The editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail is on his hands and knees in the boardroom. His navy suit wrinkles as his tie dangles down toward the herringbone rug. We trade glances. Mine is a look of bewilderment, his a look of mock fright. Suddenly, he ducks his head under the edge of the table and then peers back over the top, blue eyes wide behind round plastic frames.
Technically speaking, it’s late October and we’re at 444 Front Street West in downtown Toronto, home of theGlobe. In the story Edward Greenspon is reenacting, however, it’s December 1989 and he’s in front of the Romanian parliament buildings, hiding from sniper fire. Concealed behind a short stone wall, he’s listening to another journalist talk about his troubled family life. The man lives in Italy and sees his children once a year at Christmas time. Or, at least, he would see them if he weren’t busy ducking bullets in Romania. Instead, the kids are stuck with his second wife, whom they despise. Greenspon’s own wife is spending the holiday season alone in London, six months pregnant with their first child. Broken homes are standard issue for war correspondents and Greenspon is starting to see why. “This is not the kind of life I want to have with my family,” he thinks to himself, gunshots punctuating each word.
Greenspon tells stories with more gusto than you’d expect from a man who grew up at the old, grey Globe. Whether he’s sprinting across the lobby?as he was when I first met him?or acting out stories on the boardroom floor, he’s hard to keep up with. No wonder he calls himself an “activist editor.”
To say that 2002 was a pretty good year for Greenspon would be like saying he’s written a modest number of articles over the years. At time of publication, Greenspon had more than 2,200 Globe bylines to his credit. The year began with the news that he was being honoured with the Hyman Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy Journalism. Soon afterward, he was promoted to editor-in-chief of the Globe, arguably the country’s most influential newspaper. After 16 years of paying his dues?doing everything from foreign business reporting to launching globeandmail.com?he was ready for the big desk. Newsroom staffers were relieved by the appointment. Greenspon was an insider and, thus, a welcome change from his predecessor. He was an experienced journalist with a passion for politics, beat reporting, and scoops. He told staffers that he could take the paper from good to great. Two questions remained, though:
Would he? And how would the Globe change as a result of his attempts?
It’s October 23, 2002, and the Maryland sniper case is at itsclimax. Yesterday afternoon, the police went public with the sniper’s threat to harm children. Today, it’s what everyone’s talking about.
Greenspon himself has three children. Framed pictures of them, blond and smiling, clutter almost every flat surface in his office. This morning, however, he’s not looking at the pictures. Several newspapers lay spread out on a table: the Toronto Star, the National Post, and the Globe. His eyes dart from paper to paper and then to me.
“So what do you think?” he asks.
I tell him I like the Globe‘s cover shot. It’s a picture of a girl being walked to school by a police officer, snapped from behind. The cop is stiff-limbed and sombre. The girl looks almost relaxed in comparison, her jacket dangling casually from one hand. The Post and the Star have made Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay’s resignation the top story instead. “I was surprised, quite frankly,” Greenspon tells me. “I think the other papers played it wrong.” As a parent, he knew which story would grab readers most.
At about 10:20 a.m., he opens the daily editorial meeting. “We were the only people that got it right today,” he tells the section editors proudly. “I feel like Margaret Thatcher.”
Some colleagues call Greenspon a control freak. Others just say he sets extremely high standards for himself and for others. He comes into each editorial meeting with notes scrawled on his copy of the day’sGlobe, ready to dissect what went right and what went wrong. According to Darrell Bricker, Greenspon’s co-author of Searching for Certainty: Inside the New Canadian Mindset, published in 2001, Greenspon is an honours graduate of Guilt Trip U. “If he felt I didn’t keep a commitment to do something, it was like talking to your old Jewish grandmother,” he says. “He would make you feel terrible that you let him down.” As Bricker puts it, Greenspon doesn’t get angry; he gets disappointed.
Deputy editor Sylvia Stead says that in the 15 years she’s known Greenspon, she’s never seen him angry. When asked if she’s seen the Jewish grandmother emerge, she laughs and says no. “People think so much of him and his judgement that he doesn’t even need to do that,” she says. “You feel disappointed in yourself if you have let him down.”
In today’s editorial meeting, however, there’s no cause for concern. The mood in the boardroom is relaxed and collegial, which Stead says is typical. The editors joke with each other, and Greenspon gets in a few good cracks. When someone suggests running a story about ring jewels made from loved ones’ ashes, he quips: “You could have your husband wrapped around your finger?in life and in death.” Although Greenspon is clearly directing the meeting, he takes the time to ask section editors for their thoughts. In his mind, every story boils down to a single question: What’s really going on? He wants the story behind the story.
On his second day as editor, Greenspon delivered a town hall speech laying out his vision for the paper. A peek at his script reveals Coles Notes that go something like this: We’re kicking the Post‘s ass, but the war isn’t over. Don’t mistake my appointment as a return to the “good old days” where newsroom anarchy and 30-inch stories reigned supreme. Space won’t magically reappear, but you will get it if your story merits it. Delivering original news copy is our top priority. I believe in beat reporting, scoops, and providing a truly national voice. I know you’re ticked off about the top-down communication around here, so I’m moving the daily story meeting from 9 a.m. to 10:15.That way, you can pitch ideas to your assigning editor before the day’s priorities are set. I plan on sticking around for a long time, so let’s take this paper from good to great, shall we?
During our interview, Greenspon adds more specifics to the vision. He believes in being opportunistic with breaking news, bouncing off unfolding events with in-depth coverage you won’t find elsewhere. He wants to include more investigative journalism. At the same time, he wants to avoid presenting readers with a wall of text, like you’d see in The Wall Street Journal. “I don’t want to go back to a nonvisual Globe,” he says. “I think that there are many ways to present information?visually, graphically, in words, in headlines.” To Greenspon, the right picture is worth the space of 1,000 words.
The last time the Globe was looking for an editor-in-chief, Philip Crawley (publisher and CEO) cast his net into the English Channel. The launch of the National Post and the resulting newspaper war called for an editor accustomed to a competitive newspaper market. Much to Globe staffers’ dismay, Crawley found his contender on Fleet Street rather than Front Street.
Richard Addis was a European import who brought a small boatload of Brits along with him, including Simon Beck (former Review editor and current news editor), Chrystia Freeland (former deputy editor), and Nigel Horne (former director of Report On Business magazine). In columns and coffee shops, journalists across the country clamoured about the “British invasion.”
“When you parachute an out-of-country editor into a newspaper, you’re never sure if that person has the appreciation for the paper and its relationship with the reader,” says Martin Mittelstaedt, a longtime Globereporter and president of the paper’s union local (CEP Local 87-M).
But there was something staff members didn’t realize. Addis was brought in as a hired gun?to blow away thePost and then head back to Britain?with only 1,095 days to do it. Addis was hired on a fixed three-year contract, explains Crawley, “although the rest of the staff didn’t know it.”
While the Post came out swinging, it faced the major challenge of going up against the Globe‘s 150-year-old brand name. Sexy covers and outrageous editorials may have lured away some readers, but they didn’t cause the mass mutiny Post editors hoped for. When the Aspers took full control of the Post in fall 2001, they tried to cut costs by discontinuing many of the most popular sections in the paper. This broke the faith of readers. From October 2001 to March 2002, the Post paid dearly. Its total paid weekday circulation dropped 25.7 percent and Saturday circulation plummeted 27.1 percent.
As the stats made utterly clear, the Globe was not just surviving the newspaper war, it was winning. The Newspaper Audience Databank’s 2002 interim study showed that over 2.4 million adults read an issue of theGlobe in an average week, while 1.8 million read the Post. In December 2002, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that the Globe leads the Post in the top 10 urban markets by a margin of 34 percent on weekdays and 40 percent on Saturday. Make no mistake, though. The Globe isn’t done fighting. “While thePost is still there, it’s still a war,” says Crawley. “We don’t regard the victory as won until the Post ceases to exist.”
When Richard Addis’s contract expired last summer, Crawley says he didn’t really think about looking outside of the company. Greenspon was co-author of two books?including Double Vision: The Inside Story of the Liberals in Power, which won the 1997 Douglas Purvis Award for the best piece of policy writing in Canada?and a well-educated, seasoned journalist. “It was pretty clear to me that Ed was going to be the best bet,” says Crawley. “His range of skills, knowledge, and qualifications seemed to me to be unmatched.”
The story behind Greenspon’s story begins in a Montreal hospital. It’s March 26, 1957, and Rosalie Greenspon has just given birth to a baby boy. The new arrival is a first son for Rosalie and husband Mortimer and a little brother for daughter Ina. They name the baby Edward, not knowing that 45 years later he’d rant to me about his distaste for this name. “Ed, Eddie, Edward,” he mutters. “It’s too confusing. I just basically would’ve liked a different name.”
Whatever his moniker, Greenspon grew up in an anglophone household in the suburbs of Montreal. His father was an insurance agent and financial planner, his mother was a teacher, and little Eddie was a paperboy for the Montreal Daily Star. In 1977, led by his interest in politics and inspired by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the reporters who broke Watergate, Greenspon decided to try his hand at journalism and headed off to Carleton University.
It was there that Jane Taber, now a political columnist for the Globe, first spotted him. “He had blond hair and a beard, and he dressed really well,” she recalls. “He was cute.” They shared an interest in politics and she remembers thinking that he might become a politician, rather than just cover politics. She had a friend-of-a-friend orchestrate a “chance meeting” in class and soon they were dating. They were together on and off for about a year.
Living in Carleton’s student residence gave Greenspon a home, a social circle, and, occasionally, journalistic fodder. His first big scoop was an expos? about residence student officials who had misused student fees to buy themselves champagne, lobster, and cigars. Greenspon wrote the story for The Resin, a newspaper for Carleton students living in residence, and the Ottawa Citizen picked it up shortly afterward. The news brought down the residence student government and cost the disgraced treasurer a job at CSIS years down the line, when a routine background check unearthed the Citizen piece.
One of the reporters helping Greenspon research the champagne story was Janice Neil?a fellow journalist-in-training and his future wife. She was a year behind him at Carleton, but they lived on the same floor and both held positions in residence government. Neil remembers getting into a drinking competition with Greenspon at the Old Spaghetti Factory soon after they met. The pair downed Singapore slings until they just couldn’t take it anymore. Neil drew the line at three. Greenspon gave up after two. “It probably wasn’t even the alcohol,” laughs Neil. “It was the sugar content of these things that got to you really fast.” She says it was “the beginning of the end” of Greenspon’s drinking career.
The two started dating a few months before Greenspon’s graduation. Neither of them knew where their careers would take them, so the relationship stayed informal. In 1979, Greenspon graduated with an honours degree in journalism and political science. He snagged a job at the Lloydminster Times, on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, and moved west. Neil went to see him on her December break and extended her stay, accepting an internship at the local radio and TV station.
In the summer of 1980, Greenspon became a police reporter at the Regina Leader-Post, where the early morning hours nearly killed him. As a student, he’d avoided morning classes, going to bed at 3 a.m. and waking up at 10. But on the police beat, he had to pick up the overnight rap sheet at 7 a.m. and then head to the newsroom to write about it. “Once I got off police, I never made it in for 8:30 in the morning,” he recalls. “I’d work till midnight maybe, but I never made it in at 8:30.” When he left the paper, city editor Al Rosseker?one of the few people Greenspon thinks “had it in for him” during his career?told him, “If anybody ever calls me for a reference, the only thing I’m going to say is that in two years you never made it in on time.”
When Neil graduated from Carleton in 1980, the journalism job front was looking grim in Ontario. She moved out west and eventually ended up living with Greenspon in Regina. They were married in May of 1983.That same year, Greenspon was hired at the Financial Post. “He was bright, he was interested, had good analytical sense,” recalls Chris Waddell, senior editor at the time. “He grew up in Montreal but was out in Saskatchewan?a long way from where he’d been?and was learning lots about the country.”
Soon afterward, Greenspon would find himself learning lots about another country: England. He attended the London School of Economics as a Commonwealth Scholar from 1984 to 1985. In 1985, he graduated with distinction, receiving his master’s in politics and government.
His career at the Globe began the following February, in the office of then managing editor Geoffrey Stevens. Greenspon was looking for a job as a political reporter, but somehow he was assigned to the Report on Business section instead. As he wrote in a September 2002 column celebrating the ROB’s 40th anniversary, “Perhaps someone presumed I was an economist?the LSE and all that. I would pose as one for much of the next five years.” But for a poser, he did well. Business journalism was changing then. It wasn’t just ingots and alloys anymore. As Greenspon wrote in the same column, it was about “personalities as well as profits.” About a year later, he became the Globe‘s first European business correspondent, stationed in London. Overseas throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, he found himself covering major international events as well as business, reporting on everything from the Lockerbie bombings in Britain to the Ukraine’s declaration of independence.
Of course, some stories were more colourful than others. He wrote in June 1998:”The professional girls at the Eros Centre, where fake screams of ecstasy were the stock of a brisk trade, shed real tears this week. After almost three decades processing thousands of customers a night, the West Edmonton Mall of bordellos padlocked its doors, throwing hundreds of prostitutes on to the street. The Eros Centre, a giant sex factory in the heart of St. Paul, Hamburg’s red-light district, fell victim to changing economics and public fears over AIDS. ‘It was something special about Hamburg and it’s finished now,’ lamented an overweight stripper-turned-bartender named Marie. She was drowning her sorrows in a bottle of champagne.”
Reflecting on his time overseas in a September 1990 column, Greenspon wrote: “If you want to view the legacy of communism, don’t dawdle. Go to eastern Europe now?before it becomes indistinguishable from the rest of western civilization. As things stand, the differences are pronounced. Where else can you still see men on the street bow to kiss the hands of ladies? Where else do meals still consist of gargantuan servings of meat and potatoes, all for under $5? And where else do cars still belch noxious fumes by the pounds per million and smokers puff wherever they damn well please?”
The place that will stay with him forever, though, is Romania. His first trip there was in early 1988, when the country was under harsh dictatorship and rife with secret police. “People didn’t look at each other,” he recalls.” They didn’t know who was a spy and who wasn’t a spy. They didn’t exercise because there were no showers. They didn’t have sex because Ceausescu wouldn’t allow them to have contraceptives, and they didn’t want to bring babies into this awful sort of world.”
Nearly two years later, Greenspon returned to Romania. It was December 22, 1989, and he was in London getting ready for the holidays with his wife when he received the call: revolution was brewing. The next day he was on a flight to Bucharest. On the plane, he met a reporter from Reuters and they decided to travel together. On December 24, they put down a $10,000 deposit on a rental car?they were, after all, driving into a war zone?and ventured into Romania.
They drove to Timisoara, a city of 330,000 in Western Romania, 162 kilometres from Belgrade, where the revolution had begun. There, the reporters encountered a scene eerily reminiscent of the French Revolution. People had set up barricades about 90 metres apart on the road, constructed with chairs and hay and whatever else they could toss into large piles. Citizens armed with broomsticks and axe handles stopped cars to check for secret police. Spirits were strong as people worked side by side with neighbours they wouldn’t have looked at a few months earlier.
When fighting blocked the reporters’ route back to their hotel, a teenaged boy from the barricades invited them home for Christmas Eve dinner. They tried to refuse, not wanting to impose on the special meal, but the boy and his family were insistent. Overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of these Romanian revolutionaries, the reporters relented. The Christmas meal?not turkey, but rather the “illest tasting kind of meat” Greenspon’s palate had ever encountered?carried on until a sniper was spotted on the next building. Someone turned off the lights and they all dove for the floor. Exhausted, Greenspon fell asleep there, as shots rang out in the distance.
About a week later, he arrived safely back in London. Three months later, Neil gave birth to a baby girl they named Bailey. Deciding that Canada would be the best place to raise a family, Greenspon and Neil found themselves on the road again.
After their return to Canada, Greenspon began to climb the ranks at the Globe. He worked as managing editor of the Report on Business section and then as deputy managing editor of the newspaper. In 1993, Greenspon became the Ottawa bureau chief and associate editor. Meanwhile, on the home front, Bailey welcomed two brothers, first Joshua in October 1991, then Jacob in February 1994.
From 1999 until 2002, Greenspon worked as the Globe‘s executive news editor, launch editor for globeandmail.com, political editor, and Ottawa columnist. Then, in spring 2002, Philip Crawley approached Greenspon about the possibility of becoming editor-in-chief, a job that would require moving to Toronto full time, effective July 22.
Greenspon and his wife had lived in Ottawa for nine years, longer than anywhere else they’d stayed as adults, and the family had put down roots. The kids would have to switch schools and make new friends. Neil would have to give up a job she loved, teaching journalism at Carleton, where she had just been granted tenure.
“What saved him,” Neil recalls matter-of-factly, “was that I was a journalist before I was a wife, a mother, and all those sorts of things. I couldn’t deny that this was probably the best job in Canadian journalism. It’s my industry too.”
The kids were far less diplomatic about the move?screaming, hiding, and shedding enough tears to fill the Rideau Canal. Luckily, a “compensation package” named Griffen (a golden retriever) helped ease the blow, and the children have settled in, much to their father’s relief.
Edward Greenspon sits alone in an empty newsroom, staring across rows of vacant cubicles. It’s July 22, his first day as editor-in-chief, and his only welcome is a locked office door. By his estimate, it’s about 8:15 a.m. “That’s a bit odd,” he thinks to himself. “I mean, this place doesn’t start early, but there’s nobody here.” He grabs a Globe and starts to read, waiting for everyone to bustle in all at once.
An hour ago, he had been worried about making it in on time. In Ottawa, it didn’t matter that Greenspon wasn’t a morning person. Life on the Hill didn’t start until 9:30 or 10. But as editor-in-chief, seven o’clock wake-ups are part of the job description.
He had known this day would come, of course. He’d talked to his kids about it weeks ago, nervously explaining that daddy would have to be getting up earlier for his new job. They responded with all the finesse of schoolyard bullies, chanting, “Daddy can’t do it! Daddy can’t do it! Daddy can’t do it!”
Daddy had had his own doubts. His first few weeks on the job would be spent living alone in a temporary apartment on Front Street. He’d be close to work, but there would be no helpful prods from his wife or kids. When the day came, he carried an alarm clock with him on the plane. The apartment came clock-ready, though. This morning, the damn thing’s godawful bleating had successfully annoyed him out of bed and into the office where he was now keeping his silent newsroom vigil.
Fifteen minutes later, there’s still nobody in sight. Not even a janitor. Ten minutes later, Greenspon is wondering if this is some kind of joke. Maybe the newsroom staffers are razzing him on his first day. Maybe they’re all hiding somewhere, or not coming in at all. Boggled, he checks his watch. “Oh my god!” he cries. “It’s 7:40!” Someone had set the clock in the apartment an hour ahead.
Back in Ottawa, his children found this story very amusing.
When Greenspon calls himself an “activist editor,” it brings tomind images of his marching around the newsroom with a pro-globalization placard. But for him, it means staying actively involved in the daily news file, instead of letting a powerful managing editor run the newsroom. Greenspon contrasts his style to that of William Thorsell, who spent much of his time on editorials. “I haven’t written an editorial since I’ve come here,” remarks Greenspon.
Of course, he does participate in the editorial board discussions, helping to establish the paper’s political stance on issues of the day. Greenspon says that the paper was classically a “Red Tory” organization, which became more neoconservative under Thorsell and more liberal under Richard Addis. Although he says that “Red Tory” is too dated a term to use, he feels he’s shifting the editorial sails back to their historic position: classical liberalism. (As any former poli-sci student will recall, classical liberalism is a capitalist ideology focused on laissez-faire economy and rights of the individual.) Greenspon puts his own political orientation in line with the Globe‘s.
At the height of the newspaper war, every move the Globe made was carefully calculated, including its political orientation. With the Post elbowing its way into the business readership, the Globe found itself outdone on the political right and, consequently, shifted slightly to the left. “Now that the war has receded,” explains columnist Rick Salutin, “the Globe can, in a sense, revert to its natural instincts.” John Miller, author of 1998’s Yesterday’s News:Why Canada’s Daily Newspapers are Failing Us, concurs. “It’s sort of back to where they used to be before the Post came up and outflanked them on the right,” he says. “I think they’re feeling more confident about their opinions.”
When I spoke to Philip Crawley last fall, he advised me to watch the Globe for evolutionary change, rather than revolutionary change. “We did a lot of changes to the paper over the last four years,” he remarked. “There’s no need to tear up the plan and start again.” With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Greenspon’sGlobe looks much like Addis’s did, especially so early in his term. But if you lay a week’s worth of A sections from December 2001 beside a week’s worth from December 2002, you start to notice differences.
Following through on his goal, Greenspon’s Globe is considerably more visual. Fourteen percent more page space was given to photographs in the papers Greenspon edited. His love of kids is evident in the cover photos, as half of them feature youngsters. (Addis’s covers had none.) During the week I surveyed, Greenspon’s cover image was pulled from a wire service only once, while Addis’s cover was wire-supplied six times out of six.
Another part of Greenspon’s vision that seems to be coming into focus is beat reporting. A scan of the week’s bylines reveals more beat reports under Greenspon than under Addis. An average of four beats were represented in each 2002 news section, compared to an average of 2.5 in 2001.
Not all of Greenspon’s goals have come to fruition, however. As of December 2002, investigative journalism appeared to be missing in action. “There have been no investigations in the Globe,” says Miller. “Everybody is consumed with covering the next day’s news. Somebody at the Globe told me that a long-term reporting project is two days.” Greenspon argues that reporters such as Daniel Leblanc and Lisa Priest get all the time they need for investigative pieces. He admits that the Globe‘s ability to break news has weakened over the years, but says change is coming. “Our capacities will not be fully rejuvenated in a day or a month,” he says. “But they will be rebuilt.”
In his first few months on board, Greenspon courted potential readers of all stripes with additions and expansions. For the suits, there was a 40th anniversary makeover of the Report on Business section. Political junkies got their fix with the Globe even more plugged into Ottawa than it was before. Couch potatoes saw John Doyle’s TV column go from four times a week to five. And for the urban hipsters, there was a new pop culture column by Lynn Crosbie and regular features on subcultures. Even geeks got their due, with the new Science and Technology page.
Greenspon’s reign has also meant new faces on staff, including political diarist Jane Taber, Canadian culture writer Roy MacGregor, and Saturday “Comment” writer Ken Wiwa. Martin Mittelstaedt, the union rep, lauds this as a thaw of the “quasi-hiring freeze” that the paper had suffered under for several years.
Even before the thaw, Globe workers had been relieved to hear about Greenspon’s appointment, after three years of battling Brits in the newsroom. “There was a sense around here that it was time to turn the paper back to a Canadian,” says columnist Margaret Wente. Staffers took solace in the fact that Greenspon had been at the Globe for 16 years. He knew and respected the paper’s character. Plus, he’d been in the trenches. Tu Thanh Ha, a reporter at the Globe‘s Montreal bureau, explains: “People who come from a reporting background have an appreciation of the frustrations and hurdles you face as a reporter.” For Parliament Hill reporters, the news was especially sweet. Jane Taber, who was hired by Greenspon, comments: “For us, it’s great to have someone who loves the story that’s unfolding in Ottawa.”
When I ask about Greenspon’s worst qualities, colleagues come up with only the mildest of shortcomings. Taber says that he can be “a bit bossy.” Wente?who, in effect, lost her managing editor gig to Greenspon in 1999 but calls herself a “fan” nonetheless?admits that he can be abrasive and impatient. “He has a lot of respect for talent and he doesn’t have much respect for non-talent,” she explains. “But I think those are plusses.”
It’s tough to find anyone who doesn’t like and respect Greenspon in the Canadian journalism industry. Ask any colleague about him and you’ll hear words like intelligent, interested, committed, and analytical. Even left-wing columnist Rick Salutin praises Greenspon. “There’s nothing ass-licking about him,” Salutin asserts. “I think there’s a genuinely human quality. Not slick.”
Still, you can’t get to the top without stepping on some toes and bruising a few egos. I suspect that Greenspon has, but, not surprisingly, no one’s keen on publicly criticizing a head honcho. No one, that is, except the editors of Ottawa-based satirical biweekly Frank. Soon after Greenspon’s promotion was announced, the magazine labelled him a “bigfooting egomaniac” and published names of journalists who’d had alleged run-ins with him. Ross Howard, Tu Thanh Ha, and Susan Delacourt?former Ottawa bureau staffers who supposedly left because of Greenspon?deny Frank‘s allegations. Alan Freeman, another former bureau staffer named by Frank, outright refused my request to talk about Greenspon. And then there wasGlobe columnist Jeffrey Simpson, one of the big names on the alleged enemy list. When I told him whom I was writing about, Simpson cut me off with a hurried nothanksbye. Boy, I’d love to hear the story behind thatstory.
Eddie Greenspon is in the locker room on the first day of hockey school. He’s got his shin pads, socks, and jock strap ready to go. He’s working on the garter now, but there’s a problem. He’s got no clue how to hook it up to his socks. He’s searching for a hole to lace the garter through?that’s what you do, right??and coming up with zilch. He glances around the room, but none of the other guys know what they’re doing either. Finally, someone asks where the “damn hole” is. (There isn’t one.)
Mouthy kids? Hardly. The year is 1997 and, at the not-so-tender age of 40, Greenspon is just learning to play ice hockey.
For most men, this would be a castrating experience. (What kind of kid grows up in Montreal, obsessed with the Canadiens, and never learns to skate?) For Greenspon, however, it was a challenge that needed to be met. “I probably was a bit of a perfectionist as a kid, as my middle child is now,” he says. “But at 40 I had enough confidence to be bad at something.”
Good thing, given the ribbing that came his way over the lessons. “When I heard he was doing that, I just laughed and laughed,” Bricker remarks. “But, you know, I admire his persistence. That’s the thing about Eddie: he’s an extremely persistent guy.”
Chris Waddell, now an associate professor at Carleton University, echoes the sentiment. He used to play Sunday night pickup hockey with Greenspon in Ottawa at around the same time. Waddell recalls, “He decided he wanted to play hockey, worked really hard at it, and was able to improve quite a lot as a result.”
With Waddell and the gang, it was an hour of informal hockey without pads or regular teams. Between 14 and 20 guys would show up each week, some journalists, some not. They’d throw their sticks down at centre ice and divide them up to make teams. It was supposed to be non-contact and usually it was. But the first time Greenspon played, “a guy who worked at Indian Affairs” knocked him flat onto his chin. The gash bled for several hours and afterward Greenspon was tempted to quit. He didn’t, though. A year and a half later, the same guy got Greenspon in the corner and tried to knock him down again. “Even though it’s supposed to be non-contact hockey, he bumped me,” remembers Greenspon. “He fell and I was left standing, and everybody on both benches started cheering. It was sort of like graduation day.”
There’s triumph in his voice as he tells this story, revealing the jock wannabe inside the bookworm. At five foot eight, Greenspon may not be big or bad, but the guy’s got drive from here to Romania. Whether he’s on the ice or in the boardroom, Greenspon clearly isn’t afraid to end up on his hands and knees. Just don’t expect him to stay down there for long.