That year, he interviewed John Lennon at Apple Studios. While vacationing in London with his son Scott, Mr. Stirling introduced himself to the former Beatle by telexing: “I’ve heard your Come Together, so here I am,” from the Londonderry Hotel. “John and Yoko invited us over and we spent two days with them,” Scott wrote in an e-mail. “Geoff invited them to Montreal and when they arrived they had their ‘bed in’ and recorded Give Peace A Chance.”
Five years later, in another adventure, Mr. Stirling and Mr. Smallwood travelled to Cuba for a prearranged meeting with Fidel Castro. The encounter was postponed, however, and instead the two talked by a hotel pool about what would happen at the meeting, which ultimately never took place. The result was Waiting for Fidel (1974, directed by Michael Rubbo), a piece of avant-garde documentary filmmaking said to have inspired Michael Moore.
Although his personal travels and business dealings took him well beyond the borders of Newfoundland (his holdings included AM and FM radio stations in Montreal, Windsor, Ottawa and Arizona), he always had particularly strong opinions when it came to his home province. As for TV programming, Mr. Stirling felt that what Newfoundlanders wanted was American shows, such as The Young and Restless and Survivor. So, when the CRTC insisted NTV produce more Canadian content, he resisted.
“I’m not anti-anything. I’m just pro-Newfoundland,” Mr. Stirling told ROB magazine. “I’m sure that if NTV were sold to a national company, we’d lose our sovereignty, which is the only sovereignty we have right now – television and radio owned by Newfoundlanders.”
But while he played down the importance of Canadian content for his TV stations, he felt strongly that kids need homegrown superheroes. “Canada has no superheroes,” he once told Downhome magazine. “It has the flag and the Mounties. Not that I’m putting down the Mounties. The only thing [young kids have] got now are American superheroes.” So he helped create the graphic novel Atlantis, introducing Captain Atlantis (a.k.a. Captain Newfoundland – another melding of his business instincts, offbeat passions and Newfoundland patriotism), a mascot for NTV. The first issue sold 10,000 copies.
Mr. Stirling, who lived in Arizona and Torbay, just north of St. John’s, was very generous, but quiet about it. In 1988, for example, he helped found the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society, with a grant of $5,000 toward research. Another time, he purchased a specially designed car for a neighbour with a disabled child, with the salesman strictly sworn to secrecy. His philanthropy was constant and thoughtful.
He never stopped championing Newfoundland. He believed it could soar. “Our biggest problem is naiveté and modesty, really,” he told Downhome.
Beyond that, he thought any individual could soar. “You consider that your brain is 97 per cent hydrogen and oxygen and there’s not a cell in your body that’s more than seven years old and the planet, which is travelling at 79,000 miles an hour, is surrounded by 12 miles of hydrogen and oxygen,” he told Downhome. “Therefore, as we put ourselves in context of where we are and what we are, we start to comprehend a lot more of the reality of this life.”
Though he sounded far out at times, Mr. Stirling could also be very straightforward and down to earth.
“I’d like to be remembered as a nice guy who tried to do the best he could, someone who never tried to hurt someone and someone who worked hard,” he told The Herald in 2009.
He added in a later interview, “To me, the first priority was always Newfoundland.” And his life? It was “fascinating.”
Predeceased by his daughter Kimberley, Mr. Stirling leaves his wife of 57 years, Joyce (Cutler), children Scott, Ann, Greg and Shawn, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mr. Stirling’s first wife, Jean Fox Stirling, also survives him.
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