“I was making $191 a month, and I remember thinking to myself … that if I could be called a good journeyman reporter by the time I was 45 — by my colleagues — that would be a wonderful career. And I think I made it.”
— Henry Champ, upon his retirement in 2008, speaking with the CBC on his first job as a Brandon Sun sports reporter in 1960.
On April 30, 1975, the headline on the front page of the Brandon Sun announced the fall of Saigon. The North Vietnamese had taken control of the South Vietnamese capital and forced an unconditional surrender.
That action heralded the end of the historic and controversial Vietnam War, in which more than one million people lost their lives and a world power lost its innocence.
And while the bulk of the news that day spoke of the helicopter evacuation of 900 Americans and about 5,600 South Vietnamese from the city, and the arrival of the Viet Cong into Saigon, a few paragraphs from the Canadian Press noted that two major Canadian television networks had not yet heard from their staff in the field.
“Those not heard from are reporters Colin Hoath and Peter Kent of the CBC and reporters Henry Champ and cameraman Louis DeGuise of CTV.”
Coincidentally, the CP report also included this line, no doubt added by a Sun editor:
“Mr. Champ is a former Brandon Sun staff writer.”
By 1975, Champ hadn’t worked in the Sun newsroom in several years — he had joined the Sun in 1960 as a sports reporter before entering the world of television journalism — and yet we claimed him as one of our own, all the same.
We still do. As do many in this town.
Following a long battle with lung cancer, Henry Champ, journalist, died in Washington D.C. on Sunday at the age of 75.
Champ had enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a journalist, a path that took him to some of the worlds most dangerous locales. Following his time at the Sun, he worked as a CTV correspondent for 15 years, eventually becoming the company’s bureau chief in Washington D.C., Montreal and London. Not only was he one of the last reporters out of Vietnam, a CBC report states that he was among the first Canadian journalists admitted into the People’s Republic of China.
In a reposted tribute from the Canadian Media Guild, one of his old colleagues, Dan Bjarnason, noted on Monday that Champ went on to cover just about everything a journalist could hope for: wars, summits, elections, disasters, peace conferences, riots and revolutions. Among his many postings: he was with W5 at CTV, NBC news in Europe, in Washington for CTV and then CBC Television for many years.
CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge, who also worked with Champ, remembered him as a reporter other journalists could look up to.
“He was your classic old-time journalist,” Mansbridge said. “He’d seen it all, he had this vast knowledge of modern-day journalism still with the mix of sort of the old school.
“For him, the drive was to get to the story. To bring forward as much detail as you could to a public who was anxious to hear it.”
Champ’s contributions to journalism were recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
Born in Hartney and raised in Brandon, Champ spent his formative years in this community, and though he would spend most of his career and life outside of it, he never forgot his roots, or his sense of purpose.
He studied arts at Brandon University in 1957 and 1958 — though as Bjarnason wryly notes, Champ flunked out in the 1950s.
But Champ the dropout, who became one of the most noteworthy and well-respected Canadian journalists of his generation, garnered an honorary degree from Brandon University in 2005, and was serving his second term as BU chancellor when he died.
As BU president Deborah Poff said on Sunday, his death is a great loss for the university and this city, both of which have lost a superb community booster.
Westman residents should feel some sense of pride that such a man sprung forth from our little corner of the planet.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 25, 2012