Diplomat, father, painter, snooker player. Born Oct. 15, 1920, in Montreal, died March 12, 2012, in Ottawa of pneumonia, aged 91.
When Bob Cameron was a young boy, he was known as “le petit Christ” by the neighbours at his summer home on Blue Sea Lake in Quebec. Actually, there were two “petits Christs” – Bob and his younger brother John.
This was likely in part a salty comment on two mischief-makers in knee socks and shorts, but it also reflected the way the boys’ mother doted on them.
As a result, Bob grew up with an unshakable self-confidence. This self-esteem never tipped over into arrogance – Bob just assumed the majority of people he met would like him. And they did. This was an invaluable gift for a future diplomat.
After serving in the Canadian Army in the Second World War and graduating from the University of Toronto, Bob joined the Department of External Affairs in 1947. Over the years, Bob and his beloved wife Isobel raised three children while representing Canada in Cuba, Sweden, the United States and West Germany.
Their overseas service culminated in Bob’s appointments as ambassador to five Eastern European countries, and he retired in 1983 as an assistant undersecretary of state.
Bob learned of his first posting from Lester B. Pearson on a streetcar. The Ottawa civil service was a very small world in 1948. The then-Undersecretary of State for External Affairs travelled to work at the East Block on the same streetcar as Bob, and played baseball on the same team on the weekend.
“I hear you are going to Cuba,” Mr. Pearson said that day. Bob thought there must be some mistake, but as soon as he got to the East Block, he learned he should be prepared to leave in six weeks.
Despite the lack of notice, Cuba turned out to be a wonderful first posting. However, while Bob and Isobel had many rewarding experiences as members of the foreign service, going where you are told, and saying and selling what you are told to, is not an easy job.
Not long before he retired, Bob was the guest on CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup, defending the testing of cruise missiles over Canada. The testing was deeply unpopular, and the government decided it was best to let a senior bureaucrat (who had private misgivings about the issue) take the heat from irate critics for three hours.
Not many of Bob’s colleagues knew that he was a gifted landscape painter, with a talent that blossomed fully in his retirement. Nor that he was a fair snooker player. This dated back to his formative years in Perth, Ont., where he perfected his skills with a cue in a pool hall above a local restaurant after school.
Although Bob spent much of his life in cosmopolitan settings, an essential part of him was an unpretentious kid.
Until very close to the end of his life, he was always on the lookout for a good snooker partner.
Brian Cameron is Bob’s son.