Brian Milner, an author, commentator and Globe and Mail journalist for nearly four decades, had such an insatiable appetite for news that when he died in late November, his wife, Sylvie Milner, considered burying him with a newspaper so he would always have something to read. His death, on Nov. 26 at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, was caused by complications from gastrointestinal surgery. He was 74.
Mr. Milner’s lifelong obsession was rooted in a mental curiosity. When he retired from The Globe in 2016, after 37 years as a reporter, editor and columnist, he told colleagues that he had “found the best possible home for a voracious consumer of news and information and a peculiar desire since childhood to tell everyone everything I had learned.”
All that reading gave him an edge. “Brian could report the day-to-day as well as anyone. But what set him apart was that he had a nose for big, consequential events and trends. He understood earlier than most the power globalization and technology would unleash,” Ed Greenspon, The Globe’s former editor in chief, wrote in an e-mail. “He seemed to know everything, which was amazing, intimidating and annoying.”
Yet Mr. Milner never shoved it in anyone’s face. “He was the quintessential quirky intellectual – smart, funny and unpretentious,” Mr. Greenspon added. “He oozed a classic form of Jewish humour – witty, anti-authoritarian and egalitarian in his ability to take the piss out of everyone equally.”
In fact, Mr. Milner had a favourite joke, according to John King, a former colleague and a friend for over 50 years. In times of strife, Mr. Milner would quip: “This is nothing if you’ve had a Jewish mother.”
Brian Neil Milner was born in Toronto on Oct. 5, 1948. His mother, Ruth, was a homemaker and his father, Nathan, worked in toy manufacturing. He was an older brother to two sisters, Marilyn and Donna. He studied political science at York University, graduating in 1972, then completed a journalism degree at Carleton University. From there he returned to York to run the Excalibur, the student newspaper, which was a full-time, paid position.
During a year off to travel and write in Paris, he met Sylvie, a native Parisian known for her dinner parties. Mr. Milner snagged an invite to one through a friend of a friend, and the two ultimately married and settled in Toronto where he took a full-time position with The Globe.
Mr. Milner made a name for himself writing for Report on Business, covering autos and the banks, and he also wrote (and ghostwrote) books, including The Hidden Establishment, a best-seller that profiled Canada’s secretive, wealthy immigrants. After a brief stint as associate managing editor, he, Sylvie and their daughter, Katrina, moved to New York in the mid-90s, when he landed a plum gig as The Globe’s New York correspondent. At the time, the internet barely existed, so it was on him to translate Wall Street and global economics.
They moved back to Toronto in 2000 and Mr. Milner soon joined The Globe’s editorial board. He later returned to ROB, writing columns and features on economics and business. When he retired, he joked that he wore out 10 ROB editors, four editorial board editors and half a dozen editors-in-chief. He was also a regular guest on TV news programs, such as Headline, on Business News Network, and The Agenda, on TVO.
Beyond news, movies were another passion – something he shared with Sylvie. The annual Toronto International Film Festival was the couple’s Super Bowl, and Friday night movies with Globe colleagues were a regular feature for years.
Mr. Milner’s foible? No matter how hard they tried, editors could not speed up his meticulous writing process. He could take hours to transcribe interviews, and he would constantly take breaks to read or talk about baseball, often with colleagues who played together in a fantasy baseball league. His team name: The Sovereign Defaults. (It’s an economics joke.)
From afar, Mr. Milner could come across as a gruff, old-school newspaperman. “He would bristle and peer at you over his glasses if things weren’t done the “right” way,” John Sopinski, a graphics editor at the Globe who became a good friend, recalled in a note of condolence. “But in reality he was a big softy.” That was particularly true when it came to his wife and his daughter.
He was also smitten with Pinot, the family dog. Mr. Milner had always said he disliked dogs – even professing to being allergic to them – but then Katrina brought home a rescue. After initially resisting the idea, he and Pinot became the best of buds. His hard shell had been cracked, and throughout his retirement the two of them could often be found indulging in afternoon naps together.