By SUSAN FERRIER MACKAY
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, November 24, 2017
During his long career, print journalist Mike Carmichael interviewed some of the most notable figures in Canadian and world affairs. The list included comedian Bob Hope, field marshal Bernard (Monty) Montgomery, prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Lester B.
Pearson, and an up-and-coming heartthrob named Elvis Presley.
In 1957, Mr. Carmichael travelled to Buffalo for the rock 'n' roller's first concert there. In the Toronto Telegram, he observed that the singer, "was a quiet, soft-spoken fellow, not so much affected by his new-found stardom as bewildered by it." Mr. Presley, however, was savvy enough to hoist himself onto a backstage sawhorse so that, in a photo of the two men, he appeared much taller than Mr. Carmichael, though the difference was actually only an inch.
The photo became a treasured family memento.
Another brush with history took place during a rare press visit to the Soviet sector of East Berlin. By this point he had joined The Globe and Mail, where he worked from 1959 to 1966. While relaxing at a night club, Mr. Carmichael chatted with a stranger named Arthur. As Mr. Carmichael was leaving, the man discreetly handed him a folded postcard. Mr. Carmichael, having enjoyed a few drinks, forgot about it until the next day when he was back in West Berlin. The card, in his overcoat pocket, was heel-shaped. Mr. Carmichael deduced that it had been concealed inside a shoe.
Unfolding the card revealed a montage of images, including Mr. Carmichael's new friend alongside Hitler.
An inscription read, "A remembrance of Arthur Kannenberg, house steward for Adolph Hitler 1933-1945."
Mr. Kannenberg had been the last person to see Hitler alive before he committed suicide in his bunker. For Mr. Carmichael, a military buff, it was a prized - though chilling - artifact.
On the 20th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Mr. Carmichael was thrilled to look at battle through the eyes of Canadian general Guy Simonds. Together, they trudged the pathways and crossed the battlefields where Canadians fought and died in northwest Europe. It was a dream assignment from the Canadian Magazine for Mr. Carmichael.
"Dad's writing style was very personal," Colleen Humbert said. Her 85-year-old father died from Parkinson's disease on Oct. 29 at the North Bay Regional Health Centre. "He had a strong, immediate voice with great rhythm and cadence and a real flair for finding just the right word or phrase," she said.
Mr. Carmichael ended his career as co-ordinator of the journalism program at Canadore College in North Bay. One story he liked telling students and faculty was about the time he was robbed of a scoop. At the height of his career, Mr. Carmichael was nonetheless at the mercy of his editors, who decided what made it to print and what didn't.
In 1965, Malcolm X, the Muslim African-American human-rights activist appeared as a guest on CBC's Front Page Challenge. The TV show, in which newsmakers were grilled by a panel, was extremely popular. Snagging the high-profile Mr. X as a guest was a coup for the network and of great interest to the press and public. When the other reporters left, Mr. Carmichael, a civil-rights proponent, asked Mr. X if they could keep talking. The two chatted for an hour about America's race war.
"There's a contract out to kill me," Mr. X confided. "I'm going to be killed." Mr. Carmichael wrote the story, but it was inexplicably quashed by The Globe and Mail's editors.
True to Mr. X's prediction, he was shot and killed three weeks later.
"[Mr. Carmichael's] anger and disappointment at the loss of a byline would have been nothing compared to the injustice he felt had been done to Malcolm X," Ms. Humbert said. She added that her father always stood up to racism and divisiveness. He once refused to shake the hand of George Wallace, the prosegregationist governor of Alabama.
"I have a number of friends who are black," Mr. Carmichael told Mr. Wallace. The governor said he understood.
On another occasion, during the Quebec referendum in 1995, Mr. Carmichael called a telephone operator on Canada Day and asked for a random name and number from the Trois-Rivières telephone book. He explained that he wanted to reach out to a Quebec family to tell them how much he loved French-Canadians, and how important it was to him that their province stay in Confederation. A Québécois family subsequently got the call. Somewhat bewildered, they thanked him warmly.
Whether he was working for the Toronto Telegram, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun or the Canadian Magazine, Mr. Carmichael would frequently stay later than other reporters, or arrive early for an interview in the hope of getting a scoop.
One of his proudest moments on the job occurred while he was covering a mass murder in Shell Lake, Sask., in 1967. A man recently released from a mental hospital used a shotgun to kill nine members of one family. Mr. Carmichael convinced the RCMP to show him the "classified" file. He reasoned they did it to make sure he got all the information because much could be forgotten by the time a trial rolled around. The story was reported in two parts, something of a rarity for the magazine.
David Graeme (Mike) Carmichael was born on Valentine's Day in 1932 at Women's College Hospital in Toronto. Five years later, his parents, Marguerite and Clarence Carmichael, also became parents to twin boys.
His father, who was the president of Fabergé Canada, provided a privileged life for the family, including the services of a maid. "A lot of people on our street had a maid until the war came along and they jumped ship for higher paying jobs in the shell factories," Mike told a friend. Nonetheless, when meeting a group for the first time the friend always introduced him by saying, "This is Mike Carmichael. He had maids."
When the war ended, Mike was 13 and his imagination had been ignited by the conflict. One bonus to having a paper route was being able to devour the news before delivering it to customers. He idolized war correspondents and began collecting autographs by writing to military personnel such as U.S. Army general Dwight Eisenhower. By 1946, his autograph collection had become so extensive it was featured on a local radio show.
After graduating from Runnymede Collegiate in 1949, he joined the army and began intensive training at Camp Borden, north of Toronto. He came to feel, however, that the training involved sadistic bullying designed to break the spirit of cadets, so he quit.
A few months later, he was working as a cub reporter and living in a room over the garage of a funeral home next to the Sault Daily Star in Sault Ste. Marie. After further sharpening his skills at the Windsor Star in the early fifties, he moved to the Toronto Telegram, getting his first big break when he was promoted to Queen's Park correspondent.
While working at the "Telly," Mr. Carmichael was sent to the Toronto Zoo to cover a story about a new polar bear. He was told to take a pretty girl to pose beside the bear's cage for a photo. Mr. Carmichael selected Marie Killingsworth, who worked in the newspaper's public relations department. The assignment led to a date, and in 1956, a marriage that lasted almost 20 years.
The couple had three children and eventually divorced.
Mr. Carmichael's second marriage, to Pick Seng Lu, a professor of food technology whom he met at Canadore College, took place in 1989.
Out of hundreds of assignments that took him around the world, one story evinced regret. Always a flying enthusiast, Mr. Carmichael put in a request to fly with the Golden Centennaires, an aerobatics team created to put on flying shows across Canada in 1967. The experience was to provide the basis for a feature in the Canadian Magazine. Though he was already friends with Dave Barker, one of the pilots, he decided that protocol dictated he must fly instead with the team's squadron leader. As the planes executed intricate loops and rolls in the air, Mr. Carmichael watched in horror as his friend's plane nosedived to the ground and exploded in flames. The crash haunted him for the rest of his life.
Summing up his journalism career, Mr. Carmichael said that it made him more skeptical about people but at the same time more forgiving. "It shapes you. You get to know a lot about a lot. The sixties and seventies were a very critical era and the best time to be a journalist.
I've always been glad I was part of the action."
Mr. Carmichael leaves his wife, Pick Seng Lu; children, Colleen, Christi, and Ted; five grandchildren; and his former wife, Marie.
To submit an I Remember: firstname.lastname@example.org Send us a memory of someone we have recently profiled on the Obituaries page. Please include I Remember in the subject field.
This 1957 photo of Mr. Carmichael and Elvis Presley backstage at the singer's first Buffalo concert became a treasured family memento.
Mike Carmichael interviewed some of the most notable figures in the world over the course of his journalism career; he said the sixties and seventies were the best time to be a journalist.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE CARMICHAEL FAMILY