Writer, reporter, editor, perfectionist. Born on June 25, 1931, in Windsor, N.S.; died on May 28, 2016, in Toronto, from injuries suffered in a fall, aged 84.
Carl Mollins was a journalist's journalist. And he was a perfectionist as an editor, who would suggest to me that that was a cliché.
News of his passing in hospital, where he had been recovering from a serious fall 11 days earlier, set off an explosion of sad and respectful commentary in social and other media. Much of it came from the many dozens of reporters, editors, writers and public figures whose lives he touched in a journalism career that spanned nearly 50 years. Words like icon, mentor and gentleman were repeated often.
Carl inspired unusual loyalty and respect among colleagues because of his strong professional standards and unceasing devotion to clear and accurate stories with impact – exposing unfairness, incompetence and political skulduggery or elegantly explaining in fine detail the how and why of events of the day.
He was fearless in writing what he knew to be true – because he had researched and checked it until he was certain. Many a reporter struggling with a complicated story had "the Mollins touch" applied to make it clear and readable, with no "holes" that might leave questions or raise doubts.
"What a gift it was to get the guy," recalled Bob Lewis, former editor-in-chief of Maclean's, who persuaded Carl to leave The Canadian Press (CP) and join the magazine in 1984 as editor of Canadian and world news. Carl's encyclopedic knowledge of political and economic history, international reporting experience, and attention to detail were legendary. "While he was in charge, I had the security he would never let anything go that wasn't perfect," Mr. Lewis added. Carl later went to Washington, D.C., for the magazine and returned to Toronto as executive editor, the position he held until retiring in 2000.
Carl was born in 1931 in Windsor, N.S., where his Baptist minister father had a parish. There were moves to Ottawa and then to Toronto, where his father died suddenly in 1945 when Carl was just 14. His two older sisters got jobs, his mother took in boarders, and Carl found part-time work as the family scrambled financially.
After graduating from the University of Toronto, he worked briefly as a railway porter before setting off to explore Europe. He got his first news job in London, at Westminster Press, then went to Reuters news agency before returning to Canada in 1962, working at the CP wire service as a reporter in Toronto, London (U.K.) and Ottawa. He rose to news editor and assistant Ottawa bureau chief, building a team of reporters and editors that dug into every aspect of federal politics and policy, before being assigned by CP to Washington in 1980.
Pat Gossage, former head of communications for the Canadian embassy in Washington, recalls that Carl refused to get a White House press pass because U.S. officials required the Canadian ambassador to formally propose it. Carl thought it was none of his business.
In addition to building a solid reputation for his journalism, Carl built many lasting friendships. He loved to have "a jar" or two in the local pub and he and his wife Joan hosted many gatherings at their homes in Ottawa, Washington and Toronto. Their annual July 1st summer party was a fixture on many calendars. "You came for the company," Mr. Gossage said, "and stayed for Joan's wonderful cooking."
In his final years, Carl liked to take lengthy walks along Toronto's Harbourfront area, sometimes with daughters Julie and Tracey, often stopping for a coffee and a sweet treat. It was while he was alone on one such walk that he suffered the serious fall that took his life.
John Ferguson is a friend and former colleague of Carl's at CP Ottawa.