“I have to admit it. I’m a workaholic,” Lloyd Robertson says with the calmness of someone announcing a regrettable fact.
Dressed to natty perfection in a dark blue suit, crisp, coloured shirt with white collar, cuff links, yellow tie and handkerchief poof, Count Floyd, as he’s affectionately known, is a small man once he moves out from behind his large desk and out of the perch he often refers to as the Chair. The wizard who has kept CTV News a top-ranked newscast for 17 years looks as unthreatening as an old woman.
Set to retire Sept. 1 after 35 years with CTV and close to 60 years in the broadcast business, Mr. Robertson speaks about his life with the remove of an observer, delivering a newscaster-ish script filled with facts and historical context.
He begins the interview with a long recounting of his decision to leave CBC in 1976 as though the move happened yesterday, not 35 years ago. “Let me explain first,” he interjects, when I try to guide him to a more current topic. He tells me the whens and the whos and the whys of a career move that set him on a path to be more than a talking head, someone who had a say in how the news would be shaped. The names of past colleagues, their titles, their jobs, their personalities and their foibles come effortlessly to his mind.
At 77, he has no health complaints except a touch of osteoarthritis in his hands, hips and back, and a mitral valve prolapse, a common heart condition his cardiologist says is not worrisome. Still, he wanted to step away from the Chair before increasing age forced him from it. There was something that didn’t feel right about being an 80-year-old news anchor, he acknowledges. Lisa LaFlamme is his successor, whom he helped pick as a member of a decision panel.
“I wanted to go out when the broadcast was in an unassailable position … And I wanted to go out at the top for my own sense of self, before things start to fade,” he says in a booming voice.
“It keeps you sharp,” he says of the schedule that sees him come in about 3 p.m. and work until after the evening broadcasts at 10 and 11 p.m. “But what’s getting more difficult is that my best has to be at the end of the day.”
He also was aware of the journalists in the wings, waiting for him to abdicate the throne. “I didn’t want to lose any of those people … but it’s funny, things happen which keep you going.” The Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 was one. The network won the broadcast rights in 2006, and he committed to covering it. When he returned, he went for “a walk in the sand” in Florida to contemplate his future. CTV offered two years. He opted for one.
The man behind the television is from a time when an anchor was a medium, a non-irritating ginger ale of a personality – “calm but not dull,” he says – unlike many of today’s big-personality-driven anchors.
“I come from a generation where you didn’t talk about yourself,” he says when asked about why he hesitated at first to do a documentary, Lloyd Robertson: And That’s the Kind of Life It’s Been, which will air on the evening of his final news broadcast as anchor. “It was impolite to do so. It was vulgar. And there’s a bit of that in my psyche.”
He had “an inborn determination,” he blurts of his drive. Born in Stratford, Ont., he had a middle-class upbringing with a father who worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and a mother who stayed at home. The last of 10 children – eight from his father’s first marriage and two from the second – he started at a local radio station in 1952 before switching to TV.
He studied anchors such as the legendary CBC announcer Norman DePoe, who was a national institution in the 1960s. “He could sit on election night and talk about the country and the ridings, and I would think, ‘How does he do it?’ I would watch him and watch others, and I would think, ‘I’ve got to learn to do it but learn it in my own way.’ ”
And when changes came, he made sure he was on top of them in order not to be left behind. When computers during elections became a fixture in the newsroom, he was determined to master them. “You couldn’t look at a paper any more … There was stuff coming at you, name, numbers, percentages. And you have to know what it means … I had to conquer that so I studied the ridings.”
The fragmentation of media business even helped him, he believes. “I am a familiar face.” As increasing technology made the world more frenetic, people wanted the comfort of the familiar – an anchor in the storm.
He will write a memoir and contribute stories to W5. “You can’t jump off the treadmill at the pace I’ve been going,” he says. But he acknowledges to looking forward to slowing down, riding horses and spending more time with his wife, Nancy, and their four daughters and seven grandchildren.
He will miss the spotlight. “I always liked to be in the centre of things.” But the job has also made him philosophical about how life works. “What struck me over the years is that so much of what happens is yesterday’s news tomorrow. You just forget it. You move on. … What that has meant to me is never to become immune to the suffering and the terrible things you see. But you understand at the same time you have no choice but to move on.”