Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Newfoundland's senior reporter passes away

He was the only working journalist to cover all nine provincial premiers. And this afternoon (May 22), it all came to an end. Veteran broadcaster Scott Chafe passed away at the age of 62, after a brief battle with lung cancer.

I remember seeing Scott Chafe at work when I was a young reporter at The Newfoundland Herald. We had just left a news conference and I was standing nearby when he picked up a pay phone and filed his story in time for the 1:00 pm news. I was still digesting what I had heard at the newser, and here was Scott, delivering a perfect 20-second wrap of the story without even looking at notes. I thought that was pretty cool.

I spoke with VOCM news director Gerry Phelan several weeks ago, when I first became aware that Scott was gravely ill. He spoke to me on condition that I check first with Scott’s wife, Barbara. I did, but she asked that I not write anything at the time. Scott was not feeling well, didn’t feel up to creating a rush of visitors and – as usual – didn’t want to make a fuss.

Sadly, that embargo has ended.

Scott passed away with the same unassuming, quiet dignity in which he lived. He was sick for quite some time before the diagnosis but kept it hidden as best he could.

“I think he was in denial about it,” Phelan said. “I remember his first phone call to me was ‘Gerry I’m some glad I don’t have lung cancer.’ He was in hospital when he called and said that. He said he had back problems, had to have a back operation and would be back in the saddle soon… And then a bit later it was ‘cancer of the lung’. He never said ‘lung cancer’.”

Some of Scott’s colleagues knew he was ill before Scott acknowledged it to himself, because he insisted on keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ while his health was clearly deteriorating. Scott even managed to keep it hidden from his bosses, since he spent so little time in the newsroom.

“Even the Sergeant of Arms over at the Legislature, when I told her that we were going to get somebody else to cover the House, said she knew how sick he was,” Phelan said. “She could tell last fall that he was deteriorating. She said that her uncle had cancer, and she cried seeing what he was going through. And here was Scott coming in here every day as if he was normal. We knew he wasn’t completely well, but we never saw any of that… he would not let on how bad he was.”

But those who worked most closely with Scott – his fellow journalists out in the field – could see something was wrong. And the way they rose to help their colleague is perhaps the most inspiring aspect of Scott’s final days.

“I gotta tell you this much,” Phelan said. “And this is the most moving thing I have heard about this from other reporters who have called me – the Cec Haires of the world and a few others. They told me stories about how Scott was sick for a while and how they have covered for him for a long time – like being sick and almost passing out at an event. They would start his tape recorder for him. Someone else told me about taking off his clip for him because he was so ill. I never knew… One day he was on the verge of passing out at a Board of Trade function. He was out in the lobby asleep on the couch. Those who knew him knew he was sick. They went out of their way to make sure he was okay, and that he did manage to file his story. None of us had any idea. That shows the camaraderie out there, how deep people in the media community really are. That means a lot, you know. To me, people who take care of people… they make the difference. It can be dog-eat-dog in this media world but let me tell you, in all honesty the people on the front lines know how to take care of each other. I always knew that the boys were really good people. Those are the things that have stayed with me…”

Here is the full story that was posted on the VOCM web site:

We are mourning one of our own today. A man who can be called THE senior journalist in this province, has passed away. VOCM's Scott Chafe was 62.

Scott Chafe covered the political scene in Newfoundland and Labrador under all nine Premiers, starting in 1963 with Premier Joey Smallwood and continuing until today with Premier Danny Williams. He was the senior Legislative Reporter with Steele Communications, and the dean of reporters at the House of Assembly. Scott reported on all the major events in the province over the past four decades.

Scott wore the badge of the consummate professional. His familiar face, and voice were accompanied by the red arm holding the VOCM microphone at news event after news event.

A native of Harbour Grace, Scott was an avid outdoorsman whose passion was fishing for sea run brown trout and Atlantic Salmon. He was an accomplished fly-tyer and built his own fly rods from scratch. He had an intimate knowledge of the geography of Newfoundland and Labrador having visited and written stories from the Torngats in Northern Labrador to Cape Race and in between.

The funeral service for Scott Chafe will be held on Friday at 10:30 am at Corpus Christi church.


George said...

Sorry to see him go.
I remember my first foray into advocacy and volunteer work. I started doing some work with the RNC and the Hallowen patrol back in 1980 and it was there that I had my first media interview with none other than Scott Chafe.

I called the station just last week only to find out that he was sick. I had noticed that Dennis Malloy was doing the reporting from the House and that Scott was on the missing list.

The missing list it is then because, I think we're all missing a little of him tonight.

For some reason, the solid reports from the House just won't be the same without him.

Regards to the family. I have you all in my prayers.

George Murphy

Linda Swain said...

Gerry is right. Scott soldiered on as long as he could. I remember seeing him sitting in his truck in the parking lot at work (at this point I had no idea he was sick...none of us did) and I joked with him "Can't face it this evening?" He looked up and said "No, I can't get out of the truck". I asked him if he needed help or needed me to call someone. He said it was his back and he was fine. He came in and wrote up his stories for the morning with not a single complaint. The scope of his political and historical knowledge of this province cannot and may never be matched. I treasure the many, many stories of life in the trenches he shared with me over the years, and particularly our long conversations about the history of Newfoundland. I have a very deep admiration and respect for Scott and I am devestated this evening. Devestated.

WJM said...

There was "news" in the timbre of his voice. Condolences to the Chafe and VOCM families.

Nancy Hollett said...

I had the honour of working with Scott Chafe at VOCM News for several years. There are a lot of things that I remember about him, but the one thing that continues to leap to the front my mind whenever I think of him is his kind, gentle and friendly nature. After I left the newsroom and we would run into each other at an event somewhere, he always made a point to come over to me and say hello. When I read the comments from Gerry about other journalists helping Scott, I wasn't surprised. He was a true gentleman. He will be missed.

batwoman said...

Scott was absolutely a very nice man,
with no sense of ego or boastfulness about him.

Mike said...

I was completely shocked and saddened to hear of Scott's death today. Throughout the day it was a topic with many people and none of us knew of his illness.

I have had many interractions with Scott in his capacity of reporting the news. He was a pro. Trustworthy, fair and above all very thorough. I remember searching out a seal tanned pelt for him once when whe wanted to use it to make fish flys. although it wasn't necessary, he insisted on paying for it. That's just the way he was.

Hi is a great loss to the media business and humanity as well.

My thoughts best wishes go to his family.

Ken Regular said...

This morning I turned on my computer in the newsroom and opened the national wire feed. I gasped out loud when I read the story that Scott had passed.

My colleague at the next desk here in Toronto asked, "You knew him?" I said yes.

Moments later I received an email from another colleague in another newsroom here. She had sent me the wire, in case I hadn't seen it yet.

Compared to others, I only knew Scott briefly; a period of a few years. But he was fun and always had a pleasant word even when the rest of us reporters were not so nice to be around.

He knew how to have fun, even at work during a long day.

Scott knew how to take a joke. I had the pleasure of playing one on him and he happily acknowledged that I -- and an accomplice in Ottawa -- had gotten him good.

Scott also knew what he was doing, running around town from one event, to a news conference, then up to Confederation Building at a pace that would leave others in his dust.

Scott will be missed, there's no doubt.

Ken Regular