Even at his own funeral, the Peter Worthington stories were legendary.
More than 500 people attended a service at Christ Church Deer Park Wednesday to pay their final respects and hear Worthington’s friends, colleagues and family say goodbye to one of the Toronto Sun’s founding editors.
Worthington, 86, died May 12 at Toronto General Hospital following an illness and a remarkable and prolific life that was almost staggering in its scope and achievement.
At the age of 17, Worthington served in the Second World War and distinguished himself as Platoon Commander with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in the Korean War.
He covered dozens of wars and conflicts for the Toronto Telegram, helped found the Toronto Sun with Doug Creighton and Don Hunt, won four National Newspaper Awards and was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame.
“A good and loyal soldier has passed the torch,” said Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie. “We will remember him.”
“You are different because you knew Peter,” MacKenzie added. “We are changed forever because of Peter.”
Worthington’s funeral was attended by a who’s who of journalism and political life, despite the prediction he made in his own obituary that it wouldn’t be “well attended.”
They included former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, Colonel-in-Chief of the Princess Pat’s — along with a number of members of Worthington’s former regiment, Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley, former Ontario premier Ernie Eves, PC Leader Tim Hudak, MP and cabinet minister Tony Clement, Sen. Linda Frum, Sen. Joseph Day, Mayor Rob Ford and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair.
Current and former media included Pierre Karl Peladeau, who recently stepped down as president and CEO of Quebecor and Sun Media after 14 years and is currently chairman of Quebecor Media Inc. and the TVA Group; Paul Godfrey, Postmedia president and CEO; Conrad Black and his wife, former Toronto Sun editor Barbara Amiel; and a host of his Sun family, current and former.
Long-time friend and colleague Sun columnist Mike Strobel left the funeral with a smile on his face.
“Best funeral I’ve ever been to,” Strobel said. “Articulate, funny, irreverent, kindly and wise, even daring. Just like the guest of honour.”
Former Toronto mayor David Crombie said he shared lot with Worthington over the years, including a cardiologist.
“He was a very fiercely independent spirit,” Crombie said. “We shared a love of walking, in valleys, on the street, and we learned to appreciate the pleasures of life at three miles an hour.
“He was a single combat warrior and truth teller with a capacity for playful humour,” he said.
Toronto Sun Publisher Mike Power said Worthington’s “life seemed right out of a work of fiction.
“But he also had an impish humour that was fondly reflected in the remembrances from his friends, colleagues and family members. They were hilarious, wonderful and touching stories about one of the greatest storytellers we’ve ever known.”
Grandson Nathaniel Frum told one of those stories, how “Pete” made him a life-long baseball fan.
“One Saturday he was watching a baseball game by himself because no one else was interested in baseball,” Frum said.
Worthington told Frum that the batter had a phone in his helmet and that he had the phone number which he pretended to call.
“If you can hear me, tap your bat on the plate,” which happened to the young Frum’s delight.
When the player slid into home plate, Pete said “if that was for Nathaniel brush the dirt off your pants,” which of course happened and turned a young Frum into a loyal fan.
Sun columnist Joe Warmington said Worthington would have been pleased with the turnout.
“As funerals go, Peter’s may be impossible to top. Who else but Peter Worthington would have It’s A Long Way To Tipperary as the exit hymn as his casket leaves the church? And then have at 21-gun salute on the main street of the biggest city in Canada?”
Famed tenor John McDermott sang Red River Valley, Amazing Grace and Tipperary during the service.
Chick McGreggor, a former sports editor at the Toronto Telegram, recalled earlier days when he was a roommate of Worthington for a time in the late ’60s.
“Peter had just come to the Telegram and didn’t have a place to stay so we were roommates. He worked days and I worked nights,” McGreggor said.
“I cooked, but Peter wasn’t a great cook. I told him he would be a perfect foreign correspondent because he would eat anything.”
Former Toronto Sun editor Barbara Amiel said Worthington always made her laugh.
“I made some dreadful mistakes at the Sun and he joked about it,” Amiel said. “He had no tolerance for error. Not much could get by Pete. He always caught you.”
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair called Worthington an iconic personality in the City of Toronto.
“He was a great supporter of police and a friend, but he would be critical if he felt it was needed,” Blair said.
Meanwhile, Onley said Worthington was an amazing talent.
“I was invited by the family to attend which is an enormous honour. He was full of life,” Only said.
Clarkson said he always understood the military.
“I have known him for 50 years since my broadcast days. The Second Battalion hold Peter in high regard. He will always shine,” Clarkson said.
Casey Worthington, his son, joked the family knew if their house were on fire, his father would save his dogs first and at times, Worthington’s funeral seemed more like a roast as friends and family members fondly recalled his exploits.
A family friend read remarks by Worthington’s wife, Yvonne Crittenden, who recalled how Peter wrote with “clarity, honesty and passion” and how his many readers stuck with him over the years and on her own loss.
“He was my soul-mate, my best friend,” Crittenden said.
Worthington is survived by Yvonne, children Guy, Danielle and Casey, son-in-law David Frum and grandchildren Miranda, Nathaniel, Wilson, Jackson, Beatrice and Kathleen.
Toronto Sun reporter Maryam Shah provided live coverage: