Remembering Jack Tennant, 1935–2018

Posted by on May 23, 2021 in Alcoholism, Brian's Blog, Journalism | Comments Off on Remembering Jack Tennant, 1935–2018

We were booked, Jack and I, to judge a creative writing contest at the 2009 Alberta 55 Plus Summer Games in Airdrie, and also to provide pre-dinner entertainment for the Games’ participants.

The entertainment would be improvised, we decided. The program was to be billed as “Stories I Have Heard – Stories I Have Told” and there we would be – a couple of old newspaper guys up on stage – reminiscing about our adventures in journalism. The program was also expected to have a musical component, so I would play piano and Jack might bring along his bagpipes.

Jack never brought his bagpipes. Instead, he did the unexpected. When I had finished singing “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and it became his turn to entertain the audience, he surprised them with the following:

“I took my last drink on June the fourth, 1966.”

Nobody saw it coming. Jack hadn’t said anything when I talked to him on the phone the day before. So much for the “I remember when” stories the organizers expected us to tell.

Over the next half hour he led the audience through the highlights – and lowlights – of his drinking life. Fired from his first television news job, at Brandon’s CKX-TV, for drinking. Fired by the Kamloops Sentinel for drinking. By that time, in 1965, he was taking what he later told the Cochrane Eagle’s Karla Reinhard was the “geographical cure” for his drinking. The downward spiral continued. He worked for Woodward’s and was fired for drinking. Worked for the CPR and was fired for drinking. Ended up, at age thirty, on the streets in Vancouver. There, as Calgary Herald columnist Licia Corbella would graphically describe it, he drank anything he could swallow “including shoe polish.”

Jack Tennant

The Salvation Army saved him. So did Alcoholics Anonymous. He turned his life around and became a success in the newspaper business. He bought and sold community weeklies around southern Alberta, and wrote columns for the Calgary Albertan and its successor the Calgary Sun. Then, just before he turned seventy-nine in 2014, he became a real estate salesman. “It’s a lot like journalism,” he told Reinhard. “The key to success is research.”

Telling his story to the audience in Airdrie was the first time Jack had spoken publicly about his drinking past, though he had previously told friends and colleagues. He clearly didn’t subscribe to the notion that membership in AA meant he should remain anonymous for life. If he could help just one person by going public, then that made it worthwhile. “This twelve-step program saved my life.” He subsequently proclaimed the merits of the program to audiences across Canada and down in the United States.

He made his public revelation on a sunny Friday afternoon in July 2009. We were scheduled to do a repeat performance the following afternoon. “Should I tell my story again?” he wondered. “Of course,” I said. “It was very brave of you. Very moving.”

And he did.

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Copyright 2018 Brian Brennan - Author