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Proust Q 5.0 June 2012: Father John Mahoney

June 12, 2012

John Mahoney is a colleague at the Montreal Gazette, a photographer, chair of our union and a father and husband. He is a rock solid friend, one of only three who joined Shaun’s parents and me last summer to tell stories about the late great Shaun Best. And while he is nearly my match in years, I think of him mostly as a father. He lights up, as you’ll see, whenever he gets a chance to talk about his children, a couple of whom I have worked with at the Gazette, Riley being the current secondary Gazette Mahoney. Fine lad. Though judging by what John is like as an occasional desk mate, he didn’t have much of a choice. I have a swear jar on the half wall between me and the photo editor’s desk, where John sits in on occasion. No one else complains about my swearing. John complains. For my own good, of course. So I give you, for this month’s Proust questionnaire 5.0, Father John Mahoney.

Since we are conducting this interview via email, the world is ours for the inventing. If, as I some day hope, money is no object, in what city and establishment would you like this interview to be taking place? In Venice, in Piazza San Marco, in the spring before too many tourists bring the pigeons with them. At any one of the many cafe tables. Preferably later in the afternoon on a sunny day when the Piazza is bathed in the warmth of the late day sun.

Who and what would you be wearing? Probably jeans and Blundstones with a shirt and sweater under a windbreaker.

And, most importantly, what would we be drinking? I’ve never drunk alcohol and my New Year’s resolution this year was to go a year without Coke or Pepsi (last year I went a year without eating McDonald’s) so I’d be drinking water or lemonade.

Okay then. What are the qualities you most admire in others? Down-to-earth self-confidence, a good sense of humour, loyalty and some sort of recognition of the need for people with shared interests to pull together.

What do you like most about yourself? I think I’ve been a pretty good Dad.

Least? Procrastination and claustrophobia.

What is your greatest achievement? My family. Jocelyne’s and my four kids are adults now, and people seem to like them and they all have different individual skills. And they’re all still talking to us.

What is your more treasured possession? Our house. We raised the family here and now that they’re slowly leaving we have no desire to move. Nice house in a nice location with a killer 54″ tv.

What is your present state of mind? Concerned. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the news business and no one really knows the long-term viability of many news organizations. We’re also living through a period where Anglo Montrealers are under renewed pressure from the French majority. As much as I love living and working here the idea of leaving Quebec after I retire has crept up recently.

Where and when are/were you happiest? February 19, 2011 at my daughter Adrian’s wedding. She married an Italian so it was big, with lots of build-up. Great wedding; terrific food, great band, dancing until 2 in the morning.

What is your first memory? I don’t know exactly how old I was but probably around 2 years old. My family was living in an apartment building and my mother would dry laundry on racks over the big round heat registers in the hall. One evening a diaper fell through the grate and started smoking and we all had to evacuate the building for a bit.

What, currently, do you most love doing? Making a big weekend meal for our family and their spouse/girlfriends.

What was your worst job? I’ve been very fortunate to have had some good, stimulating jobs, even before the news business. I can’t say I ever really hated any one of them. One of my summer jobs was court monitor at a municipal tennis court in Lachine. People would show up looking for someone to play and if there was no one else around I’d play them. Or fill out a foursome for doubles. Got paid even when it rained. Great job when you’ve 18.

Your favourite colour? Blue

What is your idea of perfect happiness? To have the financial wherewithal to travel where I wanted when I wanted. Especially to escape the winter.

Of misery? Stuck in a job where I’d only have 2 weeks vacation a year.

If not yourself, who or what would you be? I’m pretty comfortable with who I am but if pressed, it would be pretty cool coaching an NCAA basketball team.

Where would you like to live? I’m a bit of a Montreal chauvinist. I think it’s still the most stimulating city in the country (not always for good, but rarely dull), so in Canada I’d stay here. Winter in Barbados sounds pretty inviting, though.

What is your favourite journey? Jocelyne and I spend two weeks every summer in Truro in Cape Cod. Total rest and relaxation.

What is your favourite or most memorable meal and when is the last time you indulged? I like the veal at Vago on Greene Ave. Was there last about a year ago.

Name the person who influenced you most and how. Chris Haney was the photo editor at Canadian Press in Montreal when I brought him my feeble student portfolio in August 1976. He invited me to come spend a day with the photo staff and later got me a job as a copy boy (there’s a job title from the history of newspapers) in the bureau. He pushed me to take a job in the darkroom at CP in Ottawa and then hired me at the Gazette in June ’79. He then went on to co-invent Trivial Pursuit. I didn’t have the guts to invest in the game when I had the chance, but much of what I have and much of what I’ve experienced professionally I owe to him. He gave me a chance and every bit of advice he ever gave me was right.

Name the film/song/book/art that influenced you most and why? In the 70’s there was a series of photography books titled Masters of Contemporary Photography. I had most of them. My favourites were about sports photographers Mark Kaufman and Neil Leifer. I think that was when I first thought of making photography a career.

In this or any time, which real-life figure(s) do you most admire? My dad. He lived the Death of a Salesman with six kids and somehow remained a loving and lovable man.

Who is your favourite fictional hero? Don’t really have one.

What fault can you most easily forgive? Forgetfulness. Our clan of Mahoneys are notorious for having lousy memories.

Not forgive? Lack of loyalty.

What is your motto? No guts, no glory.

How would you hope to die? In my sleep under the sun on Longnook Beach on the Cape.

Anything I haven’t asked about that you’d like to volunteer? Deep dark secret? When I was in my 20’s my Dad had a stroke that left him unable to speak. At the time I was busy starting my family and my career. Now that I’m in my 50s and have lived a lot more, there are some questions I’d like to have been able to ask him. He passed away a dozen years ago.

Admit it. You read those celebrity Q&As and you know you’re easily as worthy of being profiled. I know I do, but my friends are way more interesting. So, with nods to the “confession albums” of the late 1800s  made famous by the fabulous Marcel Proust’s answers, to French TV host Bernard Pivot who adapted the questionnaire, to Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton who gave it another spin and to Vanity Fair, which uses its own elegantly spun version to anchor the magazine’s back pages, I submit for your entertainment and enlightenment, my own version of the Proust Questionnaire, re-retooled for a blog age.

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