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Thursday December 6, 2012

Peter Morton

Journalist, family man. Born March 5, 1954, in Toronto, died Oct. 31, 2012, in Bethesda, Md., of a heart attack, aged 58.

Peter used to say that the only people who read journalists' bylines are other journalists.

If that's true, you might not know his name, but chances are you have read Peter Morton's work. He had a long, award-winning career, much of it spent on the business pages of Canadian newspapers.

Peter could make sense of softwood lumber. Tease the telling detail out of the tall grass known as natural gas pricing. Peter worked at The Globe and Mail, the Calgary Herald and the Financial Post. He spent more than a decade as the Post's Washington bureau chief, covering some of the thorniest trade disputes of the era. And here's the thing; in 30 years of friendship, I can barely remember having a conversation with him about business news.

Mostly, with Peter, you laughed. He had a relaxed, happy way about him that served him well as a reporter. It sure made it easy to be his friend. He came from a big family, the middle son of five kids. Born in Toronto, his full name was Peter Godfrey Morton, a moniker he made fun of in later years, telling people they could just call him "God" for short. He had a lot of nicknames growing up; the one that stuck the longest was "radish." Peter had a mop of curly red hair that refused to age along with the rest of us. We went grey or balding. Peter did neither, though his trademark coppertop faded slightly to a less vibrant hue.

He married young, to his high-school sweetheart Cathie, and they had four girls. The lone male in the house, Peter used to pretend astonishment at the amount of paper products his gals - and, later, six grandchildren - went through. "If I'd known about all these tissues and towels and other stuff," he said, "I'd have bought more stock in Kimberly Clark."

Peter eventually became an American, but he never gave up his Canadian citizenship. He appreciated both countries and saw them with a clear eye. "We are still two very different cultures," Peter once wrote. "Canada is neither the 51st state nor is America the world's largest shopping mall."

Like many a transplanted Canadian journalist - the late Peter Jennings of ABC springs to mind - Peter Morton worked in the U.S. but raced home to Canada with his family for summer time at the cottage. He loved a sunny day on his boat; or a game of golf at an unforgiving local course in Brockville, Ont., where bad drives - and really bad putts - end up in the St. Lawrence.

Wherever Peter was, his dachshund Oscar wasn't far away. Oscar, when not on sentry duty at the living room window, was happiest anywhere near Peter. A lot of us know how that little dog felt.

It seems impossible to write this about someone so full of life, but Peter died of a heart attack in October at his home just outside Washington. Reporters, friends and family on both sides of the border were stunned.

Jennifer Westaway is Peter's friend.

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