My most memorable experience of John Crosbie was the time he was on the receiving end of a very public roasting by some of the country’s leading politicians. I had a hand in making it happen. The date was October 26, 1986, and the event, held in Ottawa’s Westin Hotel, went down in history as The John Crosbie Roast for the Rick Hansen Man in Motion Tour.
He was Canada’s Minister of Transport then, and thus a fitting subject for a major fund raising project on behalf of wheel chair athlete Rick Hansen’s magnificent worldwide public awareness campaign.
The Man in Motion tour had begun in 1985 and, by the time it ended in 1987, had raised $26 million and covered 36 countries. The final leg of the tour had begun three months earlier in Crosbie’s home town, St. John’s. John and his charming wife Jane had proposed the roasting approach to mark his 20th year in active politics. John and I knew each other from early days in St. John’s when I covered City Hall and House of Assembly sessions as a reporter.
A high powered committee organizing the roast was co-chaired by former broadcaster and MP Rob Parker and Dean Melway of the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association. As DOT’s Public Affairs Operations Director, I was given the job of coordinating publicity and developing a promotional brochure for release at the time of Rick Hansen’s launching his Canada tour in August.
I struck it lucky on this task by enlisting the services of a top flight professional, Judith Yaworsky, head of Communications Consultants in Ottawa. Donating the artwork, she produced the brochure in record time, with copy “a bit irreverent,” referring to Crosbie’s 20 years of service “and he’s still not speaking either official language.” Runge Press, also donating its services, handled the printing. Well and widely distributed, the brochure and overall publicity proved highly effective.
Timed to coincide with Rick Hansen’s arrival at his Ottawa stop on the cross country tour, the Crosbie roast drew more than 800 attendees at the $150 a plate dinner in the Westin Hotel. With Hansen as Guest of Honour, tribute was paid to his superb exploits to raise money for research into spinal cord disorders and for wheelchair sport, rehabilitation and public awareness.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Liberal Leader John Turner, NDP leader Ed Broadbent and former Newfoundland Premier Frank Moores headed a broad panel of eager “Roasters” targeting the widely known foibles and bon mots by which John Crosbie earned his standing as one of Canada’s best known politicians. Moores is credited as remarking that “Crosbie is the perfect antithesis to Hansen. Rick Hansen is a consummate athlete and Crosbie has trouble getting out of his limousine.” The evening program was taped for national television broadcast.
Rob Parker later commented: “Judging by the volume of raves in the past several days, it seems safe to say that the entire evening – dinner, roast and broadcast – was an outstanding runaway success, financially and in terms of awareness and publicity for Rick’s cause.” Rick Hansen thanked me in a personal note for my “great contribution to our efforts …It raised very important and useful funds (and) contributed enormously to public awareness of our cause from coast to coast.”
Of special value to me was John Crosbie’s “Thanks for all the help, Nix” in his letter of appreciation. He said, in part, “I am particularly pleased that your work, together with that of all the organizers, for the Man in Motion Crosbie Dinner, resulted in over one hundred thousand dollars being raised for the Man in Motion Trust Fund…Thank you for the part you played in making the evening such a resounding success.”