The world was Bob Carty's university. And for 30 years, he went on the radio and told Canada exactly what he'd learned.
In the 1980s, he told stories of revolution in Nicaragua and war in El Salvador. In the 1990s, he reported from Mexico, where the Zapatistas had ignited a rebellion over the signing of NAFTA.
Later, he told stories that were more local – about old-fashioned backyard ice-skating rinks in Newfoundland, a deadly case of drunk driving in Windsor, a toxic fire in Hamilton, and about the stigmatized world of adoption – and reunion – in Canada.
The usually serious, analytical Mr. Carty also nailed humorous, personal stories – in Banjo Bob, Mr. Carty played a banjo he inherited from his father and sang about the instrument's dubious place in society.
A hard-working, brilliant reporter who had a passion for human rights, social justice and Latin America, Mr. Carty became one of Canada's most honoured radio documentary producers during his three decades at the CBC.
"He was driven in his work because he thought he had a role to play in changing the world," said Karen Levine, documentary editor at the CBC's Sunday Edition, who worked alongside Mr. Carty since 2001.
Mr. Carty died Sept. 21 at Ottawa Hospital from esophageal cancer, with which he was diagnosed only eight weeks earlier. He was 64.
Mr. Carty's success, colleagues said, came from his natural ability to tell "human stories" in unforgettable ways. It also came, they say, from Mr. Carty's character out of the studio. A justice-minded Catholic who often travelled with his guitar, composing folk music, Mr. Carty answered calls late into the night for colleagues on deadline, sang Christmas carols to hospital patients in Ottawa every winter with CBC colleagues, mentored young journalists and campaigned fiercely for freedom of expression for reporters around the world.
"He was revered," said CBC Radio Ottawa's news producer Laurence Wall. "He was admired and loved and he was one hell of a guy."
"I'm not saying it lightly when I call him Saint Bob."
Mr. Wall jokingly said that Mr. Carty's biggest flaw was probably impatience. "Impatience that the world wasn't getting better at a faster pace than he wanted."
Robert Vincent Carty was born April 28, 1950, to Daphne and Jack Carty in Barrie, Ont. The second-eldest of eight children, one of whom died as a toddler, Mr. Carty's family moved to Toronto when he was about eight years old.
As a teenager, Mr. Carty began playing guitar, a passion he had in common with his older brother Ken. But while Ken took to rock 'n' roll, Mr. Carty identified with folk music.
Mr. Carty was more religious than his siblings and went to two different churches every Sunday to sing and play guitar, his mother said. As a student at Brebeuf College School, an all-boys Jesuit school in Toronto, Mr. Carty was a good student and involved in nearly every sport and club in the yearbook.
Although Mr. Carty did graduate high school, he never went to his ceremony because he refused to shave his beard to comply with school policy, his mother said. After high school, Mr. Carty enrolled at the University of Toronto to study Political Science, but dropped out after one year.
"He didn't get anything out of it," his mother said.
Mr. Carty's informal education began in 1969 when he joined the Youth Corps, a Catholic activist youth movement led by Toronto priest Thomas McKillop that was rooted in liberation theology. Mr. Carty became active in social justice and Latin American issues and, with guitar in hand, became a staple at local anti-war and political demonstrations.
"He was always playing guitar and singing," Mr. Carty's younger brother Ed recalled.
One of Mr. Carty's first trips to Latin America was to Mexico in 1972, when he drove his Toyota down with friends to meet community activists. One of the people in the car was Frances Arbour, a missionary who had spent time in Mexico and was just as passionate about social justice in the region.
"I fell in love with his personality," Ms. Arbour remembered. "He was a caring, sensitive person."
Upon their return from Mexico, Mr. Carty founded the "Radical Catholic Clippers," a youth group that analyzed Canadian media coverage of foreign aid, agriculture, finance and politics by cutting out newspaper articles and placing them into the Canadian News Synthesis Project newsletter, distributed to a network of activists.
Together, the couple joined the Latin American Working Group, a Toronto-based research collective, and began travelling to the region regularly. In 1973, the couple was on hand to greet Chilean refugees arriving in Toronto after the country's military coup – a story Mr. Carty would later chronicle in a piece for the CBC.
They were married in 1975 in the basement of Toronto's St Basil's Church, in what the couple's only son, Michael, now calls a "hippie wedding."
"My mother made her own dress and my father made his own music," Michael said. "They had an incredible love for each other."
In 1978, Mr. Carty travelled to Chile to investigate human rights abuses as part of his research for Canadian churches, and during this time continued publishing analysis of the region with LAWG. The experiences made him a self-taught investigator, friends and family said.
By 1981, Mr. Carty, who Michael said was a complex, private man, had co-authored two books, one critical of Canadian foreign aid to the region and another critical of a Canadian mining company in the area.
"You could believe in the research that he did," said John Foster, the best man at Mr. Carty's wedding and his LAWG colleague. "He had a clear, analytical mind."
At home, Mr. Carty also took on the role of a dedicated family man and also played in a band.
Michael remembered "endless paddles along beautiful lakes in Algonquin Park" and "chairlift chats" about the world he and Mr. Carty would have during skiing trips in Ontario and Quebec. He also remembered not quite fitting in with other kids his age.
"My babysitters were refugees who had escaped the junta in Argentina," he said, adding that as a young boy at dinner parties, he entertained guests with stories of "structural adjustment and debt in Brazil and how unfair the IMF was."
Michael called his father "my best friend."
In 1981, Mr. Carty went to an interview that would change his life. Beth Haddon, the foreign editor at the CBC Radio show Sunday Morning, urged him to apply for a foreign editing position on the show in Toronto. His experience in Latin America, Mrs. Haddon said, made him desirable to the CBC at a time when the region represented "a very big story."
"But he had never worked as a journalist, had no radio experience, and there was concern he was too left wing," she said. Yet she hired him.
Mr. Carty soon rose to deputy foreign editor, and began assigning radio reporters stories around the world. One of the reporters was Robin Benger, who remembers Mr. Carty sending him to Mexico City to meet a red-haired woman who would lead him to rebel leaders in El Salvador.
Mr. Benger called Mr. Carty "the dream editor for a young hothead."
Mr. Carty soon became a documentary producer and travelled abroad to produce his own pieces.
"He was just great from the very start," said Frank Koller, a former CBC Radio documentary producer who worked closely with Mr. Carty. "Bob was instantly fantastic and people just said, 'Holy mackerel, this is real radio.'"
When his wife got a job working with Guatemalan civil war refugees in that country and Mexico in 1988, the family moved to Costa Rica. For the next five years, he would file pieces from the region for the CBC, NPR and other outlets.
Fluent in Spanish, Mr. Carty filed stories from Santiago, where he reported on Chile's return to democracy, from Buenos Aires, where he covered a movement by Argentinian women to help find "the disappeared," and from the Brazilian Amazon, where the construction of a dam was causing problems for local villagers.
"He was a very, very tough journalist," Mr. Koller remembered.
Mr. Carty faced dangerous situations as a reporter in a region experiencing armed conflict. In 1989, for example, his wife said Mr. Carty was heartbroken when six Jesuit priests he knew were murdered in El Salvador by the military – a notorious slaughter that marked a turning point in that country's civil war.
"It shocked him that people he knew and talked to were dead just like that," Ms. Arbour said.
Mr. Carty returned to CBC Radio in 1993, but this time to Ottawa, where he continued to produce documentaries for This Morning and later for The Sunday Edition, where his work focused on the environment, science and even a banana blight.
Mr. Carty became one of the national broadcaster's most celebrated documentarians, winning the CBC a Peabody in 1995 for his documentary Kevin's Sentence, about an Ontario teen who killed his two best friends while drunk driving. That same year, he won an Edward R. Murrow award for an investigation into U.S. government attempts to patent the DNA of a group of Panamanian Indians thought to have unique genes.
"He never paid much attention to those things, but they came in droves," Ms. Arbour said about her husband's awards.
It was during a 1997 trip to Peru that Arnold Amber, the president of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, with which Mr. Carty got involved in 1991, learned what fuelled much of Mr. Carty's work.
When the colleagues began discussing why they were committed to free expression, Mr. Carty answered by showing rather than telling. He got a car and took Mr. Amber up a hill to a cemetery outside Lima. They walked to the grave of a woman Mr. Carty knew who had been murdered for speaking out in support of human rights.
"There is no way that I could come and be in Lima and I could not pay my respects to her again," Mr. Amber recounted Mr. Carty telling him.
His reporting had enormous range. Whether it was snow sculptures in Ottawa, a profile of a Brazilian activist, a look at the standard of living of Canadian families, the possibility of a biological terror attack, the safety of chlorinated water, the debate over climate change, or a lighter yet evocative piece on what it's like to be named Bob, Mr. Carty had his audiences hooked.
"He would draw you in in the first 30 to 40 seconds," Mr. Wall said.
In 2003, Mr. Carty produced The Long Flight a powerful documentary about the Chilean coup d'état, a Canadian whistle-blower, and the subsequent influx of thousands of Chilean refugees into this country.
In 2004, Mr. Carty received a Canadian Science Writers award for an investigation into illegal clinical trials.
But Mr. Carty's career was cut short when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2007. Mr. Carty went on disability leave from the CBC. After his tumour was removed, Mr. Carty suffered complications from which he never recovered. He experienced severe pain that limited his ability to work, move and function the way he used to. During that period, Mr. Carty was also the primary caregiver to his wife, who had lost much of her mobility due to a neurological condition.
"He loved her and that love took precedence over everything else," Michael remembered. "It was both beautiful and very painful to watch."
Mr. Carty focused on music during this time, and released his first solo folk CD, Desert Eyes: Songs of Justice and Spirit, in 2009.
In 2010, Mr. Carty produced one of his last documentaries for the CBC. No Hot Cargo was about a 1979 protest by New Brunswick longshoremen who refused to load a batch of heavy water bound for a Candu reactor in Argentina, in protest of that regime's brutality.
During this period, Mr. Carty also continued advocating for reporters through the CJFE. In 2013, Mr. Carty successfully campaigned against a bill that would limit the CBC's ability to protect its confidential sources from government.
And despite his pain, Mr. Carty kept his humour and his music in heavy rotation. His Christmas carol trips to the hospital, where he and Michael would sing to the patients, continued, and Mr. Carty wrote his close friends and family an e-mail every few months titled Bob's Health Update. The e-mails chronicled, sometimes in too-graphic yet comical and brave fashion, his worsening health.
In July, 2014, Mr. Carty was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which doctors said was unrelated to his first cancer. The second cancer spread quickly, and, while doctors told Mr. Carty he would have at least four months to live, he died weeks later. His mother, wife and brother Ken, along with Ken's wife, had visited Mr. Carty the day before his death in Ottawa Hospital.
Mr. Carty's brother Ed, who played guitar and took long walks around Ottawa's Dow's Lake with Mr. Carty in the last years of his life, said he was surprised to learn that all but two of Mr. Carty's funeral songs had been written by Mr. Carty.
But then he remembered Thanksgiving dinners years ago when Mr. Carty would lead the family in "sing song" to catchy folk tunes about justice, peace and love – without ever announcing he was the songwriter.
"He would pull them out and get everyone singing," Ed remembered, "but he never told us he wrote them."
It was just Bob being Bob.
Mr. Carty is survived by his mother, Daphne; his wife, Frances; their son, Michael; three brothers and three sisters.
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