The Dief (John Diefenbaker)
From "Sliced Bread" by Rosemary Phillips
My producer phoned me in the researcher's office at CBC's Hourglass and asked, "Could you please find Rick. I need him to go and pick up Mr. Diefenbaker at the Hotel Vancouver. It's nearly 11 o'clock, and Mr. Diefenbaker doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Rick was the permanent researcher. I was helping out for the summer under a temporary contract to assist with research during the 1976 UN Conference on Habitat. That day Rick was out and about the building and I called all of the regular places where he might have been, but for some unknown reason I couldn't locate him.
I phoned the producer back, "Sorry, I can't find him."
"Well, you'd better go, and you'd better leave right now!" she replied.
I ran out of the building and down the steps to a waiting cab, jumped in and asked the driver to head for the Hotel Vancouver.
"We're picking up John Diefenbaker," I told the cabby.
His mouth dropped in surprise as he gasped, "Wow!"
We pulled into a parking spot right by the main door of the hotel. I asked the cabby to stay behind the wheel while I got out and opened the back door ready for Mr. Diefenbaker. We waited, and waited, and waited. Fifteen minutes later Mr. Diefenbaker and his entourage of men in striped suits came through the entrance. I welcomed him to Vancouver, introduced myself, and told him that we were going directly to the CBC building, about four blocks away. Mr. Diefenbaker smiled then got into the back seat where he sat wedged between two suits whom I presumed to be body guards. I got into the front seat and sat squished between the cabby and another suit. For the four block trip Mr. Diefenbaker and I held a conversation through the back of my head.
"Mrs. Diefenbaker is not very well," he said. "So, we've come to Vancouver for a little holiday to help her feel better. And what do you do?"
"I'm a researcher for Hourglass and Take 30 for the summer," I replied.
By this time the cab had pulled up in front of the CBC building. I had already signed the cabby's charge slip, so I got out of the cab and escorted the entourage to the main entrance and through to the news department. As we came to the offices I saw a shift in people's personalities - they all seemed to be going goo-goo-ga-ga at the sight of Mr. Diefenbaker, then they seemed to swarm him.
I looked up at him and focussed my eyes directly into his and said, "Mr. Diefenbaker, I'm going to my office. Good luck, and I'll see you later."
After about an hour the phone rang and I was asked to arrange for Mr. Diefenbaker's cab. I then went out into the foyer to wait. After Mr. Diefenbaker had said his good-byes to the staff we headed out of the building and down the many steps to the waiting cab. People came from all directions to say hello to him, and in return he stopped, shook hands and talked with each. I could tell that he was slowing down a bit. He was, after all, not a young man anymore and his head shook as he talked. It seemed absolutely ages before he stood in front of me at the side of the cab where I held the door open for him.
"That man was from the Prairies," he said. "We met years ago."
He stood for a minute and smiled, looked at me, then took my hand. He held it firmly then gave me the kind of look that went right through me, like he could see everything and know everything about me.
He said gently, "May God be with you in all that you will be doing."
He let go my hand and got into the back of the cab between the two suits then the cabby drove off. I stood there wondering what in the world he was referring to by his comment, "...all that you will be doing." What did he know that I didn't know?
Mrs. Diefenbaker passed over that year and she was joined not long after by Mr. Diefenbaker. I don't remember John Diefenbaker for his political days, or for the period that he was Prime-Minister of Canada. I do, however, remember Mr. Diefenbaker's look, his piercing and yet gentle eyes, his caring for those who came to him to say hello, his smile, his wonderfully warm handshake, and those few soft-spoken words.