I still recall quite vividly standing in the Rogers box at a Maple Leafs game about this time of year a decade ago and having a conversation with John Tory, then running Rogers Cable. I wasn’t keen on talking about his company — I was a 30-year old punk reporter with a sense that Rogers’ Internet service was a disaster and hammered the company at every opportunity — so I asked what he was doing on the weekend.
“I’m going down to Augusta,” he said, talking about his annual trip to the Masters. That conversation — and the fact we were both golfers — led to an invite to play Rosedale with him later that spring. I didn’t think it would happen; it was just one slick CEO making a nice remark to a young reporter.
A few weeks later I received the invite from Tory’s EA via email. As the big day arrived — I had never played Rosedale at that point and have only played it a handful of times since — I got a call from Tory.
“Rob, I wanted to make sure you knew how to get there and wondered if it would be a problem to bring my father along,” Tory said. “I think you’ll find him interesting. He’s the guy who bought the Globe and Mail for Thomson.”
Interesting indeed. It would be the first of several games I played with the Tory family, the last written about in my book, Going for the Green. I always enjoyed playing with the Torys — and got along quite well with the reticent John Tory Sr., a man who helped build the largest financial empire in the country for the Thomson family.
So when I opened the paper this morning to see the news that Tory had died suddenly from a stroke, I must admit to being quite saddened. It is the third or fourth time a person who participated in the series has passed — Gabe Tsampalieros of Cara Foods was one who I really enjoyed who died a few years back. The stories of Mr. Tory’s career will talk about his accomplishments in business, but I doubt any will mention his love for golf. That’s a shame.
The interesting thing about Tory was that he was usually reticent with reporters. He never talked on the record — or at least very rarely. But he loved playing golf, and it was during our second game — where John Tory Jr. and I lost a match on the 18th hole to Sr. and his grandson, George — that he invited me to come to play golf with him during the winter.
“Mr. Tory, if that’s a legitimate invite, I’ll warn you that I’m going to take you up on it,” I remember telling him.
Tory, who could regale me with stories of staying at Augusta while playing golf with former TD Bank CEO Dick Thomson, played at Seminole in Florida, the ultra-private course on the east coast north of Miami. Long regarded as one of the most exclusive clubs in the world (“There’s no way I’d get in here if I were applying now,” Tory told me), Seminole was the pre-Masters haunt of Ben Hogan, who used it to fine-tune his game for the tournament.
I showed up at Seminole in the spring, bringing my friend and colleague, Ian Andrew, along for the game. We were directed to the locker room — Mr. Tory was not there yet — and waited until he arrived. Once on the course it didn’t take long to recognize Nick Price in the group in front of us. We had a delightful game — no one playing particularly well, but having fun talking about business and golf. Our caddy was a pro from Connecticut and came down to the course to carry bags in the morning and play and practice in the afternoon. He was great, Mr. Tory was relaxed and the sun shone down on us. It was glorious.
It would also be the last time I saw Mr. Tory. I had to call him a couple of times before I left the Post in 2006, but true to form, he never commented on the record. His son, meanwhile, left Rogers and went into politics — first running for Toronto mayor and then as the leader of the provincial Conservatives. John Tory Sr. never seemed to understand his son’s interest in public office — I remember him saying to me that if John was going to run for mayor, the last thing he should be doing was playing golf with a reporter at Rosedale, the bastion of the blue bloods in Toronto. He was probably right, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying our game.
There was a real sense of decorum with Tory. I remember him telling me a story about doing a negotiation with Izzy Asper, whose family owned the Post at the time. He said Thomson was investigating some sort of deal with CanWest and agreed to meet with Asper in NY as to not attract attention. When Tory arrived, Asper was sitting in the board room smoking, a cloud hanging in the air.
“It was disgusting,” Tory said, with a frown. “He was putting out his cigarette in a coffee cup.”
In some ways that summed Tory up. In my limited experience with him, I gathered there were always two ways of doing things — the right and proper way, and the wrong way. The right way involved an unspoken protocol. As a reporter it meant he’d speak to you, but you couldn’t print his remarks. If you overstepped that line, he’d stop returning your calls. It was an odd way of working as a reporter, but one that was clear as crystal.
While walking down the third fairway of Rosedale during our first game, John Tory Jr. told me to ask his father, then in his early 70s, whether he had retired. Even outside of Thomson Corp. and Woodbridge, the Thomson family holding company, Tory was a legend having founded law firm Torys with his twin brother. Apparently retirement was out of the question: “If by retired he means I don’t go into the office on weekends, well I guess I’m retired,” he told me. At that point he only went into the office four of five times a week — though he did go south for stretches every winter to play golf.
John A. Tory suffered a stroke on the weekend and died unexpectedly. He was 81.