Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Peter Fleming: Farewell to the Maestro!

You won't see many pictures of Peter Fleming.
That's because Pete was more of a "behind the scenes" guy.
He was like that character Red in Shawshank Redemption, who could get things for you from time to time.
Pete was a force around the National Press Club for years. He'd often be seen at a back table with Gus Cloutier, the House of Commons' Sergeant-at-Arms, and many of the honchos who worked on the Hill. Charlie Lynch would be at the table, along with Shirley and Tom Van Dusen Sr., and Art Lamarche.
On a Friday afternoon, they'd be holding court, downing bottles of wine, slurping pea soup and chowing down on roast beef.
The gang was there every Friday for decades.
It was always a fun table, and they were gracious enough to let stragglers like me join them.
I learn a lot. I laughed a lot, too.
Unlike myriad other tables in the joint, when you sat down, you parked your ego -- and shop talk -- at the door. This was story time.

A lot of people didn't know it, but this gang kept the Press Club going through bad times. They managed to hold the line on the rent, and often forgive it, when bar flies refused to pay their burgeoning tabs. Pete was the quiet one, but he was always in the thick of it.
Most people remember Pete, who died this week, as the maestro, the guy who led the National Press Club and Allied Workers' Jazz Band. He also was a force behind the National Press Gallery Dinner Shows. He arranged all the music and worked patiently with the merry band of drunken, off key singers who were allowed to pierce the ears of prime ministers and members of the cabinet, and lampoon the daylights out of them.
The catterwalling was the best part.
And you never knew who would fall off the stage.

I'm not sure what Pete did exactly, as a job I mean.
He worked for the House of Commons somewhere, I think in accommodations.
Back then, the rules were loosely applied while Speakers turned a blind eye.
You could also get a stiffie at 9 a.m. at the Gallery speakeasy.
And you could still get a meal deal in the Parliamentary Restaurant for less than you'd pay for a Big Mac.
There were no Parliamentary budget officers back then.
Only creative thinkers.

The last time I saw Pete, he came to a lunch in honor of Annette Leger, another press club stalwart. We all posed for a picture. Pete was in the front for a change.

He'd been unwell for years, and so I'm glad that today he is out of pain.
And I'd like to think that he and Stu McLeod are up there some place playing Dixie to beat the band.
RIP, old friend.
They broke the mould.
Play 'em out, fellars.

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