By Joe O’Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
Could I go to the Guinness one more time for a St. Patrick’s Day toast and reminiscence of T. N. Morrison, the managing editor at the local newspaper who hired me back in April of 1969?
Well, why not.
Mr. Morrison – Tommy to almost everyone – was known near and far as a respected, first-rate journalist. He did it all: covered and wrote sports, interviewed stars of stage and screen as the paper’s entertainment columnist/reviewer, stayed on top of local news 24/7 and wrote editorials, to provide a few examples of his diverse talent.
Decades ago he had a well-read sports column in The Trib. It was authored by his alter-ego, I suppose, a writer with a one-word pseudonym for his byline, Shamrock. It gave him connection to his roots across the pond, in Belfast. The local sports community loved it.
Old hands in the second-floor newsroom at 228 East Main St., where I came aboard, loved to say you could set your Timex by Mr. Morrison’s Monday through Friday comings and goings. He arrived in the newsroom at precisely the same time each and every day, left for lunch at the same time each and every day and returned in the afternoon at the same time each and every day. It was clockwork personified.
Being gifted the Tribune’s market (no, not the stock market) beat my first summer at the newspaper, I can recall Mr. Morrison and wife Margaret making their Saturday morning rounds at Welland farmers’ market. I went each and every Saturday to check prices of lettuce, tomatoes, eggs, asparagus and more, harvest comments from a few market goers, then rushed to the newsroom to write a piece for that day’s edition.
The Morrisons liked local veggies and fruit, not to mention the opportunity to cross paths with friends from across the city and to chat about this and that. But for Mr. Morrison, it was more: he received many a news “tip” in these encounters, he told me. While socializing was important, so was keeping his finger on the pulse of the community. There wasn’t much that got past the dogged newshound, T. N. Morrrison. That became a lesson for me.
I daresay he read everything his reporters wrote. He never failed to be complimentary, whether it be with a pat on the back or with words of praise. He also let you know when he wasn’t pleased with or had issue with incorrect reporting or an errant word. But as I recall it wasn’t with temper flaring or with ear-singeing rebuke. He didn’t have that in him.
I recall a St. Patrick’s Day when he summoned staffers to his corner office that overlooked part of Welland’s main drag. He broke out a bottle of fine Irish nectar from one of his desk drawers, offered shots to anyone who wanted one and toasted St. Paddy. He was resplendent in emerald green sports jacket and green bowtie.
Mr. Morrison’s annual observance of St. Patrick’s Day, at his home, was legendary. He did it with a party at his Regent Street residence-turned-inn, always on a Saturday “within the octave of St. Patrick’s Day”, according to one of the invitations. It was the night casa Morrison became the Shamrock Inn.
I have photocopies of several invitations from over the years, this thanks to one Michael Tenszen, a widely known, retired journalist who grew up in the Rose City, graduated from Welland High and ‘Rye High’ – Ryerson – and had a storied career writing for various newspapers. Mike’s father was Peter Tenszen, a Welland photographer back in the day and of course a dear friend of Mr. Morrison. He attended many of those celebrations and his invitations became keepsakes of the “annual homage” to St. Patrick.
Mr. Morrison took pleasure in creating his personalized invites, so much so that it became one of the highlights in celebrating the annual ritual. They were often penned in verse: “Fun and frolic; chit and chat,/ Sauce enough to fill your hat;/ Friends of old; some quite new,/ Simply stated — an Irish stew!” and occasionally, hugely humorous through hyperbole, “Latecomers must be careful not to step on any bodies piled on the verandah.”
Obviously, I enjoyed the invitation that accompanies today’s column as a photo. But this one, too, ranks as a favourite, for what it shows about managing editor T. N. “Tommy” Morrison, the man:
“Ireland may be in turmoil with demonstrations in Ulster and strikers in the Republic.
But there’s still a bit of Ireland where bigotry is banned and harmony reigns.
That would be Shamrock Inn, Regent Street, Welland.
Come and join in this agreeable spirit Saturday, March 15, when the annual tribute to the dear saint will be observed.
Please confirm with T. N. Morrison, Innkeeper.”
(Scribbler’s Column appears occasionally on the blog.)