The sad news rolled out this afternoon. Stuart McLean, whose voice made you feel like a longtime friend was in your ear, has died.
We've been surprised over the course of the last couple years with the sheer number of 'greats' passing from this mortal coil, but Stuart was special. He dfined what it means to be Canadian.
For those who didn't have the chance to learn about this wonderful man, here's an excellent interview. I'll let you research all Stuart's fantastic stories and Wikipedia entry. Here's my experience with the man.
I was working as a newspaper editor in Tisdale, SK. for the Tisdale Recorder and Parkland Review newspapers. Stuart had a show coming up in nearby Prince Albert, and I received a message that I could interview him if I wanted to. You could have knocked me over with a feather - the chance to interview Stuart McLean on the phone? YES!!!
Leading up to the actual phone call, I was probably as nervous as I'd ever been in my life. Then, the phone rang.
"Hello Ryan? This is Stuart. How are you doing?"
All nervousness dissapeared as his simple introductory sentence instantly put me at ease. It was like talking with a long-time friend. In fact, it WAS talking with a long-time friend! I had heard this guy on the radio for countless hours, and now I was speaking with him on the phone.
We had an fantastic chat, I wrote a lead-up story about the show, and I received tickets to attend in a few weeks. He also invited me to drop by the E.A. Rawlinson Centre during the afternoon warm-up for a change to meet the performers.
Wow. Now THIS topped the phone interview! Waiting in the wings, watching Stuart warm up before our live interview was sheer magic. As he wrapped up, we shook hands and continued the conversation left off over the phone.
Stuart in real-life was just as you'd imagine him from the radio persona. Warm, thoughtful, and a pleasure to talk with. Over supper, he regailed us (myself, Stuart and the other musicians) with a story of when he covered the death of John Diefenbaker and first encountered the city of Prince Albert.
Aside from the memorable Prince Albert show, I've seen him in concert in Brooks, Calgary and Banff. His Christmas concerts had become a family tradition, and yet another reason to look forward to the season.
If I could say anything now to Mr. McLean, it would be a reiteration of our first interview.
"Thank you, Stuart, for your wonderful stories. You are the Voice of Canada."