I first met Duncan back in 1979 when he was working for the Montreal Star. At first glance he was a an overly large shambling man with mismatched clothes and stains on his tie but, once engaged in conversation, it became apparent Duncan was large in a good many ways — in mind, heart and spirit.
He had no easy time of it. He had personal setbacks, family burdens. Professionally, he always seemed to be starting from the back of the pack, the perceived bumpkin competing with media sophisticates, until he ultimately would prove his worth. But he had talent; he could write, and that talent took him far. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of things diverse, mundane, extraordinary. He was a font of knowledge of railroads; he knew more about Canadian rail transport than the “barons” who ran the them. There was literally no subject that could creep into a discussion about which Duncan was not informed, knowledgeable, and able to illuminate his peers.
Duncan achieved professional renown, stained clothes notwithstanding.
He took on Indian tribes and the Canadian government in a long battle to save a child, his grandson Ishmael, a grueling trial that wore on him immensely. He persevered and won; that victory proved his greatest joy.
Duncan always looked out of place tramping the halls of automotive commerce, the “mountain man” as his family called him, threading his way among the smart suits in Detroit, New York and elsewhere. He was “directionally challenged” and, as such, a source of amusement. Duncan went the “other east,” took the really wrong turn, forgot to get off the train — but if you needed a lift, he was available.
Directionally challenged in a car, on the road — yes. But in life Duncan had the true compass, a moral compass that always pointed true north. In a business where shortcut came to mean a lot more than merely the quickest route from point A to point B, Duncan always knew the right road, the high road, and he never left it.
We shared a lot of good times over the years; we shared a birthday, the unfortunate happenstance of birth on Christmas Eve. We exchanged greetings every year via telephone. I shall miss that this year; I miss Duncan.
Long life is a mixed blessing; we survive, but to mourn those who do not.
John R. White