A university education is much more than lectures, books, research papers, and exams. It’s about the people you meet, professors and fellow students, the extra curricular activities you take part in, and the resulting ideas, debates, and insights.
It was in that context in the turbulent 1960s that I first met Patrick Dominic MacFadden, when he was editor of the McGill Daily in 1965-66 and I was news editor.
A funeral was held for MacFadden in Ottawa following his death from cancer Nov. 2. He was 79. Though my journalistic career had started at the Sherbrooke Daily Record in 1963 and then with UPI in Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City, I had returned to McGill to resume my interrupted academic adventure.
The campus then was alive with ideas. We tripped on Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. The times they were a changin’, and the Youth Revolt against the complacent 1950s was on.
The college newspaper that once focused on publicizing blood drives, freshmen hijinks, and college sports, reflected the changing political culture.
The Daily was now tackling burning political issues, such as the growing U.S. military involvement in what many saw as a civil war in Vietnam. It was alive with stories about demands for civil rights and against segregation in the U.S. It featured stories on burgeoning nationalism in Quebec, unions going on strike for improved wages and working conditions, and an expanded voice for students at the university.
Spearheading it all was the cool, clever, sophisticated and supremely articulate Patrick MacFadden, born in Ireland and trained as a teacher in England. A few years older than most of the students, he was someone with political vision who questioned the status quo.
We became good friends. He graduated in History and English, was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and Canada Council Academic prize and went on to earn an M.A. in Modern European History at Columbia University. After working as a producer for CBC Radio, he was hired at the School of Journalism and Communications at Carleton University.
We spent a lot of time together in Montreal and Ottawa, especially at the house he shared with his wife Josephine and children, twins Larissa and Tamara, son Patrick John, and a host of visitors.
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It was a haven for musicians, artists, rebels, and dreamers. I met Muddy Waters there one night, Liam Clancy another, and we hung out with guitarist David Bromberg. Peter Hodgson and Susan Jains were regular visitors, as was the Micmac singer/guitarist and filmmaker Willie Dunn.
When the eminent Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko was in town, Patrick and I spent time with him.
Patrick was a magnet, for sure – the pull being his broad knowledge, his indefatigable curiosity, his wit, and perpetual readiness to seize the moment and prolong it.
As a journalist, a pillar of the Last Post magazine, he influenced everyone, including me when I was writing for the Toronto Star, to dig deep and wide, to discover what lay behind the ebb and flow, to challenge the given.Yes, he was a controversial figure. His left-wing and humanitarian outlook rankled the comfortable. But even those with whom he fought or who challenged his ways and ideas, respected his talent as a writer. Some regretted that beyond his work for CBC Radio and other media as a commentator and reviewer, his only book was the playful Your Place or Mine, An Entertainment, co-written with long-time friends Rae Murphy and Bob Chodos, both of whom were Last Post mainstays.
Dr. Arnold Aberman, former Dean of Medicine at University of Toronto, wrote: “As V.P. of the McGill Students’ Society in the volatile 60’s and an ideological opponent of Patrick, I was on the receiving end of many editorials during his time at the McGill Daily.
“I did admire his energy and facility with words. I was saddened by his passing.” Montreal-based filmmaker Eric Pomerance said, “His humour, acerbic wit, and marked left-wing views sparked much debate and discussion among our circle of friends and cronies enjoying a drink at the Swiss Hut. Patrick was an inspiration to me to follow my dreams and do something meaningful with my life.”
His death was a double tragedy for the family since it came a few days after beloved daughter Tamara (Tammy) died in her sleep. She was 52.
The secular memorial, hosted by Patrick Jr., featured Celtic Harp by Pat Marshall, a fond and funny remembrance by longtime friend Maureen O’Neil, testimonials by Peter Johansen, Patrick’s former boss at Carleton, and John P. Kelly, who directed him in several theatre productions. MacFadden loved to act.
Johansen recalled that MacFadden once awarded a rare A+ for an essay in his course on the great books of the 20th century, and noted in his remarks, “Clearly, you have no talent for journalism.”
Friend Peter Hodgson, AKA Sneezy Waters, ended the memorial on acoustic guitar with a lyrical allusion to the sun going down, the summer dying.