EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: You never know who might be looking out for you

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Weird thing happened to me the other day – I took a step back in time, by accident.

I was going through some old files, shuffling papers when I found a letter of reference an old boss was kind enough to write me when I was first starting out in this business.

“What is that?” my wife asked.

“It’s a letter from Craig Elson.”

“That guy from ‘Parenthood’?!”

Obviously my wife and I watch too much television.

“No – that would be Craig T. Nelson.”

Craig Elson, the former managing editor at the Standard-Freeholder for much of the 1990s was a lot of things, but a veteran of stage and screen was not one of them.

We just called him “Craig” though with his shirts, ties and rich baritone voice I initially figured it would be a good idea to address him as “Mr. Elson.”

He told me his name was “Craig” and we got along just fine.

Craig was a product of the 1960s, and though the years had aged him, all of us in the newsroom were convinced that a piece of our boss was still trapped in 1969, smoking dope and enjoying plenty of free love.

Craig was a free spirit in every sense of the word. He raised his voice on occasion, but I can rarely recall him getting angry. In fact, he went to great lengths to ensure he kept the worst of this business at bay.

On one occasion, with an angry reader screaming at him on the telephone, we saw Craig lying with his back on the floor of his office and his legs resting on the wall, effortlessly reaching into the air and repeatedly touching his index fingers above him, while the phone was cradled in the crook of his neck.

Another time Craig decided it would be a good idea to take a blind date across the river into Massena for a night out.

The date went from bad to worse when Craig handed the Canada Customs officer a $2 bill back when crossing the bridge was only a couple of bucks and there was no such thing as the Twoonie. Of course, Craig, confused as always, believed he was at the toll booth and not the customs wicket.

“Here you go.”

“What’s that for?”

“It’s for you.”

I’m told it was the highlight of the date.

And my personal favourite was when a couple of newsroom lackeys were returning to Cornwall from a night out in Montreal and saw what they believed to be a car on fire on the side of Highway 401.

They learned the next day, upon returning to work, that Craig was also on the highway that night, and had flicked a lit cigarette out the driver’s window, only to have it sucked in a back window and begin smouldering on the seat.

I’m not sure how badly damaged the car was, but it tells you all you need to know about Craig. He was harmless, for the most part, and while we all regarded him like one would a “boss” there was always something that concerned you just a little bit after an encounter with him.

That kind of changed for me when I dug out the old letter. I had initially come across it when I began work at The Glengarry News in the mid-1990s. It was stuffed on a shelf in our office, and I found it one night while snooping around after hours.

Craig had written it. I had told him I was applying for my first full-time job and asked him if he would be a reference in the event “The News” in Alexandria came calling.

Instead of a phone call Craig pounded out a letter.

He filled it with so many nice things I found it hard to believe this was the same fellow who nearly got arrested at the border, burned up his car and meditated while being chewed out.

The point is simple. You never know who is watching out for you – including those to whom you wouldn’t give a second thought.

Organizations: Standard-Freeholder, Canada Customs, The Glengarry News

Geographic location: Cornwall, Montreal, Alexandria

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