Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Conrad Black arrives with his wife Barbara Amiel at the Federal District Court in Chicago, Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, for sentencing in his racketeering and fraud trial. (M. Spencer Green/AP)
Conrad Black arrives with his wife Barbara Amiel at the Federal District Court in Chicago, Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, for sentencing in his racketeering and fraud trial. (M. Spencer Green/AP)

Judith Timson

The Blacks reunited: I wish them well Add to ...

You'd have to have a heart of stone to begrudge the Lord and his Lady this moment. You might not feel like wishing them happily ever after, but at least recognize the joy, passion and peace in their post-prison reunion.

I just hope they don't blow it.

Whether you still believe he's guilty of something, or that he was railroaded by a rapacious American justice system, or both (or neither); whether you're already wincing at the revisionist hagiography that has the controversial former media baron's release from prison yesterday sounding like Nelson Mandela's walk to freedom, no one can deny that the 65-year-old Lord Black of Crossharbour admirably served 28 months of incarceration. That he became a model prisoner, exuding resilience and optimism although surely there were times he felt neither.

More Related to this Story

And Lady Black, a.k.a. Barbara Amiel? Did she become a model prisoner's wife?



There is still an image rehabilitation necessary, and in this new-found liberty, the Blacks' words and actions will matter immensely.


Absolutely. Devoted to the max. "A pillar of loyalty," said the Blacks' friend David Frum in a CBC interview. Ms. Amiel emphatically disproved all the cynical chatter in the wake of her husband's 2007 conviction that she would dump the guy and flee to Britain. Although none of their real friends ever believed that.

And perhaps having a lonelier time than her husband of 18 years, she persevered, writing columns in Maclean's, some of them poignantly confessional as she chronicled an eccentric survival routine that included visiting her husband and undergoing all the arcane prison regulatory rituals (once, she whipped off her bra and removed the underwiring in order to pass security), ordering in countless chicken dinners, pampering her huge dogs and sadly listening, she wrote, to Lena Horne sing Stormy Weather (... Stormy weather ... since my man and I ain't together ...) as she contemplated celebrating her upcoming "scary birthday" alone (she turns 70 in December).

But all that changed this week when Conrad Black, freed on bail while his case is being reconsidered, walked out of Florida's Coleman Prison in his institutional sweatpants, jumped into a black SUV and was driven back solo - all you could see of him through the car window was a rather beatific smile - to his hocked-to-the-eyeballs luxury estate in Palm Beach, and presumably into his waiting wife's arms.

"This is a couple madly in love with an extremely passionate connection - a couple who take such pleasure in each other, they will have a wonderful reunion; she just wants to hold him to her heart," said Tina Srebotnjak in a phone interview. Her husband, former CBC senior correspondent Brian Stewart, is one of Conrad Black's closest friends.

Ms. Srebotnjak, a former CBC journalist now in charge of programming at the Toronto Public Library, says she thinks Ms. Amiel survived by focusing fiercely on their convoluted case, sticking to her routine and buoying herself and others with a wicked sense of humour. "We had dinner with her several times and each one was a very jolly affair."



Ms. Amiel, she said, especially liked to listen to Mr. Stewart's ribald accounts of his and Conrad's early years.

During the past two years, both Ms. Amiel and her imprisoned husband clearly clung to the adage "writing well is the best revenge."

Lord Black, infinitely more productive than some of his free-as-a-bird friends, produced a book and countless newspaper opinion pieces. His wife's columns received an honourable mention at this year's National Magazine Awards.

The other key factor that helped them each survive separately and stay connected: their unshakeable belief that he was wronged. Ms. Amiel, more pessimistic than her husband, had no illusions about the years that would be lost because of their legal mess, but she "took her strength from his strength," according to Ms. Srebotnjak.

So now we come to the compelling part, the question that made CTV correspondent Paula Todd's eyes shine with excitement as she said on air: "I wanna see how much he's changed."

Yes, we all want to see that, don't we? Otherwise it wouldn't be a satisfying morality play. Will the Blacks eventually wend their way back to Toronto, and then, despite facing a maelstrom of civil litigation, financial juggling (they are apparently millions in debt) and complex decisions about how to start living again, maybe volunteer once a week in a soup kitchen?

Will they continue to vocally disagree with Stephen Harper about his punitive American-style prison plan?

More importantly, have they absorbed the most difficult truth of all - that they themselves, by their attitudes, actions and statements - his arrogant stonewalling of auditors and overseers, her self-satirizing boast to Vogue magazine that "my extravagance knows no bounds"- contributed not just to their legal downfall, but to the caricatures the public sees? Instead of the more complex and more likeable people they really are.

Lord Black's lawyers may succeed in wiping the slate clean - or they may just win him permanent freedom on the basis of time served. They may even help him make his way back to Canada. (Oh, the irony that we have become the one country that remains genuinely interested in him.)

But there is still an image rehabilitation necessary, and in this new-found liberty, the Blacks' words and actions will matter immensely.

I hope they get that. I hope they understand that "total vindication" is one thing legally and quite another morally. I wish them well.

As for Barbara's "scary" birthday, Lord Black may not have the moolah to throw his wife the kind of glittering shindig that got them into so much trouble in the past. But I'm sure she'll settle for a candlelight dinner, her beloved husband across from her smiling adoringly, and perhaps a more upbeat Lena Horne song in the background: "From this moment on."

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular