Ron Hayter was everywhere and into everything, working variously as a journalist, sports advocate and city councillor. When his fellow Edmontonians needed something done, the first call usually went to him, the man with the connections.
Not only did Mr. Hayter know Fidel Castro, he watched baseball games in Cuba with El Presidente. The Cuban leader would call the Hayter household while the two men worked to get baseball included in the 1996 Summer Olympics, in Atlanta. They got along famously until three Cuban players defected at the 2008 World Junior AAA Baseball Championship in Edmonton. That was when Mr. Castro turned on his friend by writing a column that said, “Edmonton has become a trash bin.”
If Edmonton was a trash bin, then it was the unremitting Mr. Hayter who kept cleaning things up. He brought passion and devotion to everything he embraced in life.
Mr. Hayter died of pneumonia on April 21 at age 81 in a St. Albert nursing home.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley saluted his status as Edmonton’s longest-serving councillor – 33 years – by tweeting: “To work as an elected official for over three decades means a lot of personal sacrifice and, as anyone involved in the city’s sports community will tell you, Ron had a special way of showing his commitment to our city.”
Mr. Hayter’s willingness to sacrifice for what he wanted came from his upbringing. His dad, Raleigh (Slim) Hayter, had left Prince Edward Island to cut lumber in northern Saskatchewan. The family lived in a log cabin with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Slim and his wife, Vera, had six boys. The first, Ron, was born on July 30, 1936, in Hudson Bay, Sask. He wanted to go to school, but his father wanted his sons to help with the daily foraging for food, since there were times when the family had to live off the land.
When Ron was 12, his father was jailed for illegal deer hunting and his mother was put on a freight train to get to the nearest hospital because she was experiencing a problem with her pregnancy. So Ron was placed in foster care, where he got his first taste of school, and he was hooked. Living with a family in Star City, Sask., he earned his keep by chopping wood and hauling water before leaving for school. He later attended high school in Hudson Bay and graduated at 18.
His first newspaper gig was working for the celebrated Margaret (Ma) Murray, columnist, editor, publisher of the Alaska Highway News. His reporting on the collapse of the Peace River Bridge in 1957 earned him national recognition. He was a guest on CBC’s Front Page Challenge and was offered a job at the Edmonton Journal, which he happily accepted.
With his newspaper career off to a galloping start, Mr. Hayter began dabbling in Edmonton’s sports scene. He played baseball and boxed. He became a member of the International Amateur Boxing Association. He became the man in charge of Boxing Canada and a member of the World Boxing Association.
In between all that, he served as a judge at heavyweight bouts. For all he did, he was eventually inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame.
Outside the ring, Mr. Hayter was a baseball fanatic. He ran Baseball Alberta in 1968 before representing Canada at various International Baseball Federation meetings and events. He wrote the Canadian rule book and organized national championships. In 1979, he assembled the Edmonton International Baseball Foundation. That ultimately led to the first IBAF World Cup of Women’s Baseball in 2004, with the tournament held in Edmonton.
It also sealed his induction in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame two years later. (He was also a member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Edmonton Sports Hall of Fame.) Those who knew of his dedication to baseball couldn’t help but recall the time Mr. Hayter and Mr. Castro had it out on the phone.
“It’s my favourite story,” said former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, who served on council with Mr. Hayter. “It’s the one where the Cuban baseball players are defecting and an angry Fidel Castro calls Ron – and he stood up to Castro saying it wasn’t his problem. Only Ron could do that. … He was a doer and you go to doers to get things done.”
Mr. Hayter was asked by former prime minister Lester Pearson to serve as an adviser for the formation of Sport Canada. It was the federal government’s plan to develop world-class athletes and assist Canadian sports organizations so they could host events on a national and international level. For his efforts, Mr. Hayter was honoured with a Vanier Award in 1974, as well as Queen Elizabeth’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals.
He had another encounter with royalty in 1983, during a Canadian tour by Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales. The royal couple attended a dinner at Edmonton’s Government House, where Mr. Hayter livened up the crowd by dancing with Klondike Days’ emissary Klondike Kate. Diana laughed during the performance, which was provided for her birthday entertainment.
For all Mr. Hayter accomplished in sports and in public service, though, it was his efforts with First Nations leaders that he found most satisfying. In 2005, the City of Edmonton issued a declaration that included several “belief statements” to construct a stronger relationship with Indigenous people. Those statements dealt with “celebrating past Aboriginal contributions, recognizing past injustices that have impacted Aboriginal society and acknowledging the unique challenges facing Aboriginal people.”
Indigenous leader Lewis Cardinal worked closely with Mr. Hayter to draw up what was dubbed “a new benchmark for Canadian cities.”
“That set the values with Indigenous leaders and elders as well as with the city of Edmonton,” Mr. Cardinal said. “Ron endeared himself to many people because he earned a sense of trust with them. That spoke to his character.”
His children spoke of his character, too. They recalled how he wouldn’t tolerate bigotry in his home, and how he would take the principled stance even if it made him unpopular.
“He was really tight-fisted; he hated to part with a nickel if he didn’t have to,” said daughter Sparkle Hayter, a journalist and author. “But at the same time, he was willing to spend more to get more, like with the Shaw Convention Centre. A lot of people were against it. But he was right, and it turned out to be one of those important constructions in Edmonton that helped transform us from this modest northern Alberta city into this world-class capital.”
Mr. Hayter was elected to Edmonton’s city council in 1971 and retired from politics in 2010. In between those years, he stepped away for six years to join the National Parole Board, only to return to his political roots, serving on council for another nine years.
Mr. Hayter was predeceased by his wife, Grace Jacqueline (Jac’y) Hayter (née Bacon), who died of cancer in 2005. He was a father to Sparkle, Hudson (who died as an infant), Sandra and Nevin. He leaves three grandchildren, one great-grandchild and four of his brothers, as well as his partner, Sheila Cooper.