I met Ralph Klein on the first day of Spring in March 1978. It left a lasting impression.
I was a rookie reporter for CFAC-TV hired from Ontario to cover Calgary City Hall. Ralph was the seasoned veteran on the same beat for CFCN.
Television news was very competitive and rival reporters would barely talk to each other. Klein had a formidable reputation for getting tough exclusive stories while I was just a journalistic pup still trying to find the washrooms at the Hall.
During my second week on the job, I was in the media room reviewing the council agenda for the Monday afternoon session. Ralph welcomed me into the reporters fraternity with an invitation.
“Hey kid, you wanna go for a beer?”
I turned him down strictly out of fear. After all, I was still on probation and needed a story for the six o’clock news.
“Suit yourself … I’ll be at the St. Louis if you change your mind,” Ralph said.
Off he went snapping his red suspenders on his way out the door.
On Ralph’s typewriter was a rolled up piece of paper. There was no one else in the room. So, I eased over and pulled it out.
It read … “the City of Calgary’s Chief Commissioner was arrested by the RCMP and charged with fraud after allegedly stealing $1 million and the Mayor’s office is also under investigation … I’m Ralph Klein and I will have exclusive details tonight on CFCN News.”
I almost fainted.
Rushing over to my desk I called the station and told them I was working on a major story then proceeded to read them Ralph’s script.
‘’That’s a great scoop Bobrovitz,” gushed the producer, “That’s why we hired you … to kick butt at City Hall.”
Pleased with myself I hung up and left the room to chase down the details of the story and reward myself with some lunch.
Ralph was on the staircase his arms folded and looking right through me.
“Got the big one kid?” he asked.
My face turned as red as a Stampede rodeo sunset.
‘If you pursue that fraud story you made a big mistake,” he said.
‘’It’s a fake … I set you up rookie.”
That’s when the room started to spin and I thought my head was going to explode, blasting my young career to bits.
Racing back inside I frantically dialled up the station.
“Kill the story … kill the story.”
A chuckling Klein came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Never rip off another reporter and next time I ask you to go for a beer … you better come … now let’s get over there kid … the chicken and chips are waiting .”
We strolled over to Ralph’s favourite haunt a block east of City Hall. Lesson learned. I kept my job. We became friends. He kept beating me on stories but my day would come a few years later.
In October 1980, after working with him, I started covering him as an elected politician. His mayoralty victory was greeted with shock but I was overjoyed. Finally, I would be able to beat him to some exclusive stories out of City Hall.
Ralph Klein never changed much in my view as he climbed the ladder of power and prestige. He turned three terms as Calgary mayor into an incredible run as a four term Alberta premier. But he remained charming, honest and genuine.
And he always remembered his friends by slipping a few brown envelopes their way over the next three decades.
Ralph, you taught me a lot about journalism and life. I already miss you.