Thursday, 1 October 2015

Max Keeping: The man of a thousand telethons

Over the next few days or weeks, a lot of people will be talking about Max Keeping, the public figure, the man who raised millions for charity, the philanthropist who gave away his money to good works, the fellow who asked everyone to "make a difference in the life of a child."

Max was all those things, and more. I only have to mention a hundred journalists who went on to fame and fortune after being sprinkled by Max's fairy dust. Max could always spot talent, that's for sure, and he could mold it like putty and take an unformed and unconfident journalism student and turn him or her into a star. He did that; he made a lot of people overnight successes.

He also hired people who wouldn't normally get a shot at television, certainly not in today's world. Leigh Chapple, who had a formidable talent, was also blessed with a weight issue. Max didn't care. He kept Leigh on the air for decades. He looked beyond the hair and the teeth -- though he hired his share of those folks -- and drilled down and found the very best of journalism sometimes lurking in the basement of Algonquin College, sometimes in the Arts Tower of Carleton University.

He gave a bunch of us our shot on television, subjecting the viewer to truly awful news reports put together by kids who didn't know a camera from their big notebooks. You didn't have to wait for the tagline, you knew who was presenting from "The Carleton University School of Journalism."

Max understood raw talent. He opened his heart to it. He gave so many students a shot at broadcast stardom and many didn't disappoint. Arthur Kent, Richard Ginsberg, , Peter Van Dusen and his sidekick brother Mark, Linda McLellan and Nancy Wilson who both went on to host Canada AM, Paul Workman, and many more. Some of these folks covered Ottawa City Council and Boards of Education. Today, they are foreign correspondents, television hosts and more.

I first met Max, like many people did, at Molly McGuire's Pub on Rideau Street. He was friendly, mirthful and three sheets to the wind. He threw many sheets to the wind during his garrulous travels through the Ottawa Valley, eventually hiring a driver to take him from venue to venue. Max never stopped.

I met him again in the late 70s when I was a Carleton student not very much interested in a career in broadcast. Truth be told, I was terrible at it, a bit of a slouch, with a chip on my shoulder. Max tore me a new one when I went out and wasted yards of hugely expensive film stock to cover a silly story about a daycare which was "throwing the babies out with the bathwater." So I spent the rest of the week acting as a spear-carrier going to the liquor store and rose shop buying supplies. You see Max always liked a bottle of rum on the desk for the post-mortem after the newscast. He also liked to dress up his newscasters like ushers at a wedding with roses in their lapels.

As I said tonight on Twitter, "Thanks for the memories. Rum and Roses."

For all his philanthropy, many of us of a certain age knew that Max was no saint. There are stories that remain untold about the man, who had a darker side, such a dark side that we would make the nuns wet themselves if they heard them. He had a police file a foot thick.

It might be best to bury those stories along with the man because Max turned his life around, and worked hard for his wings. He had a lot to repent for. Let's just leave it at that.

My husband Scott worked with Max in the 70s, briefly, as a cameraman. He doesn't remember much about the rotund little man with a permanent wave and rat tail.

I said to Scott tonight that I believe that Max lived his life externally. He always kept moving, like a Stephen King character, The Walking Man, lest the darkness overtake him.

You have to give him credit, the old bugger, he bamboozled and charmed his way into even the crustiest soul. If he were a movie character, he might have been Ted, the bear with a potty mouth and soul, but with the heart of gold.

Or maybe Max was like a fine old car, who went on too many road trips. He was all bent and corroded. His body might have been stripped of its parts, but he left behind a fine old chassis.

Farewell, Max, the man of a thousand telethons.

Rest well, long liner.

You've done good.

Yer mudder would be proud.

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