THE SOUTHAMS—PART TWO

The Boss Who Hates to Fire People

PIERRE BERTON July 1 1950
THE SOUTHAMS—PART TWO

The Boss Who Hates to Fire People

PIERRE BERTON July 1 1950

The Boss Who Hates to Fire People

THE SOUTHAMS—PART TWO

They say to lose your job on a Southam paper you've got to punch a Southam in the nose. How one man tried (and failed) is one of the colorful legends which surround the sons who sprang to riches from the Hamilton Spectator springboard

PIERRE BERTON

AMONG the newspapermen who work on their seven daily newspapers there has always been a comfortable and warmly reassuring feeling that the Southam Company hardly ever fires anybody. “To get fired on a Southam paper,” so. the saying goes, “you got to punch one of the Southams in the nose.”

As a matter of fact there is a case on record of a newspaperman who did punch a Southam in the nose, or at least tried to. He was a night editor of the Vancouver Province named Tex Lane and his vagaries had frustrated the paper on more than one occasion. Newspaper stories are usually cut to size by removing the final paragraph but one night Lane decided to reverse this practice. He clipped all the last paragraphs from the night string of stories and sent them up to be set in type. The remainder of the copy he carefully pasted together face to face. The morning st iff spent most of the early hours steaming it open so that the first edition could hit the street.

On the nose-punching occasion Lane merely phoned some of the newspaper’s high brass, who were attending a banquet at the time, and told them: “Come on down here you unprintables and I’ll punch you in the nose.”

In due course, M. E. Nichols, managing director, Robert Elson, managing editor, and Peter Sout ham, representing the Southam family, arrived. Lane, true to his word, took a swing at young Southam.

“How are you feeling, Mr. Lane?” asked Nichols solicitously. “Here, get this man a taxi. Come back when you’re feeling better and we’ll discuss the matter.” Lane was not fired and ended his days on the paper.

One of the toughest of the Southams’ editors was William Mulliss, once managing editor of the Hamilton Spectator. Mulliss instilled discipline among his staff by getting down on the floor and wrestling them into obedience. Once he had a reporter locked in jail overnight to make sure he turned up for work the next morning.

One time Mulliss fired two men. But during the succeeding week as he left the office he was embarrassed to find both of them standing outside the Spectator’s doorway, their coat collars turned up, a tin cup in one hand, a fistful of pencils in the other. No matter which door Mulliss used the same painful spectacle greeted him. He finally gave up and rehired the two.

A similar change of heart was undergone by the Southams’ Edmonton Journal under particularly spectacular circumstances. The Journal’s court reporter, aided and abetted by the Edmonton Bulletin’s court reporter, had frustrated justice by making off with the entire crown evidence during police court intermission: to wit, one bottle of whisky. The resultant reverberations were such

THE SOUTHAM FAMILY TREE

“The company’s tolerant attitude toward its more eccentric employees can perhaps be explained by the fact that the family has produced some of the country’s most engaging eccentrics from its own blood lines.’’

William (deceased) WILSON MILLS John David, publisher Calgary Herald SOUTHAM Donald Cargill, purchasing department Southam 1868-1947 Fred Hamilton former publisher Margaret Wilson (Mrs. Napoleon Brinckman) Ottawa Citizen Jean (Lady Jean Brinckman) Press, Montreal Dorothy Jean, married Eric L. Harvie of Calgary, FREDERICK NEIL director the Southam Co. SOUTHAM Amy Wilson m. Frederick Innes Ker, publisher Montreal Hamilton son David, Spectator manager, CJSH-FM Hamilton 1869-1944 Margaret Linton, m. Philip S. Fisher, president former president Southam Co. the Southam Co. son Guy S., sales staff Southam Press, Montreal Brig. William Wallace, former general manager RICHARD SOUTHAM Southam Press, Toronto, deceased Toronto Richard S. Jr., formerly Southam Press, Montreal, 1872-1937 deceased former manager Kenneth Gordon “Bud,” assistant general manaSoutham Press, ger Southam Press, Toronto Toronto Elizabeth (Mrs. Donald McMurroch), Toronto HARRY STEVENSON SOUTHAM Gordon Thomas, promotion manager Vancouver Ottawa Robert Wilson, managing editor Ottawa Citizen Province 1875Janet m. Duncan MacTavish, K.C., director the Publisher Southam Co. Ottawa Citizen Ethel (Mrs. Fred Toller) Ottawa ETHEL SOUTHAM Hamilton Spectator WILLIAM JAMES Willard Watson “Peter,” executive assistant to (Mrs. St. Clair William Balfour SOUTHAM president, Southam Co. Balfour), Hamilton Wilson (Mrs. Hamilton Baxter) Hamilton Frederick Morris, sales staff Southam Press, 1881Alice Mary (Mrs. Colin Glasgow) 1877Montreal former publisher Hamilton Spectator Beatrice (Mrs. James Thompson) St. Clair Balfour Jr., assistant to publisher, Joan (Mrs. John McColl ) Elizabeth GORDON SOUTHAM 1887-1916 Killed in action on the Somme, 1916

that both papers found it necessary to fire the culprits. The Bulletin man stayed fired. But the Southam paper welched on the deal and took their man back. He’s still there.

Another time an entire staff was fired and rehired. Soon after the Southams bought the Calgary Herald they installed the paper in a magnificent new building. Opening ceremonies were somewhat marred when the staff soiled the pristine walls with eggs with which they were pelting the church editor who had seized the occasion to deliver a sermon from atop one of the new desks.

“Fire the lot!” shouted Col. Bertie Woods, the publisher. The managing editor obeyed orders. “Everybody is fired,” he told the staff. “But for God’s sake nobody go away!”

There are some instances in which men appear to have been fired by the Southams, but a close examination often reveals that this is not the case. Let us squash the canard that one Ed Ingraham was fired from the Vancouver Province merely because he turned in an expers' account on which the taxi item alone amounted to about $900. Someone spoke sharply to Ingraham about this and, touched to the quick, he quit. The Province promptly hired one Ted Greenslade who had just been fired from the Vancouver Sun for turning in a taxi bill of $1,100.

One reason advanced for this cheerfully paternalistic attitude is the low salaries paid editorial employees on some Southam papers. “Fire anyone? an ex-Southam man said the other day. “How can they fire anyone? They don’t pay enough for that!”

A former Province reporter remembers being invited to go to Victoria to make a speech at a dinner. He suggested to his managing editor that this would be good promotion for the paper. “Can’t afford it,” the m.e. said promptly. Later he reconsidered: “I’ve figured out how you can do it,” he said. “We’ll get you a pass on the overnight boat— that’ll save a hotel room. You can carry your bag over to the Empress Hotel—that’ll save taxi fare and tips. The dinner will be free and right after that you can get on the night boat and come back again so you won’t need a room the second night. But I don’t want you to go short. Here’s five dollars.”

This may be one reason why the Southam Company made a profit of $1,200,000 last year, the highest in its history. On Continued on page 46

Continued on page 46

The Boss Who Hates to Fire People

Continued from page 15

the other hand there are plenty of instances of their spending money. A Washington correspondent of the g-oup once remarked that he had been chided for not spending enough on entertainment. One managing editor who was fired was given $10,000. An inefficient copy reader who was dismissed got $30 a month for life.

This benevolent attitude prevails on the Southams’ biggest, most competitive and in some respects most harassed newspaper, the Vancouver Province, where the nose-punching incident occurred. Where else, it may be asked, could Jim Coieman have got away with dropping firecrackers down the pneumatic tubes aimed to explode in the business office?

Late in the war, Province city editor Reg Moir tried to fire an incompetent staffer. At the crucial moment the man took sick. “You can’t fire a man when he’s sick,” said M. E. Nichols, the managing director. “Wait until he’s well.” Eight paydays later the man turned up again at the office. By this time it was December. “You can’t fire a man just before Christmas,” Nichols told Moir. “W'ait until January.” The reporter was given rssignments but complained he was too ill to go outside the office. He hung a cund doing very little unfil Moir again tried to fire him. “Fire a man in the dead of winter?” Nichols exclaimed. “It’s far too cold.” The situation continued in this wise (a printers’ strike intervened and Nichols pointed out you couldn’t fire a man when the paper wasn’t publishing! until Moir realized that the man had been on staff for two and a half years drawing his pay but without doing very much of anything.

Nobody deserved the axe more than the late James Butterfield, a tempestuous red-haired columnist who stayed with the Province until he died (bequeathing the staff two bottles of rum). Butterfield’s absences from the paper were long and turbulent. He once got religion and joined Prank Buchman’s Oxford Group. The group spirited him off to England to write a biography of Buchman. Butterfie’d wrote the book but Buchman objected to some passages he felt were uncomplimentary. Butterfield, who hated having his copy tampered with, picked up the manuscript, dropped it into aroaring fireplace before Buchman’s eyes and returned to Vancouver. The Province rehired him.

The Founder Couldn’t Fire

This tolerant attitude has inspired some strange loyalties. Cecil Scott, the Province’s late magazine editor, faced with i mistake in a man’s name, once went down to the pressroom and as the papers roared off tried to erase the error and pencil the correction above if. He was led away, exhausted, some lime later.

An equally touching example of loyalty is to be found in a study of the career of Charlie Foster, a burly and profane Lancashireman who has a positive passion for English soccer, rugby and lawn bowling, which he reports for the Province sports page. Foster is so in love with these games that he sometimes helps out the rival Sun’s reporters and corrects their stories for them. Recently the Sun offered him $63 a week to join its staff, but Foster, who averages about $130 a month from the Province on space rates, loyally refused. This despite the

fact that he quits the paper on an average of 10 times a year.

Football is more important to Foster than life itself. When the Capilano Stadium burned down during a game Foster reported the match exactly as it was played from the opening whistle, concluding with the paragraph: “An

unfortunate incident occurred when the stands burned down and the game was called at half time.” Another famous Foster last paragraph read: “The game was marred by the unfortunate death of a Victoria fullback.” The Province is happy to suffer these idiosyncras:es for Foster’s careful sports coverage, like Butterfield’s column, has helped give the paper its strength.

11 was William Southam, Sr., founder of the company, who used to remark: “I never fire anybody.” Back in preWorld War I days a Spectator managing editor fired a man for repeatedly drinking on the job. He was immediately assailed by ceaseless pleas to rehire him. Mrs. Southam and her granddaughters joined in the chorus. The editor remained firm. Southam himself was rather awed by all this. “You did something I couldn’t do,” he told the editor. “You fired a man.”

Cocktails With a Stranger

Fred Southam, William’s second son. who was head of the company until his death in 1944, was cut of similar cloth. When a youngster applied to him in Montreal for a job and Southam hadn’t one for him he paid the boy’s fare out to Vancouver on the off chance that the Province might have an opening.

He undoubtedly set the tone for his company’s tolerant attitude toward some of its more rambunctious employees. He was h'mself a kindly warmhearted man who was able to look at both sides of a situation. When he died the Montreal Star called him “a man of liberal views and catholic tastes.”

When Robert Elson, then the Southams’ Washington man, decided to leave and take a job with Time magazine some of the Southam top echelon were trying to dissuade him. Fred suddenly remarked that if he were young and had the world before him he’d do the same thing himself.

Fred stretched his respect for the feelings of others to the point where it lost the Southam Company its biggest plum the Montreal Star. Southam had a verbal agreement with Lord Atholstan, the Star’s owner, that when Atholstan was ready to sell the Southams would get the first opportunity to buy. He and Atholstan set a date in which to put the deal on paper. In the intervening time Atholstan’s wife died and Southam feeling it would be a cruel intrusion to talk business at the time, broke the date. Sugar baron J. W. McConnell acquired the paper, which is Canada’s fifLh largest.

Fred Southam later remarked that he was never able to reproach himself for acting as he did. When his own wife died he left her room exactly as it had been on the day of her death. The bed was laid down, nightclothes laid out. dresses in the closet regularly pressed and returned to the exact spots where they originally hung, the dresser was set as it had been and the two dresser lights were left on.

This warm family feeling, which is to lw found throughout the Southam group of newspapers, is a Southam trait. The company’s tolerant attitude toward its more eccentric employees can perliaps he explained by the fact that the family has produced some of the country’s most engaging eccentrics from its own blood lines.

Fred’s brother, the late Richard .Southam, manager of the company’s Toronto printing plant, for example.

suffered from insomnia and delighted in knocking on the doors of utter strangers at 2 a.m. or later. He would explain that his car had broken down and, invited in to use the phone, would produce a black bag containing bott'es of most liquors, a liqueur or so, a s’ld’terful of cocktails and some mixer. He and his new-found friends would spend a pleasant hour or so after which Southam would leave. He often loaded his car with cut flowers to soothe the wives of husbands whom he pursuad >d to accompany him on these forays, and his chauffeur was trained to don a white coat and act as barman at the pirties he crashed. One New Year’s Eve he hired a bus to do the town in.

The official biography of another brother, 73-year-o!d Bill Southam, of Hamilton, second oldest living member of the family, describes him as “eccentric.” Mis friends, who run all the way from taxi drivers to millionaire sportsmen, consider this a bit of an understatement. Bill’s brothers were all geniuses of one type or other and Rill is a genius at being an eccentric.

He was, for example, returning home one night with his friend Jack Council after a long soiree. Mrs. Council met the two at the door and gave them a jaundiced eye.

“I’d certainly like to see the inside of your stomach. Rill Southam,” she said. Southam left. The next day Mrs. Council received a C.O.D. parcel. It contained two X-ray plates of Bill South,am’s stomach.

Another time Southam took it upon himself to solicit subscriptions from his friends for a charity. Wealthy speedboat enthusiast Jack Greening demurred, complained about the high cost of living. “Honestly, Bill,” he said, “I haven’t even got my coal in yet.” Next day Southam solicitously had a ton of coal delivered to Greening’s home and dumped on his much-prized front lawn.

Cockfighting Was Frowned Upon

As publisher of the Hamilton Spectator Bill Southam was somewhat unorthodox. When negotiations w t’i the union printers grew too acrimonia j) he would suggest they establish a Wi;a scale by rolling high dice.

He used to have the front p -,-’e replated to include scandnlous stoic* and pictures about prominent citize.u, written for him by his own reportera He would run off a single copy and substitute this for the regular paper of the citizen concerned, sometimes slipping it onto the doorstep himself.

In 1930 the family decided that enough was enough, closed up his office in the Spectator and set up a trust fund which allows him considerable freedom of action.

The Spectator continued to hear from Mill. In the summer of 1933 he converted the long living room of his summer home into a cock fighting arena, complete with sawdust ring and three-tier bleachers. He ordered everything from whole roaHt turke /s to cases of champagne and with the help of a crony, “Long Jack” Mu.pty, and about 100 spectators, some of whom lie met in elevators, held a bang-up cockfighting party.

This was interrupted by the arrival of the police who confiscated the birds and haled Southam and those found ins who failed to exit by the windows into court. Southam paid all the fines, offered to bid on the cocks at toe resultant public auction and, when the Spectator refused to run pictures of the affair, turned several glossy prints over to the Toronto 'Telegram. 'The photos were run on page one of the Tely’s Hamilton edition with a tactful underline which explained that they

were donated by Mr. W. J. Southam and taken by a Spectator photographer.

On another occasion Southam and a friend enlivened an otherwise prosaic dance at the staid Ancaster Club by releasing two gamecocks at opposite ends of the dance floor.

Southam learned about cockfighting in Florida where he still spends a good deal of time. He once bought a bank at Lake Worth, Fla., because he liked the look of its vault. He was sole owner and sole depositor.

In Florida he stayed at millionaire Clarence Geist’s luxurious and exclusive Boca Raton Club. Once he took a Fullman load of guests down with him to the club for a two-month party. Everything was on Southam and guests could get what they wanted simply by signing his name to a chit. Southam invented the mythical Boca Raton Yacht Club with himself as admiral; he purchased blue yachting jackets and caps with gold braid which his guests wore. These shenanigans failed to amuse Geist who suggested the party go elsewhere. Southam thereupon purchased three king-sized cottages in the immediate area and the party continued. Once when the weather turned cold he bought everybody a fur coat.

Social Justice in a Jape

Southam enjoys dressing up and often wears his admiral’s costume. Once during a multicourse dinner he changed costume for every course. Another day he appeared at his box at the Hamilton racetrack perfectly turned out in Ascot tie and grey topper. When he doffed his hat his guests saw to their horror that his hair had been cut off to the stubble. Invited to a swish wedding, Southam turned out in perfect morning clothes driving a bony and scraggy horse which he had hired from a passing old-clothesman. Not long ago he appeared at a funeral wearing bedroom slippers. One possession he prizes is a great checkered coat made from Man o’ War’s blanket. And he has been known to turn up at his own dinner parties as one of the waiters, wearing a French goatee.

Attempts to dissuade Bill Southam from some of these escapades have seldom been successful. He once escaped from the Hamilton General Hospital in his nightshirt, hailed a passing milkwagon and headed off into the gloom. Once when his wife hid the keys to his car he went down to the salesroom, bought a new one, and told the salesman to pick the old one up as a trade-in.

Money, for Bill Southam, has always been something to spend or give away. He has been known to enter poor homes, plunk $50 on the table, and march out without a word. An acquaintance has remarked that many of his japes have a certain amount of social justice to them. When the Bluenose was on exhibit in Hamilton, for a price, civic dignitaries in white flannels crowded her decks. Southam drove up in his Buick and spotted several dozen Italian children with noses pressed against the wire barrier. “Open the gates!” cried Southam, plunked a wad of bills in front of the ticket taker and sat down to watch the resultant mayhem.

Southam gives swatches of Irish sweepstake tickets to washerwomen and once purchased an expensive radio for the Hamilton Fire Department with whom he grew friendly after turning the alarm in at his home. He bought a similar radio for the Police Department, but the chief sent it back. Southam promptly sent it down to the station again. It came back again. This exchange went on for some time but Southam lost.

Most Hamilton policemen know Southam. Once when he turned up at a women’s bridge party the hostess threatened to call the police. Southam departed quickly but a short time later the police arrived in droves. Southam himself had called them to rush to the party venue.

One Christmas he tried unsuccessfully to give all the prisoners in the Hamilton jail a present by bailing them out. (He was in the habit of standing in front of the cells and delivering lectures on temperance.) One New Year’s he filled a knapsack full of shot glasses, hired a piper and marched off down the street pouring a shot of whisky for every stranger he met until he ran out of glasses.

Bill Southam’s home has always been filled with odd assortments of people. He has been known to entertain his guests by showing colored motion pictures of his tonsilitis operation. He has brought home everyone from internes to racetrack touts, often at late hours. These he introduces to various members of the family, often invading their bedrooms to effect the introductions. At one time a longhaired sculptor lived at the Southam home, modeling a bust of Southam, which he had cast in bronze and distributed to his friends and some of the newspapers.

He has a habit of hailing passing taxicabs, conducting a searching enquiry as to the ability of the driver to handle his vehicle and then, satisfied, giving instructions to take his cane home. A familiar sight in Hamilton at one time was the Southam entourage moving toward the Majestic Hotel where Murphy the cockfighter stayed: a cab in front, empty, a second cab carrying Bill Southam, a third cab carrying Bill Southam’s cane.

His correspondence with famous people has been extensive. He has, until the phone company ceased to take the calls, attempted to get in touch with Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin by long-distance. He sent Stalin a ticket on the Irish sweep and Churchill a box of cigars. Roosevelt answered one of his letters but Southam had sent so many he couldn’t figure out which one F. D. R. was replying to.

He Might Have Been Mayor

A man with a prodigious memory he is fond of phoning people; often longdistance, giving them a suitable Bible reference to look up, and hanging up. He sometimes speeds departing friends with the question: “Who won the 1921 Kentucky Derby?” Answer: Behave

Yourself. The horse was owned by E. R. Bradley, famous Kentucky horseman and gambler, with whom he used to make fantastic bets. They once laid $1,000 on whether it would rain by 3 that afternoon.

At 73 Bill Southam is still going strong. He has put more weight on his big 6 foot 4 inch frame and his once hawklike face is now well jowled. The year before last he threw the family and the Spectator into a flap by announcing his candidature for the mayoralty of Hamilton. The disturbing thing, from the paper’s point of view, was that he might well have been elected. He was, however, dissuaded from this objective.

He continues to be a restless man, difficult to pin down. Just a few weeks ago this reporter tried to catch up with him in Hamilton. But Southam had just left Hamilton for Toronto. I tried to catch up with Southam in Toronto. Southam had just left Toronto for Niagara Falls. In two taxicabs, it

(This is the second of three articles

on the Southam family.)