George MacDonald

~ Final tribute ~

Marbleton cemetery

George and Millie's tombstone in the cemetery of St. Paul's Anglican Church, Marbleton, Quebec.
The two were married in the same rural Eastern Townships church in 1907.

(Photo by Jean Whitman)

Canadian Press Builder, George MacDonald, Dies

The Montreal Gazette, Friday, January 7, 1955

Funeral services for George MacDonald, day editor of The Gazette, who died suddenly yesterday, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Armstrong's funeral chapel, Park avenue. George

Mr. MacDonald was a veteran of more than 51 years in newspaper work, and was 73 when he died.

He spent 35 years with the Canadian Press and was Quebec superintendent when he retired from CP in 1947. During his years as a newsman, he covered some of the top stories of the early part of the century, and as a CP executive he was credited with setting up the system of rapid reporting of election results which is now in use throughout Canada.

Mr. MacDonald had returned to his desk at The Gazette Tuesday after 11 weeks vacation in Bermuda, where a daughter resides.

He was born in England and his first job was as a printer's devil on the London Times. He came to Canada in 1903 and joined the staff of the old Montreal Witness. In 1905, he went to the Toronto Star and then on to the Stratford Herald where he was city editor. He also worked for a period on the Hamilton Spectator before returning to Montreal in 1911 as resident correspondent for the Canadian Press Ltd.

Among the major stories he covered for Canadian papers were the Titanic disaster, the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence and the Halifax explosion of 1917.

Mr. MacDonald had a wide knowledge of Canadian history during the last half century and had a fund of stories relating to leading public figures and newsmen with whom he had been associated. He was popular among his contemporaries and was regarded with affection by those who worked as his subordinates.

Golf was his principal recreation and he played frequently until last summer.

His wife, the former Mary Amelia Bishop, also an ardent golfer, died Oct. 9, 1950.

- 30 -

He knew his death wouldn't make the front page

Journalists felt 'his friendship bridged a generation's gap'

(This article appeared in The Gazette the week after George's death. It was unsigned, except for initials at the end. The writer was Peter Desbarats, then a young junior reporter at the paper. Mr. Desbarats is now a prominent Canadian journalist and author, and was for some years, dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Western Ontario.)

George MacDonald knew his death wouldn't set type for the front page.

There were many of us at his funeral Saturday who knew him as day editor of The Gazette only during the past few years, but who felt his friendship bridged a generation's gap. We knew his reputation as a journalist only through scraps of rumor and he rarely spoke of it.

What does it matter now that a man covered the sinking of the Titanic? Even as the day's last edition goes to press the plated cylinders crush the bond between a reporter and his story. Out of his hands it lives beneath men's eyes for a day, is talked about, shaken angrily and then used for wrapping paper.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Reporters slip from the public mind as easily as their stories. But think of all the thousand things you can remember of your life, and wonder if three or four are there because George MacDonald wrote them for you to read. This is the unsigned legacy a reporter leaves.

Montreal's largest cathedral wouldn't have held the mourners at George's funeral if everyone had been there who had searched his accident stories for lists of survivors, had singled out a son's name in his sports stories or attended a meeting because George banged out an advance notice.

Reporters rarely discover what impact their stories have on other lives. Strange that their life's work is based on a suspicion of its importance. George believed in newspapers, in the "profession" that treads the line between literature and gossip, though he could formulate his creed no more effectively than any of us.

I remember he once talked about his grandson, a university student and part-time reporter for the Sherbrooke Record in the Eastern Townships.

"He wants to be a newspaperman," George told me. "I've told him it's not much of a life.

"But you know," he said, taking my arm and leaning towards me, "I think he might have it in his blood. I wonder how it got there."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This was the closest George came to praising a life he couldn't keep away from. He died last Thursday, two days after returning to his job from a long vacation in Bermuda.

We all knew why he came back and not one of us thought it wrong for a man almost to invite death the way he did. He loved his life and his work, and how many can say that? He was granted an unthought wish that one should end with the other.

We knew him as a friend and a good newspaperman, on the last day of his life doing a job as arduous as any of ours.

As he was dying last Thursday the elevator operator at the hotel where he lived told me, "He was one of the biggest men at The Gazette."

He still is. Everyone believes in one kind of life-after-death. You can see it in a coat hanger no one's used for several days, or in an empty ash tray. It catches you up and makes you look quickly, almost saying:

"What's that, George?"


Poem: A Sandalwood Box

A sandalwood box is laid in the earth
In the blaze of a noonday sun,
And the trees in that old graveyard bend
Their buds where the teardrops run;
For an ash-filled box with a copper plate
Lies small in the grave's dark yawn,
Though a larger past spills over the place
Where the sigh of a life has gone.

And clouds float white above the stones,
High like the wings of a day,
And the crickets creak in the shiny grasss
And the blades swing back in play;
And the world is alive and bright in May
And the sky shouts high in blue,
And a sandalwood box carries all that stays
Of the loves and the life I knew.

No crowd of mourners to shuffle lament,
Only the tombstones nod,
And bask in their moss in the golden day
Over a sandalwood box in the sod;
No bell tolls out a funeral beat,
No choirs intone a chant;
Spring's shy touch on the wide bare earth
Breathes a hymn with a living cant.

H.D. - May 1955

George's home page | The early years | George's father | Letters to his grandson

Memories of private life | Millie | George and the R-100 airship

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Page created January 2000. Last updated Apr. 8, 2006