The Late Bernard (Ben) Tierney
Honourable senators, in the news business, you really get to know a person when you share the journey together. In my case, the road trips were many, and getting to know this person helped shape my life as a reporter.
His name, Ben Tierney, or as the headline in his obituary stated: “Legendary Canadian journalist Ben Tierney Dies in Victoria at age 81.”
That was just a few weeks ago, and my, oh my, how I miss him. But the spirit of Ben Tierney will never die. A Scot by birth, it seems Ben was always on the road. As his former Southam News colleague Peter Calamai called him, a “correspondent’s correspondent.”
Ben was born in Ayr, Scotland. At age 17, the restless teenager was on the road. It was the late 1950s and Ben was anxious for a new adventure, an adventure that would take him around the world. First a short stay in the United States, but he soon found himself in Canada.
Ben loved to write, and it didn’t take long to land a copy boy job at the Calgary Herald. The rest is history.
At Southam News, Ben seemed to be posted everywhere: Paris, Washington, Hong Kong, Ottawa and Vancouver, with many more stops in between.
One of those was in Beijing. He and I covered the massacre in Tiananmen Square. It was during that time of covering history and witnessing the deaths of Chinese students that we bonded.
Exhausted at the end of days which never really ended, we, along with other correspondents, would reflect on the stories we covered. A beer, or maybe two, never tasted better. We lived to tell a story for another day.
It’s funny when you are in the moment; you never look at the story as history but as another news event on a lifelong road trip. There were many trips, but Ben’s pursuit of the story was something to behold. Gordon Fisher, who was Ben’s boss at Southam News, said this about Ben Tierney, “I learned so much from him (about) the values of curiosity, the relentless pursuit of truth . . .”
Honourable senators, I’m trying to capture the essence of a man I loved, my family loved, and his many friends loved. What was it about him that was so special? Sure, he was sometimes a cranky Scot with pockets of humour, but from my personal view, he was fearless, fair-minded and fair. He cared about the story and the individual or individuals in the story.
On assignment in Delhi in India, he wrote about the awful conditions faced by working children. They were known as “the carpet boys.” In 1991, he captured the miserable conditions in which they lived and worked:
They worked in ill-lit and airless mud huts, breathing carpet lint, in temperatures ranging from near freezing in winter to more than 40 C in summer . . . They were beaten and given one bowl of rice and salt a day. And at night, after the owner locked the doors, they slept on the hard dirt floor by their looms.
That was classic Ben Tierney. That was the Ben Tierney I knew: the humanist, as well as the war or foreign correspondent.
In closing, at the end of his life, Ben never lost his sense of humour. He loved to write short stories. He was in the midst of a new book. It was about Nixon’s ghost coming back to haunt the White House, but along comes Donald Trump. Even though he was very ill, Ben said, “My book has been Trumped! This is crazier than I made it!”
Along the road, Ben Tierney was a husband, a father and a grandfather. He may have loved the road, but he also loved what his family brought to his life. His journey wouldn’t have been complete without them.
Ben, I will close with this Scottish proverb: “A good tale never tires in the telling.”
Ben Tierny, you never tired in the telling of a good story.