Remembering cartoonist Roy Peterson

Allan Fotheringham on a gentleman in a profession that had few


Roy Peterson / Vancouver Sun

The rarest thing in the universe is two human beings who share the same brainwaves. In the crazy world of journalism, it is even more unique. That was certainly the case with Roy Peterson, who died quietly as September folded, and this scribbler, who had a remarkable linkage of political thinking over half a century.

We had an arrangement that was unparalleled in all of Canadian journalism. A full 26 years sharing a column on the back page of Maclean’s magazine, my keen prose polished by his unforgiving cartoons. No one could touch this—except our bank managers.

Roy would sit in his creative office, a renovated garage behind his house in Vancouver, waiting for a phone call from me from somewhere in the world, from God knows which continent. It could be India, Russia, China, or any of the 91 countries I encountered in the 26 years we produced the column.

Friends could not believe it when I told them Roy would only receive on his garage phone my musings, what I would be raging about on the lurking deadline, and he would somehow produce an angry cartoon that perfectly matched my anger. Incredible as it may seem, I would sometimes give him my vague instructions a day before his deadline in Toronto.

It was that linkage of the brainwaves. Extrasensory perception. Roy and I lasted for 26 years on ESP.

The genius behind all this was Peter C. Newman, who, on taking over as editor of Maclean’s, came up with the idea of uniting Roy and me on the unlikely showcase that was the back page.

And what a team we were.

An example? It was no surprise that, within a year of Dave Barrett taking power, a cabinet minister had to be sacked for being caught in flagrante delicto in a car within a 50-yard view of the premier’s office window. The cartoon illustrates the goofiness of B.C. politics. Or René Lévesque ready to rip Quebec out of Canada. Roy came up with a cartoon showing Lévesque chainsmoking with cigarette butts hanging out of his mouth while pulling a rope, presumably with Quebec at the other end.

Rather quickly, all the polls showed that Maclean’s readers would turn to the back page first—leading to my publisher on one of my books labelling it Last Page First and using one of Roy’s caricatures of me on the front cover.

The strange thing was that Roy and I were so different personally. Although he was a tall man he was quiet, gentle. I never once heard him raise his voice in anger. But he had a quiet determination to build his career and become known nationally without leaving the West Coast. I, on the other hand, was a short, wild egomaniac fours years his senior, travelling the world, building my career doing five jobs—journalism, television, publishing nine books and working the lecture circuit. I guess opposites attract.

On the 10th anniversary of the back page, Roy called me up and suggested a reunion in Chicago . . . just us two. I agreed. Off I went to the Tremont Hotel, which Roy arranged. We had a great weekend together—just the two of us, or so I thought. I later found out he had brought his wife, Margaret. But she was doing her own thing in the background. I never saw her once. When I checked out of the hotel, I was told my bill had already been taken care of.

On the 20th anniversary of the back page, I received another call from Roy. How about this time we take our wives with us and go to Las Vegas? Roy would arrange everything. Off Anne and I went to the opulent Bellagio hotel in Vegas. When we arrived, there was a basket in our room put together by Roy and Margaret, with gifts, a booklet outlining our itinerary and a bottle of Champagne. Shows, fine dining, a helicopter ride at midnight over Las Vegas, even gold earrings for our wives followed. Once again, when I checked out of the hotel, the bill had been taken care of by Roy.

Roy Peterson was a freak. A civil gentleman in a profession that held so few.


Remembering cartoonist Roy Peterson

  1. Saddened Mr. Peterson is dead.

    Surprised Mr. Fotheringham is still alive.

    • But why surprised?

    • Oh get off the pot he’s only— let me see— born 1932— now 2013. answer 81. Just a boy!

  2. The Foth was one of the best (and funniest) political journalists Canada has ever had. Reading ‘the last page first’ was certainly a habit of mine, especially for the old Macleans issues found in every doctor’s reception room. And I have read a couple of his earlier books. They were hilarious and insightful for anyone interested in politics.

    A nice tribute to Roy Peterson.

  3. Zowie, Dr. Foth’s back in MacLeans (if ever so briefly)!! The only two pieces I noticed written by Dr. Foth, post-retirement, was one about the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, & a more recent one about when he nearly died due to a botched colonoscopy, if one can imagine, causing a life-threatening infection. Thankfully, he survived to tell the tale. MacLeans mag & Canadian journalism suffered a huge loss when Fotheringham retired. No journalist has yet emerged who’s worthy of being called a successor. Dr. Foth was/is in a journalistic category of his own, & above the rest, imo. Who else can write insightful political commentary as entertainingly? Nobody! It’s true Peterson’s cartoons accompanying Foth’s columns were great, & he was evidently a fine guy, but reading Foth’s prose was the main event. Please come back more often, Doctor! You are missed.

  4. My how I miss Fotheringham

  5. I remember Roy Peterson as an indelible prince among editorial cartoonists who
    was an absolute gentleman when we worked together.

    I met Roy while I was the creative director at Maclean’s Magazine when he worked
    on our back page column with Allan Fotheringham. Besides a full-time job as the
    Vancouver Sun’s editorial cartoonist, Roy produced an overwhelming amount of
    award winning international assignments quickly with his unique full colour
    cross-hatch tempera technique, that was always in high demand.

    During the 1979 Canadian Federal Election, the three major political leaders were
    scheduled to conduct a televised debate in Toronto. Maclean’s editor Peter C.
    Newman and I conceived a cover idea that featured the three leaders; Pierre
    Trudeau, Joe Clark and Ed Broadbent storming the CN tower. I called Roy and
    gave him the concept specifications, stressing he could use as much editorial
    freedom as he wished. Despite the fact he was extremely busy, since it was a
    national cover, he wanted the assignment badly; “even if I have to stay up
    all night I’ll do it,” he told me. A few days later Roy faxed me a drawing: I
    made a mock-up and received the appropriate approval; then phoned him with the
    go ahead. He agreed, to send the final, the day before my deadline so I could
    prepare it for printing. Because we went to press late Thursday, bright and
    early Wednesday morning my production assistance approached me with ashen face
    holding a huge brown envelope. He said, “I think we have a big problem.”
    Roy had sent a magnificent painting of Broadbent and Clark in medieval amour,
    storming the CN tower. It was perfect! Except, I immediately realized, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was missing. Quickly, I called Roy and explained the problem. He insisted, “He is right here, climbing the side of the tower.” When I realized he was
    looking at the original drawing not the final illustration I gave him the bad
    news. Due to a heavy work load, he had inadvertently forgotten to include
    Trudeau. He insisted even if he, “had to work all night” he would send a new
    cover by morning.

    The next morning, my assistant woke me around 5 am and told me the cover had
    arrived and was on its way to our office. I got there an hour later to face a
    fuming Peter Newman who approached me with a second brown envelope from Roy.
    Because Newman usually started his day at 5 am to work on his books, he had
    intercepted the package. Peter immediately asked: ”Is this some kind of joke, where is the rest of the cover?” I noticed Roy had only sent a tiny
    painting of Trudeau scaling at the end of a rope and I would have to mask, then
    cut and paste, this image into the earlier cover to get Trudeau in properly.
    After I explained the process, a relieved Newman, smiled and said, ”
    brilliant idea!” and returned to work.

    I called Roy, thanked him for the exceptional effort and in his usual charm he
    told me; “May the prices you pay, someday reach the standard of excellence
    you have set young man, I’m going to bed.” When I received his invoice, I sent Roy an extra $500, which was a considerable sum at that time.

    Ironically, Clark went on to defeat Trudeau and became the next Prime Minister of Canada. After that, whenever we worked together, we always had a princely laugh about Roy’s prophetic omission. I was saddened to hear of his recent passing.

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