I first met Bob Morrow shortly after being installed as news director at CHCH when he popped into my office one day and announced that he was running for Mayor of Hamil-ton. I skilfully concealed the fact that as a relative newcomer to Hamilton I didn’t know who he was. It was only after he left, that asking after my colleagues about Morrow I learned that at 36 years of age he already had fifteen years of political experience under his belt. Elected Alderman
in 1968—the year of Trudeaumania (Vol.I)—Morrow was disqualified be-cause his name was not on the voter’s list. His father ran in the by-election and held the seat. Morrow then ran for Hamilyton Board of Control in 1972 and was re-elected three times, topping the polls in the last two elections which earned him the ad-ditional title of Deputy Mayor. When I met him in 1982 he had been out of politics for a couple of years.
The 1982 Hamilton municipal election was probably the wildest election ever. The incumbent mayor was 75-year old Bill Powell, who two years earlier had ousted 30-year Hamilton municipal politician Jack Macdon-ald. Macdonald, never lacking in self-confidence was sure the voters would realize their error and entered the race enthusiastically. But the two apparent front runners, in addition to Morrow, faced well-known candidates like Pat Valariano, prominent lawyer Brian Morrison, and property developer Ernie Geisel; and typical of Hamilton politics, Dan Grant was running as a Trotskyist. I recall CHCH staging an all candidates “debate” with Tom Cherington as moderator. With 7 candidates squeezed into an hour it was probably the most chaot-ic TV show we ever produced. In the end Bob Morrow easily outdistanced the pack, perhaps because he projected a youthful image compared to his opponents. It was the only moderately tough election campaign he faced for the next 18 years.
1982 was only 8 years after Watergate and newsrooms everywhere were still populated with self-indulgent reporters who thought God had given them a licence to savage every misstep committed in public office. Our newsroom… and me, it must be told were no exception. We were pretty tough on the mayor and council in those years, some of it deserved, some of it probably not. Bob Morrow possessed many fine political instincts—ability to empathize with people, strong public speaking, boundless energy, relentless love of the city—but he never developed the thick skin that makes political life tolerable. There were numerous heated exchanges between Bob and our newsroom, and others, during this time. Despite the squabbles over coverage, no one ever doubted Bob Morrow’s sincerity and passion for Hamilton.
Morrow’s fierce loyalty to Hamilton was never more on display than when it came to Hamilton’s several bids for an NHL franchise. I had left CHCH and was working as a consult-ant on the 1997 bid, backed by the Hamilton Spectator. Bob was still fuming over what he saw as the shafting Hamilton had received 5 years earlier when franchises were awarded to Ottawa and Tampa over what most felt was a stronger bid by Hamilton millionaire Ron Joyce. In New York it was all we could do to keep Bob from lambasting Gary Bettman over past snubs. Actually Bob Morrow was mayor when Hamilton came closest to snagging a franchise. In 1985 the Pittsburgh Penguins were in financial crisis and looking to move the team. Hamilton was being seriously con-sidered. At the time Harold Ballard owned both the Hamilton Tiger Cats and the Toronto Maple leafs. Ballard agreed to waive the Leaf’s territorial rights for a dollar, if the city would agree to some relatively inexpensive upgrades at Ivor Wynne stadium. The deal ultimately fell through with HECFI, the arms-length agency in charge of Copps Coliseum blamed for “intransigence”, apparently believing there were other NHL teams lining up for the chance to play in Hamilton. We know how that ended up.
I remember the night when Bob Morrow’s 18 year run as mayor of Hamilton ended in a decisive loss to Bob Wade. His staff had urged him to wait for more results to come in but he knew it was over and he entered the Convention centre and congratulated his opponent with dignity and grace. “Thank you for allowing me to serve for so long and the very best wishes to the mayor-elect,” he said. From the age of 22 until his death at 71, Bob Morrow had served his community well.