This is a must-see for anyone who has been watching him deliver the news since he started with CFTO-TV (now CTV) in 1976. You can see it on channel 9, or Rogers Cable channel 8.
There is a documentary starting at 10:00pm, followed by his final broadcast at 11:00pm -JG.
Legendary anchor heads off into sunset
Vinay Menon: August 13th, 2011
Lloyd Robertson has done everything in his career except say goodbye.
But no human body is impervious to time, not even one that’s attached to the face of television news in this country. And so on Sept. 1, nearly 60 years after he hauled his big dreams into a small radio station, Robertson will deliver his final newscast.
He will say goodbye.
When he started in 1952, Louis Saint Laurent was prime minister, the Korean War was raging, George VI had recently died, The Greatest Show on Earth ruled the box office, and television itself was just arriving in Canada.
In less than three weeks, when his signature closing line — “And that’s the kind of day it’s been” — is uttered for the last time, the curtain will fall on one of the most extraordinary TV runs in history.
First with the CBC, and then CTV, Robertson anchored a national newscast for 41 years, more than twice the tenure of Walter Cronkite. During a half century of rapid change, Robertson guided generations through cataclysmic events with the soothing presence of a sage uncle during a family crisis.
Now he is the news.
It’s a muggy Wednesday evening when Robertson arrives for dinner at the Baton Rouge restaurant in Scarborough, not far from CTV’s broadcast studios, his home away from home since 1976.
He orders a mineral water and wedges himself into the corner of our booth, his legs up and casually splayed across the crimson leather banquette, as if waiting for a delayed flight in an airport lounge. His navy suit, red tie and white Order of Canada lapel pin are bathed in light from a tabletop lantern, casting him in sepia hues.
It’s strange to see Robertson outside of a television set. But he looks serene in person, at ease with the decision he made last spring while strolling a Florida beach with his wife, Nancy.
In a way, this dinner is like a telecast of the CTV National News with Lloyd Robertson. The network’s chief anchor is announcing a major event. He is providing context. He knows the file. He is conveying trust and authority.
But since this major event is his life story, every so often something happens that you don’t witness on TV: a trace of emotion seeps into that distinctive voice.
“You can’t go on forever,” says Robertson, 77, the corners of his mouth flickering into a wistful smile. “The aging process is inevitable. Your body begins to tell you little things.”
In recent years, his pride also had something to say: “I really wanted to leave at the top of the game rather than sit there and let the slide in my own presentation begin.”
As Craig Oliver, CTV’s chief political correspondent and Robertson’s friend since the ’60s, later tells me: “That is so classically Lloyd’s good judgment. He didn’t dig in his feet and say, ‘I’m staying until I can’t do it any more.’ ”
What’s most amazing is that he did it at all.
Lloyd Robertson, the youngest of two sons, was born in Stratford on Jan. 19, 1934. His father, with eight other children from a previous marriage, was 60 and in deteriorating health due to cancer and stomach ailments. His mother, in her 40s, was tormented by serious psychiatric problems.
“He never talked about his parents,” says childhood friend Derek Blackburn. “We never really knew what was wrong.”
His father, a machinist’s helper at the CNR locomotive repair shops, died when Lloyd was 21. His mother, who careened in and out of institutions, eventually had a prefrontal lobotomy, a crude surgical procedure that eased her demons by turning her into a living ghost.
“That was a very difficult period,” says Robertson, who often bounced around in the care of his half-siblings. “I think maybe one of the reasons I got into broadcasting was that there was this other world out there that I could find a place in.”
This realization first crystallized in 1946 during postwar celebrations. Standing with his buddies under the supports for the radio station CJCS Stratford, 12-year-old Lloyd watched and listened with awe as announcers provided commentary on the Perth Regiment marching up the street toward the jubilant crowd.
“I do know that I became sort of a radio junkie after that,” says Robertson. “The idea was obviously planted in my head.”
In high school, Robertson gravitated toward the brainy clique. For the first time in his life, he belonged. He immersed himself in skits, debates and musical concerts in which he played the euphonium.
He also met Nancy.
Initially, the relationship was more practical than romantic. In Nancy, Lloyd found the nurturing stability he never experienced at home. And in Lloyd, the painfully shy Nancy found a gregarious chatterbox who would revamp her social calendar.
“I married Lloyd because he was so outgoing,” says Nancy, who walked down the aisle in 1956 when they were both 22. “He was going to be my social director.”
After finishing Grade 12, Robertson went to work at CJCS. When word spread, Blackburn recalls, he worried about his friend while sitting in a greasy spoon in a ramshackle part of Stratford: “I remember looking out the foggy window and saying, ‘My God, I wonder what will happen to Lloyd now.’ ”
But what Robertson lacked in formal education he made up for with a combustible mix of ambition, drive, focus, hard work and that inimitable voice, a silky baritone that sounds like it’s drifting down from parting clouds. (When he orders dinner — “I’ll have the surf ’n’ turf, please, and just a small salad to start” — diners at a nearby table swivel their heads, as if a monumental world event is unfolding.)
Robertson read books about politics and history. He memorized new words. At 19, he decamped to Guelph, working at radio station CJOY. Twelve months later, he was an employee of CBCTelevision. The couple relocated to Winnipeg, where they were married. Then after two years in Ottawa, they landed in Toronto, where Robertson began his ascent to the top.
But with four young daughters, including twins, his deranged schedule often strained the marriage. Nancy’s social director, now determined to become a star, was never home.
“The fact that I had to work every night became an issue when the kids were in school,” says Robertson. “But we survived. Nancy is very patient.”
When daughter Lisa Robertson, a filmmaker, set out to make a documentary about her father, she was stunned by what she never knew about his life, what she never knew about the man who seemed to be on TV more than in the living room.
“I had no idea he had such huge obstacles to overcome,” says Robertson, whose documentary And That’s The Kind of Life It’s Been airs Sept. 1 at 10 p.m. on CTV, right before Robertson’s farewell telecast. “It answers a lot of the whys — why he wasn’t always there as much as Mum was.”
By 1970, Robertson occupied the CBC’s top news chair as anchor of The National. But despite having the best job in broadcasting, he was unhappy. In those days, news employees and “announcers” were segregated in different unions, meaning Robertson was forbidden from tinkering with the words coming out of his mouth.
The thoughtful journalist was expected to be a mindless automaton.
He approached Knowlton Nash, the director of information programming, to plead his case for more editorial involvement. When nothing changed, Robertson then made the hardest decision of his life. With the Depression-era words of his father ringing in his ears — “You get a good job, Boy, and you stick to it” — he jumped ship, trading CBC stability for CTV flexibility.
The media world convulsed. CBC executives were gobsmacked. And seemingly overnight, battle lines were redrawn in the TV news wars.
“Until then, if anybody wanted to know what was happening in Canada or the world, they felt the CBC was the voice of authority,” says Oliver, who also left the public broadcaster to join CTV. “Well, the voice of authority came to work for us.”
At CTV, now co-hosting with Harvey Kirck, Robertson was involved in all aspects of the newscast. Ratings soared, creating an audience shift that endures to this day. (CTV National News is now the country’s highest-rated newscast, averaging 1.2 million viewers per night.)
In 1984, Robertson’s ascent reached its zenith when he was appointed chief anchor and senior editor. But despite having enormous decision-making clout over the years, Robertson also let others do their jobs, especially when it came to administration, budget, hiring and field assignments.
“Lloyd was very unique in that he would generally keep his powder dry, keep his tongue to himself on the major issues in a news organization until he really wanted to speak,” says Robert Hurst, former president of CTV News and Robertson’s boss for most of the past decade.
The truth is Robertson cared less about internal machinations because he cared more about viewers.
“He always retained his common touch,” says Ivan Fecan, former president and chief executive officer of CTVglobemedia and CTV Inc. “That is absolutely true about him. He knew who his audience was. He understood them. He never lost his connection with them. He never stopped being part of that audience.”
Robert Fife, CTV’s Ottawa bureau chief, remembers hearing from Robertson once after filing a policy story about climate change.
“He called me after and said, ‘Ah, Bob, that item you did, what do you think your mother would say if she saw that? Do you think she would she understand that?’
“I had to laugh because he was right. I made it too complicated. But you know, he could have called me up and said, ‘That was a stupid, complicated story, you idiot! Why did you do that?’ But he did it in such a nice way. He does not have a mean bone in his body.”
Robertson’s kindness is a recurring theme.
Just before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Lisa LaFlamme, CTV’s globetrotting correspondent who will succeed him as chief anchor, lost her father.
Throughout the Olympics, as LaFlamme struggled valiantly, Robertson called and emailed notes of encouragement. He could see beyond her brave smile.
“He helped me dramatically bring my mind back to the job when all I wanted to do was crawl in a corner and cry,” says LaFlamme. “I always think about that. That’s a friend who does that. That’s not just a colleague.”
“This can be a cutthroat business, no question about it,” says long-time friend Peter Mansbridge, chief correspondent at CBC News and anchor of The National. “And he has managed two networks at the top of the ladder and done it with style and distinction. There are no blemishes.”
Part of the reason for this sterling record is simple: Robertson has always been consumed by the work. Ask family and friends for an interesting anecdote and you’re likely to hear stammering silence. The craziest story, offered by Lisa Robertson, was that her father used to wear slippers to the bank because, as he explained to his mortified children, they were more comfortable than shoes.
“Lloyd hasn’t exactly lived a wild life,” says Oliver. “I’m on the verge of telling you something and I know I can trust you to report it with the affection that I intend. But if News of The World had hacked Lloyd’s voicemail, they would have had a hard time staying awake.”
So the question becomes: is it possible for a workaholic to say goodbye to his job?
Back at the restaurant, a steady stream of ’80s music is playing, creating a suitably nostalgic atmosphere. Robertson may be leaving the news but he will continue to work as a correspondent on W-FIVE. He is also writing an autobiography and talking about doing documentaries.
At the start of dinner, he waxes convincingly about his new routine. He says he is eager to embrace “normal” hours and live a “normal” life.
“It’s the pressure of the eight- to nine-, to sometimes 11- to 12-hour days. As you get older, it doesn’t get any easier. So I just want a change in routine.”
But near the end, he sounds a bit equivocal, even worried about what this concentrated dose of normal may do to his body after all these abnormal years.
“I don’t think it would be possible for me to get off this treadmill that I’ve been on, going 140 k for the last 41 years,” he finally says, sipping a coffee and drowning out Enya’s Orinoco Flow. “To suddenly jump off, I’d bowl myself over and break my legs.”
Wendy Freeman, the new president of CTV News and former executive producer of CTV National News, remembers doing shows in Ottawa. Robertson would often challenge her to a foot race from the bureau to Parliament Hill.
“He would always beat me,” she says. “I would come up panting and sweating and he would make fun of me. He has more energy than anybody I know. I don’t think he’s capable of slowing down.”
Nancy puts it this way: “People say to me, ‘Won’t it be great to have him home?’ and I don’t say, ‘Yeah, it will be great.’ I have no expectations. I’m not setting myself up for a normal life because he’d be unhappy if it were.”
Robertson returns this weekend from vacation and a trip with Oliver to Homeplace Ranch in Alberta, where the urban cowboys talked about figurative sunsets and rode horses, an activity Robertson took up in his late 60s.
Then on Monday, he will return to television for his final tour of 11 o’clock duty.
We finish dinner and amble through the restaurant’s dimly lit corridor, past the columns of exposed brick and the admiring glances sent his way. Outside, the sun is setting and, soon, Robertson will be on the air, telling Canadians what kind of day it’s been.
In the parking lot, we chat and Robertson squints at the CTV building, which beckons from across the 401. He climbs into his burgundy SUV and, without a signal, he turns left, vanishing down Progress Avenue.
See original here.