Born: September 17, 1943; Died: March 2, 2013.
John Gradon, who has died aged 69, was a Scottish writer who became a legend in Canadian journalism. Although born in Scunthorpe, his upbringing in Cumnock gave him an unmistakeable Ayrshire accent. At Cumnock Academy he shone as a scrum-half in the rugby XV and as off-spinner and captain of the cricket XI.
Even then a career in journalism was his goal and, still just 16, he embarked on a near 50-year career, starting at the Kilmarnock Standard, before moving to Glasgow to join the Evening Citizen. With the Citizen, in the cut-throat days of intense newspaper competition in the 1960s when rival teams of reporters and photographers hurtled around Glasgow in radio cars in pursuit of the same story then returned to smoke-filled offices for a quick drink from the whisky bottle kept in the bottom desk drawer before typing up the story, he quickly proved himself as a tenacious news hound.
He particularly enjoying the crime beat but when offered the chance to write features showed a talent for colourful prose which he would develop more fully in Canada.
He also worked for the Sunday Express, then when the Express cut back its Scottish operation, moved south to Berkshire where he worked for local papers and the Daily Mail before crossing the Atlantic to Canada, initially in Ontario, before settling in Calgary, with the Calgary Sun.
He scooped the longer-established Calgary Herald, known locally as The Grey Old Lady, so often they hired him. He rose to the heights of city editor (better known as news editor in this country) before winding down his career as correspondent at large, travelling the world and sending back stories to Calgary.
He covered drugs stories in Columbia, war in Bosnia, famine in Africa, the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and every big Canadian story. It was a typical Gradon touch, when he first moved to Alberta, the city of white stetsons, to adopt a flamboyant one, with an eagle feather.
He retired in 2005, moving to a log cabin in British Columbia – albeit a well fitted out one – overlooking Lake Okanagan and close to a golf course. It was while chopping wood at his home he sustained the fatal heart attack which would claim him two days later.
He never forgot the hectic days on the Citizen. He covered every conceivable story, writing particularly graphic and moving on-the-spot descriptions of the Cheapside Street and Ibrox disasters, and an equally strong report of the Barcelona riot of 1972.
But he also found time to play golf with and interview Bing Crosby and carouse the night away with Paul McCartney and Jane Asher during the high days of Beatlemania and drink bucks fizz with Prince Charles. He would regale younger journalists with the tale of how his Citizen news editor flung a typewriter at him because he couldn't spell accommodate – then, 40 years later, found himself bawling out a Calgary Herald trainee for the same mistake.
He was married for more than 40 years to Doreen Jones, whom he met at the Citizen, where she was the editor's secretary. Legend has it he took her out on 14 straight nights, proposing on the fifth and being accepted on the 14th.
They had one son, Stuart, who, with his partner Jamie, gave Mr Gradon his "shining light", grand-daughter Raina. Stuart followed his father into journalism, as a photojournalist with the Calgary Herald.
In a lengthy tribute following his death, the Calgary Herald said: "With his wild hair and his wire-brush moustache, his penchant for cigarettes and cursing, and his love of a good yarn, John Gradon could have been a caricature. But he wasn't. He was as real as they come. He was genuine, authentic and honest. Armed with a notepad, pen and an unfathomable interest in what makes us tick, and a million questions, he was the ultimate newsman. There were few, if any, better."
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