chair with nice fat arms - that Camp would receive visitors and dispense advice. And it was in this seat, under a small brass plaque on the wall that reads "Camp's Corner," that he suffered a stroke on Feb. 13.
Dalton Camp - Red Tory, columnist, the man who convinced Bobby Kennedy to speak at a University of New Brunswick convocation and then stole his handwritten notes to frame and hang in his Cambridge-Narrows, N.B. home - died on March 18. Tributes have described him as a fountain of knowledge, an excellent writer and a part of Canadian history. Born in Woodstock, N.B., in 1920, raised partially in the United States, he brought down Diefenbaker - and changed party democracy by forcing leaders to be accountable to their rank-and-file. He abhorred the war in Afghanistan and loved the idiosyncrasies of his home province. But above all, he was a champion of those who chose journalism as a profession.
When I first met him, Camp seemed unapproachable. A graduate of three universities - New Brunswick, Columbia and the London School of Economics - he was a Player. He knew prime ministers and premiers, award-winning writers and the who's who of business. More intimidating, he knew their secrets. I was working at the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, two years into the job and all too aware of how much I didn't know. Camp, whose column appeared in the paper, barrelled into our cramped Fredericton office one day looking for a free copy. Before I could even stutter a greeting, he swept me into a conversation and, within minutes, I wanted to tell him everything. He had that effect. He read the papers voraciously and knew which stories we younger reporters worked on. He put us at ease and made us feel like part of an elite gang.
Jamie Irving, whose family owns the newspapers in New Brunswick (and indeed most of the other important bits), became a project of sorts for Camp. Where most were skeptical of Irving entering the profession, Camp recognized a true interest. "I ran into a lot of opposition from journalists and family," says Irving. "I just got support from Camp, which meant a lot." Right until the end, Camp regaled Irving with tales from his youth and badgered him with story ideas. The last time they met, a week before Camp's death, they talked about Irving's new position as publisher of the Kings County Record, a small weekly in the area known as the Bible belt of the province. "He said, 'Go out and find how many dirty magazines were sold in Sussex last week, then find out how many Bibles. Put it on the front page,' " Irving recalls. "He laughed to kill himself."
At Purdy's, we would sit at his table - young, eager, trying-hard-to-be-cynical reporters - boasting of scoops or telling woeful tales of heavy-handed editors. He listened, with endless patience, talked - and influenced. Shelley Myshrall, a waiter at Purdy's, got to know him while serving his drinks. Camp's passion, intelligence and irreverence spurred Myshrall's decision to go into journalism. On her final night at Purdy's before leaving for journalism school in Calgary, Camp handed her a $150 tip and his e-mail address, extending an offer of help should she ever need it.
Many turned to him - there were few in the province with his institutional memory of politics. Camp was regularly hounded by green reporters. And regardless of the time, the writer or the story, he always called back before deadline, giving great quotes and explaining everything without condescension. He will be remembered as many things - backroom strategist, power-broker, columnist. But as part of a lucky group of New Brunswick journalists, I will remember him as a supporter, a cheerleader and a comforting presence in the sometimes nasty business of news. We were in Camp's Corner - and he was in ours.
Maclean's April 1, 2002