A Life's Story
March 20, 2021
The write stuff
Quintessential Canadian newspaper journalist Roger Newman took a genuine interest in everyone he met... and didn't want anyone messing with his obituary
By: Ryan Thorpe
A newspaperman to the end, Roger Newman wrote his own obituary.
He penned it sometime around 1995 and tucked it away, not telling his family where he put it. That left them scrambling to find it when he died more than 21/2 decades later.
"He made clear he didn’t want me to change anything," says his wife, Jan Newman.
It’s a sentiment many editors have had to deal with over the years when it comes to pesky reporters.
Born in Winnipeg on April 12, 1935, Roger moved extensively in his youth, since his father was a bank manager who was frequently transferred. He spent time in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and London, England.
In 1954, he began his career in journalism as a copy boy for the Montreal Gazette. Like his father before him, Roger would travel frequently for work, spending time at the Daily Commercial News, the St. James Leader Weekly, the Brandon Sun, the Kingston Whig-Standard and the Globe and Mail.
He also did stints as the legislative reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, as business editor of the Winnipeg Tribune and as editor of Manitoba Business and the Interlake Spectator.
"Roger said when he was 10 years old he saw a movie with Dana Andrews (playing) a newspaperman and a reporter, and he really thought that seemed exciting," says Jan.
"Of course, they just went with the highlights. They didn’t go with the late nights and the drinking and smoking."
Roger and Jan met while he was a reporter at the Brandon Sun in the late 1950s. One day, not long after the two had become acquainted with each other, Roger asked Jan if she would go to see a movie with him.
It was to be their first date. But shortly after he asked Jan out, Roger went home and "promptly fell asleep," leaving his future wife "sitting at (her) apartment waiting." In other words, he stood her up.
When asked how he made up for that, Jan says with a laugh, "He married me."
One of the things that impressed Jan most about Roger in the early years of their relationship was that he seemed to take interest in everyone he met. Only later did Jan realize that was a professional quirk.
"He always seemed to be interested in people. Little did I know, underneath it all was the newspaperman. That might be a good story, so he better talk to these people," she says.
Garry Moir, a former Winnipeg-based broadcast journalist, says Roger was an old-school reporter, who stubbornly insisted on writing on a typewriter until the end of his career.
"I thought he was terrific.… Anything he wrote, you could be certain it was objective. He was a good writer. And he was fast, which was something that always impressed me, because I was slow," Moir says.
"He went at the job as a true professional. He liked to have fun, but he was a genuine professional when it came to journalism and writing."
On top of his lengthy career in journalism, Roger also spent time as the president of the Winnipeg Press Club — a social organization for journalists in the city — and taught temporarily at Red River College, where he instructed Free Press Editor Paul Samyn and Randy Turner, the newspaper’s award-winning reporter and feature writer, who died in 2019.
Moir says he has many fond memories of Roger from their time at the press club, but most of those stories are not fit to print in a newspaper.
Roger and Jan had three children — Joanne, James and Jacqui — and later in life were blessed with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Jan can’t pin down exactly when Roger retired — saying he kept retiring, going back to work and then retiring again — but they eventually settled in Gimli for their final years together.
In Gimli, he got involved with local theatre, co-founding the Aspire Theatre Group, and also spent time bowling with friends or playing golf. He had been involved with recreational sports his entire life, having previously founded the Midnight Flyers Winnipeg oldtimers hockey team.
He was a diehard Montreal Canadians fan — by virtue of spending time in that city as a child — and followed the team closely, sometimes getting to see the Habs in person when they took on the Jets at Bell MTS Place.
Roger was known for his kindness and sense of humour. As Jan puts it, "He loved to laugh and he didn’t know when to quit. If he got a laugh, he just kept going."
Although his religious convictions were non-denominational, she says Roger was a "good Christian."
"I don’t think Roger ever did anybody any wrong. If there was a way he could help somebody, he would. He didn’t turn anybody down. He wasn’t a great churchgoer, but I think he was a far better Christian than some of the people who take up space in the pews," she says.
Roger Newman died of a heart aneurysm on Feb. 19. He was at home at the time and Jan says he was dead before he hit the floor. As per his wishes, his body was cremated and there was no formal funeral service.
He was 85 years old. He was loved — and is missed — by many.
With his passing, journalism has lost one of its good guys.