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Saturday January 12, 2019

MICHAEL MACLEAR

In early 1973, not even 23 years old, and fresh off seven months of shooting news in and around Toronto for a small TV news syndication company, I had the incredibly good fortune to literally bump into Michael Maclear.

I was at the CTV headquarters in downtown Toronto, introducing myself and my very slim professional résumé to the news and production management staff for W5 and other news units. I had just come out of the office of senior executive producer Craig Oliver, who was most gracious, and said he would circulate my name around. He also introduced me to David Tribe, chief production manager for the documentary unit.

As I was leaving David's office and rounding a corner, Michael and I bumped into each other. He very politely excused himself, and seeing as I had just come out of the production management offices, he asked if I'd like to go to Vietnam with him. Thinking this was a joke, I said sure. I went back to David's office, told him about this encounter and was dismissed completely out of hand. Two weeks later, David called and said Michael had asked about me and whether I'd like to join his crew in a few weeks. I immediately accepted and later that fateful February we were on a troop carrier 707 to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam.

During the flight, I tried (unsuccessfully) to hide my apprehension and Michael immediately recognized my faux bravado.

While he tried his best to reassure me, his kind and gentle manner cut through his gruff external demeanour. When we landed at the most massive airforce base imaginable the intense heat and humidity struck me like a bolt of lightning. Amid the oppressive heat and putrid sweet fragrance of jet fuel, I again sensed Michael's paternal oversight.

As we walked through the biggest hangar on the base, we passed by what seemed like hundreds of shipping coffins. No flags draped, no ornamental sentimentality, just shipping coffins.

To this day, I don't know if they were filled or soon to be. Michael gently assured me that every one of his crew and others from around the world experienced the same sense of dread, and we'd either embrace it or get on the next plane heading home. At that moment I realized what I had got myself into. If it weren't for Michael's genteel and unwavering support, I could not have endured the hellfire he'd invited me to witness. He was a wonderful man to work with and truly took it upon himself to see to everyone's safety.

Broadcast journalism lost a remarkable proponent of the craft.

David Yorke lives in Toronto.

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