A personal appreciation by Chronicle writer Andrea Freedman
I woke up this past New Year’s Day determined to start the year off on a more positive note. Sadly, this resolution was quickly dashed when I found out that morning my employer, mentor and friend Gary Webb-Proctor, founder and editor of the East York Chronicle Newsmagazine, and Toronto Moon music magazine, had passed away earlier that week at the age of 70.
I first met Gary about seven and a half years ago when I began writing full time, shortly before he launched the East York Chronicle. Ever since our first meeting, Gary played a very significant role in my life. He was more than just a person I worked for; unlike some other bosses that I have had in the past, Gary genuinely cared about me.
Gary was a classy guy who had a unique sense of style as well as a great sense of humour. It was not uncommon for us to share a laugh during any given conversation. There were many times when Gary picked me up when I was down, even when he was going through his own struggles. I am grateful I saved the last voicemail message he left me, when he made a joke even though he was in the hospital.
Gary was proud of the paper he created, with good reason, and he was passionate about championing for the little guy whose small businesses he promoted in the Chronicle. He taught me the importance of digging deeper to uncover a good story, and helped me to improve my photography skills by encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone in order to be better able to coax people into posing for more eye-catching pictures.
Gary really cared about the people he wrote about, and that’s why his stories were so great. When he learned of someone in the East York community who was suffering from an illness or who was holding a fundraiser to raise awareness about another community member’s plight, he promptly wrote a story to encourage others to rally around the person and their cause or, much to my delight, assigned the story to me or one of his other writers. Once the person we wrote about hopefully recovered, Gary was only too happy to share the good news in his publication and on social media.
He gave me the opportunity to write human interest stories that really mattered to me. If I have become a better writer, it is in large part thanks to Gary and what he taught me over the past seven and a half years.
I got to see what it was like to work in the excitement and bustle of a real news room, when I spent time helping in the newspaper office with Gary. I always enjoyed the atmosphere and the easy camaraderie we shared.
Although Gary sometimes assigned me stories about “shovels in the ground” events at places throughout East York that were considered to be the “Heart of the East,” I really think that in a very significant way, Gary himself was actually the heart of the East.
Besides the invaluable lessons he taught me about writing, when other potential writing jobs came my way, my first instinct was always to consult with Gary as to what terms I should agree to before accepting the job.
I don’t know what I am going to do without Gary’s advice and guidance. One thing is for sure: I promise not to put any of his priceless tutelage to waste. I will try to go forward with confidence and when I question myself about anything having to do with writing, I will stop and ask myself “What would Gary say?”
Gary was a true artist and a consummate professional who always maintained journalistic integrity. I always admired how hard-working he was. He made me want to work harder to achieve better results. He gave me the courage to believe in myself as a writer and to value my work enough to ask to be paid for it. He was always fair and always tried to do the best he could for everyone who wrote for his publication.
When I experienced the devastating loss of my sister not that long ago, Gary showed me immense kindness and compassion. One day when I called him crying and told him about my children’s story, A Sister in Heaven, which I wrote as a way to help me heal, as well as with the hopes of helping other, younger people who are experiencing grief, he immediately took me under his wing and treated my story as if it were his own. The book would never have come to fruition without this wonderful man’s help and support.
Gary always had a big hug for me when we saw each other and I’m sure now would be no different. On the day I learned the sad news of his passing, I walked down the street aimlessly with tears pouring down my face, and I imagined Gary hugging me and trying to make me feel better. I hope that Heaven greets him with the warm, loving embrace he deserves.
It has often been said that quality is more important than quantity. I am very grateful for the short time Gary Webb-Proctor was in my life and I’m sure there are many others in the writing and music communities who can attest to the same.
Unfortunately COVID kept me away from making an in-person hospital visit to Gary, something I will always regret. In our last phone call Gary thanked me for all the calls I had made to him throughout his hospital stay. But it is really me who owes him a huge debt of gratitude and appreciation. He made a positive difference in my life and I can only hope that I did the same for him, even in a small way.
Thank you for everything, Gary. I will surely miss you, but your smile and the twinkle in your eye will forever be embedded in my mind. I can promise you this: I will honour your memory the best way I can, by continuing to write, by trying to sell more of the book that ultimately came to mean so much to both of us, and hopefully make you proud. I’m better off for having known you.
Goodbye, my fearless leader. Rest in peaceful beauty my friend. I hope you hear sweet music and flowing, intelligent words for all eternity. Although it was a pleasure working for you, the bigger privilege was having met you in the first place.
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