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Peter Gzowski and the planet

Last week I mentioned a beautiful video on YouTube of the earth, expanding to take in the entire universe and then compressing into our smallest atoms. My friend Lesley Humphrey sent me the link. Thank you!

And here, FYI, is my nearly 20-year old Globe article about Peter Gzowski at the end of his career, posted because you’ll read in the previous post about his producer Hal Wake’s interview with Elly Danica, mentioned in the piece.

Globe and Mail, Feb. 17, 1997
I miss him already and he hasn’t even gone yet, although
they say he’ll soon disappear. Until
now, even after long absences, he has always come back. How can this country
survive in the morning if Peter Gzowski vanishes for good? Every day his voice
floats out to claim us, like a ribbon held by a teacher leading school children
on an excursion. We listeners are all
holding on to the coast-to-coast ribbon of Gzowski’s voice.
Yet I had many Gzowski-free years – when I was studying, or
at work early, or working at night and sleeping in.  I heard people talking about various
interviews and issues from the show, but I wasn’t listening.
Then there were the years when his program was a lifeline. From
the highly-charged stimulation of my work, I moved into the domestic cocoon of a
stay-at-home mother of one and then two small children. It’s a hard transition
from one kind of satisfaction to another, and although I was exactly where I
wanted to be, there were days when the isolation inside the walls of the house
made me nutty. But I was never alone, even when the children were asleep,
because an intelligent, courteous man spent the whole morning talking to me. By
noon I had managed to accomplish a few things perhaps, a load of laundry or
dishes, picking up toys, getting dressed, but all the time I’d been absorbed
in interesting, sometimes unforgettable, conversation.
I was working in the kitchen the morning Peter interviewed a
soft-voiced Prairie woman who had just put out a book of poetry. Her name was
Elly Danica; the book, called “Don’t – A Woman’s Word”, was about her
nightmare childhood during which, she told us, she was sexually abused, for
years, by her father and his friends. This was before adults had started to
speak publicly about the secret horrors of childhood. I had to stop and sit
down, to be able to comprehend what she was saying; my mind kept repeating,
“Her father? And his friends?”
As her steady voice told its tale, I was so devastated I could hardly move,
and wondered if everyone listening across the country was as heartsick as
I. It felt like all of Canada
discovering the reality of child sexual abuse right then, all together.
I have never forgotten, either, the joyful interview with
the couple who had been surprised with a pregnancy when the wife was 49. Holding
their one-year old whom they had brought with them, they talked about getting
all the baby things they’d bought for their grandchildren back for their own
baby, about facing old age and mortality with a young child. The baby started
to babble into the microphone, and the grownups shut up to listen. From the
stillness of the studio came a long series of musical gurgles, a much-loved
baby singing his song. Then Peter laughed, “Hundreds of thousands of
Canadians are listening to baby talk.”
With Gzowski, even listening to baby talk, I wasn’t only a
housewife in her kitchen, I was a citizen of a vast country of fascinating,
brave, quirky, opinionated, hilarious, literate, talented, world-traveling
citizens. Through the years, though he doesn’t know it, Gzowski interviewed me,
too – about my scintillating life, my fabulous children, my hopes for the
I know he isn’t perfect. Sometimes he’s gruff, sometimes
unctuous, too ready to please; points that are important but perhaps not
pleasant slip by. Or he’s too polite to people I detest, or not polite enough
to people I admire. He must have done thousands of interviews,
though, over his years at the microphone, yet I have never heard a single major
gaffe. He must have made one, but I didn’t notice.
What is it that makes him special, that makes his
replacements, charming as they are, not quite Peter? They’re so much younger
than he is, for one thing; they’ve experienced so much less. Peter has been
there, done that. He’s relaxed, warm and open, his humour self-deprecating and
generous; he makes his guests comfortably welcome while probing their lives. His
style, the same with heads of state or with village bird watchers, is intimate,
down-home, as if all those strangers, one after another, come to sit in his
kitchen while he pours coffee and slices his special banana bread.
Yet for all his seeming effortlessness, he’s a superb
craftsman, alert and well-prepared; he shapes interviews, bringing people back
to missed topics, picking up loose ends. He even manages an ending for most of
the talks, a wrap-up flourish or a laugh line. In the U.S., this would need to
be a big moment, because the prime concern of the network is selling the advertising
space that follows. Here, Peter’s finales lead to a nice piece of music, and
then Peter again, more coffee, more banana bread.
How reassuringly Canadian that this far-flung population is
united by a single radio personality, like the CPR. And what a Canadian
personality. Not a right-wing blowhard, like those so popular on the radio
south of us, or a man of any political stripe whatsoever – in fact, what are
Gzowski’s politics? Who is Peter Gzowski anyway? We know that his clothes are
rumpled, he wasn’t a hit on TV, he plays golf, he still smokes. Otherwise, when
you consider that the man is as ubiquitous as any Canadian politician or
entertainer, we know remarkably little about him.
I see Peter as the ideal small-town barber. You sit in his
chair and jabber away, and he listens and asks questions, and you talk some
more. And at the end, he whips off the cape and you look in the mirror, and
you’re the same person, only better – sharper, funnier, more knowledgeable,
more in touch. Don’t leave us, Peter. Let us sit in your chair while you make
us look better, while you make us look at each other. How can we join this
country in the morning, from sea to shining sea, without you? 



2 Responses to “Peter Gzowski and the planet”

  1. Wow. That was a beautiful tribute to Peter Gzowski, Beth.


  2. beth says:

    Thank you, Juliet. He was a treasure for the country and we miss him.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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