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Bob Diotte: Last ambassador of charm

'He was a journalist to his death. He loved doing Take Seven. Even when he was deathly ill he'd try to file.'
Bob Diotte, whose Take Seven column ran in Sault This Week from the weekly's earliest days, has died in Ottawa after a prolonged battle with cancer.

That wooshing sound you're hearing this morning is the last barrel-scraping of old-school male charm leaving the Sault.

Bob Diotte didn't even live here.

He moved away to Ottawa more than 40 years ago.

But until late Sunday night, the former Sault Star/ Sault This Week scribe was pretty much this city's last repository of an effortless, Cary Grant-like grace rarely seen outside his generation.

The Sault-born Diotte died Sunday at Ottawa General Hospital, age 77, after a prolonged battle with cancer.

He left Sault Ste. Marie to serve in the halls of national power, but never managed to shake off the hometown he loved.

A short history of charm

Diotte made pilgrimages back to the Sault several times a year.

Son of a French Canadian père and a Finnish äiti, he maintained paid-up memberships in numerous local ethnic clubs and was often seen holding forth at their social functions, always immaculate in manners and dress.

"Only the self-aware can have charm," wrote Benjamin Schwarz three years ago in an essay in The Atlantic titled The Rise and Fall of Charm in American Men.

"It can’t exist in the undeveloped personality," Schwarz said. "It’s an attribute foreign to many men because most are, for better and for worse, childlike. These days, it’s far more common among men over 70 — probably owing to the era in which they reached maturity rather than to the mere fact of their advanced years."

News of Bob Diotte's passing was first reported on social media Sunday night by his brother Kerry Diotte, an Edmonton Sun columnist who last year became Member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach.

"My big brother Bob passed away tonight in Ottawa after a long battle. I'm so grateful I managed to be with him today. I want to thank you all for your well-wishes and prayers," Kerry wrote on Facebook.


Born August 22, 1939, Bob Diotte attended Sault Collegiate Institute, then served two years in the Royal Canadian Air Force before attending Michigan Tech University.

Bob's initial goal was to become a geological engineer but he also harboured hankerings for journalism.

In an interview conducted six years ago for Sault This Week, he told Tom Douglas how he settled on writing for a career.

"I was earning money for my schooling with a summer office job at Algoma Steel. One noon hour I was walking down Queen Street and on a whim I went into the Sault Star building, which was located not far from the court house at the time. It happened that the managing editor, John Curran, was the only one in the newsroom and he suggested I fill out an application form. Two weeks later, in September 1963, I was hired as a reporter."
Bob's big break
Diotte's big break in journalism came shortly after that, when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson came to town and the cub reporter scored an exclusive interview at the Windsor Hotel.

"He could sense I was a very nervous, very new reporter and he broke the ice by interviewing me!" Diotte recalled.

"We really hit it off when he found out I'd been in the air force. He'd flown during World War 1. We chatted for a while and then he said he guessed I should come out of the interview with some sort of story. He told me he would be announcing in Elliot Lake the next day that Canada would be stockpiling uranium. It was a real scoop and did a lot for my career."

Diotte stayed two years at the Sault Star, then spent two years at the Northern Miner in Toronto.
Federal civil service
In 1967, Bob started a lifetime career with the federal civil service, starting back in the Sault as an information officer, moving to Ottawa seven years later.
There, Diotte served in a dog's breakfast of federal departments: public works, forestry, national defence, National Capital Commission and Canada Revenue Agency.
He wrote news releases.
He wrote speeches for cabinet ministers.
And he wrote the Sault This Week column for which Saultites will always remember him: Take Seven.
Diotte also talked about that in his Tom Douglas interview.
Shopper News
"I was doing public relations for the Canadian Forest Service in the Sault back in April 1969 and was interested to learn that a new paper was starting up. It was called Shopper News at the time and was being produced out of a small office above the old Virene's Department Store on Queen Street East across from what was then the Windsor Hotel."
There, Diotte tracked down Al and Rick Muncaster and pitched them on his column idea, a mixture of opinion and short news items.
The Muncasters bought the idea and the column continued through four decades of changes of publishers and editors into last month.

"Bob was a colleague and friend of mine for 20 years," says Sandra Paul, former editor of Sault This Week.

"When I was a new editor, Bob was a wonderful support, as he had decades of experience in media and public relations and was always willing to share what he had learned," Paul tells SooToday.

Never missed a deadline

"He took the time to discuss any challenges I might be having, explaining to me the broader context and providing friendly advice. Our frequent phone conversations boosted my confidence and made decisions much easier."

"As the Take Seven columnist for Sault This Week, he never missed a deadline. We could always count on Bob.  He was a man of extraordinary character and I feel privileged to have known him."

"I am saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Diotte," said Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan.

"I worked with Bob and enjoyed talking to him, as he was a wealth of knowledge. I appreciated his support as a councillor and his encouragement in the past to seek higher office. He was a great Saultite, a fantastic ambassador for our community, and a man with a great heart.”

Sault's unofficial ambassador

"He was the Sault's biggest booster," brother Kerry Diotte tells SooToday.

"He was the unofficial ambassador even though he hadn't lived in the city full-time since 1974."

"His Soo parties in Ottawa were legendary. He had hundreds of people at them. All to promote the city through networking."

"And he was a journalist to his death. He loved doing Take Seven. Even when he was deathly ill he'd try to file."

"Bob really had a huge circle of friends. And was always looking to help out someone who wanted help. He was a born leader and could have been successful as a politician no doubt."

"He Inspired me and so many others he touched in his life and career as a journalist and in civil service as a public affairs official and speech writer," Kerry said.

"I'll let you all know soon how we will celebrate Bob's amazing life in services in Ottawa and in our hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I'm very sad but so glad he's finally at peace and not in pain."