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Larry Henderson.

"For five years in the 1950s," began F. F. Langan's obituary notice in the Globe and Mail, "Larry Henderson owned the most famous face in Canada.

As the first regular anchor of CBC's national television news from 1954 to 1959, his steep brow and distinctive mustache were known from coast to coast."

Born in Montreal in 1917, he won a scholarship to McGill, where he studied music. Then he decided to try his luck on the English stage; he has been described as a Shakespearean actor "of real promise." When the Second World War began, he returned to Canada, enrolled in the Canadian Officers' Training Corps, and in 1943 was commissioned a lieutenant in the Canadian Army Signals Corps; he saw active service in Italy and Holland. He once took his radio equipment into Ravenna when neither the Germans nor the Allies were in control of it, but rather a partisan group called Popski's Private Army. He often told groups he was conducting to places of interest in Europe that he had slept on Dante's bones, but when some of them asked him whether this was near the Dante memorial outside the central square in Ravenna he had to admit, "No." After one such admission, he got up early the next morning and went hunting around Ravenna's cemeteries, in one of which he found a plaque on a wall saying that Dante's remains had been transferred there for safekeeping during the war. So he had slept near Dante's bones after all.

He married Joan Annand in 1949. They had a home on Meadowwood Drive in Clarkson, but in the early years of their marriage they did a great deal of traveling. In 1950 he spent six weeks in Korea, as the first Canadian broadcaster sent to cover the Korean War. By the early 1960s, he was working for CTV National News as a commentator on international affairs. But then he had a change of interests, as his son Graham explains:

"My father met a priest in Ottawa in the late 1960s and started talking to him about his faith. When he converted to Catholicism, the whole family was shocked. My mother brought us up as Presbyterians [and] he had been an atheist."

In 1973, he began writing articles for the Catholic Register, Canada's leading Catholic paper, and in the next year he became its editor. It would be hard to overestimate his importance in the life of the Church from this time on. He represented orthodoxy at a time when heterodoxy was in fashion, when the end of the Second Vatican Council was supposed to have inaugurated a new era of openness and the controversy over Humanae vitae had virtually split Catholicism in two. It was hard for the ordinary Catholic to tell friend from foe. A semblance of stability would come only after the election of John Paul II as pope in 1978. The Register was involved in one controversy after another, as, for example, whether the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was a threat to the Church or not. In some of the advice he gave with regard to elections he was perhaps incautious, but on the whole he represented sanity in times which were often insane.

I was a member of a committee of four set up by the Cardinal to advise Larry on questions of policy. I soon found myself allied with Larry in opposition to a Jesuit priest on our committee who wanted us to focus on social issues as the Catholic New Times did. This priest argued that we were giving too much credence to Larry when we took his word that he knew what his readers wanted. Eventually we had an expensive survey, which confirmed Larry's opinions concerning which columnists on the paper were worth their salt , and how many subscribers he would lose if he followed a particular course of action. Like any other good editor, he could tell on his fingertips--without the need of a scientific survey--what would go down well in his publication and what wouldn't. Larry took the circulation of the Register from 30,000 to 60,000. Soon after he had left the paper in 1986, the circulation had fallen by a half. Not long after this, he took over a newsletter, Challenge, which had been started by a Manitoba judge and his sisters, and he became in effect its managing editor. In time, he turned it into a respectable periodical with a circulation of about 4,000. This was another example of his ability to command a following. When he left it in 2002, many of his readers wrote to express their dismay and to ask him to stay.

In a tribute to him in the Ottawa Citizen, David Warren wrote, "I learned more from him about how Canada is actually governed than from any other informant, save one. Yet I chiefly remember the pleasure of aimless talk, for Henderson was a teller and wonderful raconteur. He had the gift of getting into places you could not go, and then getting out again." He was a man with a very engaging personality--and yet great depth.

His wife Joan died in 1997. In his later years, he was afflicted with both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. When he had a stroke well on in November, it was clear that his days were numbered. In an otherwise excellent obituary in the Globe and Mail, it is said that he died in Toronto. He died in Parkwood Veterans' Hospital, London, peacefully in his sleep at about 3 a. m., November 26. He is survived by his sons, Graham and Ross.

He had requested that Father Jonathan Robinson of the Toronto Oratory of St. Philip Neri be asked to say his funeral Mass, and that this Mass be in Latin.

Dr. David Dooley is the associate editor of this magazine.
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Author:Dooley, David
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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