Saturday, 30 May 2015

In Memoriam: Friend and Researcher

We buried Mark Cannon this week.  He was 66, roughly the same age as most of his friends because we all met in the 1960's either in high school at St. Pius X or St. Pat's College in Ottawa. Both schools offered a good education and even better lessons in life. Many young people were also at the wake, not just nieces and nephews, but also youth that Mark mentored in his role at CBC in the audience research department.  The young CBCers would visit regularly when he was hospitalized for the lung cancer that spread to his brain.

Mark was a childhood friend so remarkable that I can easily remember the faces and mannerisms of his long-departed parents and whose siblings (Elaine, Terry and Martha) I recognized immediately even after many decades.

Years after school our paths intersected at CBC.  I urged him to share his exceptional intelligence with CBC and he agreed, a bit reluctantly because of an innate distrust of bureaucracy.  Mark didn't draw attention to himself and was always under-the-radar but he possessed a rare genius, fed by voracious reading, beneath that exterior. Within months of joining the CBC research department he had mastered the art and science of studying audience behaviour, needs and interests.

Mark was the anti-Gomeshi at CBC. He succeeded in the star-obsessed, over-managed CBC (and in life) because he lacked all hubris, despite being the smartest person in every room he entered.  He could handle even the most opinionated manager, deliver the bad news about ratings and somehow make the manager feel better about it.    They so respected him, some, such as Chris Boyce, who seems to have inexplicably taken the fall for the Gomeshi scandal, took time to visit him in his last days at Kensington Hospice. He was so loved by his old school buddies, many regularly made the trek from Ottawa to Toronto to spend a few hours with him, including one good friend who frequently drove to Toronto and back the same day for a visit.

Many of Mark's school buddies went on to become successful politicians, senior civil servants, lawyers and judges but he never asked for a favour and was happy for their success. Coupled with his intelligence was a wry sense of humour.  He could use it to perfectly frame a situation, often to reign in a misguided CBC programmer or friend who was out of line.

Mark met the love of his life at CBC, Christine Wilson, and though they later separated, they had two beautiful children, Sam and Rachel.  If they have half of Mark's intelligence, they will be successful. Christine was so caring for Mark in his last months, she was declared ex-wife of the year in our St. Pius/St. Pat's circle.  Despite our Catholic beginnings, there are a number of potential nominees.
Mark Cannon leaves an indelible memory on all who knew him. He was one of those rare individuals who gave himself to others and asked for nothing in return.  He will be remembered.