Ben Meisner: The Voice of the North
By Don Hawkins, Michelle Cyr-Whiting, Greg Fry
Prince George, B.C. – “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
That quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. would seem very appropriate in describing how Ben Meisner took life by the horns and never let go. That sentiment, along with the expression in the Garth Brooks song “The River” that you can sit on the sidelines or get up and live your life actively, were dominant themes during the celebration of life service held for Meisner at the Prince George Civic Centre Saturday afternoon.
Meisner’s coffin, covered by a grizzly bear rug, was piped into and later out of the service by Sheldon Clare, under the escort of Pallbearers Mr. Justice Glen Parrett, Gordon Leighton, Dr. Michael Rivera, John Goodwin, Pat Moore and Dr. Brian Galliford. The escort also included Honourary Pallbearers David Baines, Bernard Hodgins, Bill Rushton, Gordon MacDonald, Keith Baltus and Al Steinhauser. Pastor Fleming Blishen conducted the service.
In eulogizing Ben Meisner Mr. Justice Parrett spoke of meeting him in the late 1970’s, the two of them heading to Vancouver to do some legal business. “When we arrived in Vancouver and were ready to head over to the big law firm’s tower,” relates Justice Parrett, “we almost literally sprinkled ourselves with sawdust on our clothing and stuffed hay stocks in our sleeves and collars. Upon our arrival we were met by a nicely-polished young man who announced in dulcid tones, ‘I believe we have reserved one of our boardrooms on the 35th, or 46th or 135th floors’, I forget which one it was. Ben looked him in the eye, dusted off his sleeve and said “shucks, you folks sure have a lot of tall buildings down here.””
“That role was a natural to Ben that, to some degree, I watched play out over the years in his many different roles, as interviewer, investigative journalist and as the designated troubleshooter who people in the north went to when they had problems they couldn’t seem to solve. He was a natural, folksy man with nothing pretentious about him, yet that exterior concealed a keen and inquiring mind and a depth and breadth of experience, and a wealth of common sense that anchored him.”
“Over the years from our initial meeting that relationship became a deep and abiding friendship. I am incredibly lucky and honoured to have had him as a friend for the time we had.” Justice Parrett added “to me Ben is, was and will always remain the consummate northerner.” “One of his deep and abiding loves was the northern country, the natural beauty of it, its resources and the people who live here. It is because of this love that he remained in this region and that he fought so many battles for this area, its resources and the people who lived here.
He spoke of Meisner being able to speak with anyone from any walk of life or background. “The key to this was the fact that he was genuinely interested in their stories and their lives and he knew how to listen.”
Gordon Leighton quoted a baseball player who said “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving there safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming, wow, what a ride.” Leighton says “that’s a quote I can hear my friend Ben having said. On the final play of the game Ben Meisner skidded into home plate, scoring his final run. He is now home where he wanted to be. His life was very much like a home run batted well out of the park. Pull the trigger and ride the bullet, that’s how Ben lived.”
Leighton says he met Meisner about 50 years ago and became friends around 1974 when Ben moved from Kamloops to Prince George. “I recognized Ben’s no nonsense, straight talk and his curiosity as a great fit for a local open-line radio show: Talkback was born. Nothing on Talkback was predictable, listeners expected the unexpected. Guests on the show soon learned that doublespeak and political flimflammery unleashed the tiger.”
“Ben didn’t like rules much, and that’s because rules are like sticks. You can poke people with them, you can threaten them, you can beat them, but you cannot lead or inspire people with sticks. But he did like principles because principles are like ropes, able to conform to the shape of any problem. They are less brittle than rules, and they’re stronger. Principles whisper valuable advice. People are inspired by principles and Ben will be remembered for his.”
Leighton called Meisner an excellent critical thinker, “able to connect dots in a puzzle that most people couldn’t see, and some people couldn’t even see the puzzle. His critical thinking skills were focused for a long time, more than a decade, on the Nechako River as Ben sparred with Alcan, the giant who wanted to trade Nechako water for hydro-electric money. Ben made it an issue to put this issue front and centre before the public and he did just that despite the army of spin doctors at the giant’s command. Together with like-minded people Ben did his best to slay the dragon and save the river.”
Leighton concluded his eulogy with these words: “Ben, we sorely miss you, but we will remember you, and we give thanks for having you as part of our lives. If I may plagiarize for one last time, Ben’s well-known expression, and that friends is one man’s opinion of the life of Benjimen Barry Meisner, a life very well lived.”
Ben Meisner was, in 2010, appointed as a Bencher of the Law Society of BC, and the President Ken Walker, as well as the CEO, the First and Second Vice-presidents and three other benchers were all in attendance at Ben’s service. As related by Mr. Walker, “I think Ben put it simply when he phoned his friend Glen and asked what the hell is a bencher?”
“Ben chose to become one, and he and we guide the policy of the Law Society and we regulate the profession of the lawyers. It’s only in the last five years that we came to know him, not as well as many of you. We found he was irreverent. Ben would have told me to say Ken, when you say irreverent put it plainly. He was brilliant, he was courageous and he was in your face and well, he was opinionated too. However in forming his opinions he listened, he listened well and listening is not a skill well-appreciated at our lawyer table….we like to talk.”
“Ben had a way of talking, but listening at the same time and although tough, that was just a façade. He cared, he cared about the people that were affected by lawyers. He cared about the lawyers that cared about clients. He cared about the underprivileged and the disadvantaged. He came to care about the Law Society and its purpose of improving its regulation.”
“As he was laying in his hospital bed the subject of this life bencher thing came up. It is unusual to bestow such a designation before the term is up. The night before he passed the benchers, through me, bestowed that designation upon him. It was important to him, it was important to us. He will be remembered by all of us.”
Peter Ewart, the author of many articles which appear here, recounted his “Memories of Ben Meisner” which was published on April 8th. The essence of Peter’s tribute: Ben is a man who kept his word.
Prior to the conclusion of the service were stirring renditions of two songs, Wil Fundal performing “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “It’s a Wonderful World” as sung by Andy Beesley.
Following the service Sheldon Clare, who has known Ben Meisner for close to 30 years, says “Ben Meisner was a great man, he was a guy who deeply, truly cared about his community and he lived that concern for his community every day. He never let any opportunity pass to defend and stick up for Prince George and the region. I guess one of the regrets I have about him passing is that I’ve never ever caught a fish as big as any of the ones he was pulling in that I watched in the pictures in there. I really admire the skill. We worked together on some of the firearm rallies, he interviewed me a number of times. He never gave me a free ride on any question, I was asked hard questions and I tried to give him straight answers and I think that’s one reason we were always able to connect and be friends with mutual respect. I’m really going to miss him. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Renee McCloskey, who locked horns with Meisner on more than one occasion, says “It’s a great loss for our community. I’ve had the fortune of knowing Ben for all of my career in public relations and we were very seldom on the similar side of the fence on things in fact my first job in PR was working for Alcan to it was a pretty intimidating introduction to Ben. He was so good at his job and he certainly kept me on my toes. He advocated for the community and I think his loss is going to be a huge void to fill. The community is a better place because of his contributions and I think that’s a fantastic legacy.”
Don Zurowski says “I’ve probably know Ben for about 40 years, back to his Public’s Own Market days. He was always an innovative guy. I don’t think I ever bought into that gruff exterior there was always a heart. I was on the radio show with him many times and I never found him vindictive, asked some tough questions but he was a sincere man that added greatly to this community. The city will miss him, I will miss him, felt better knowing he was there.”
Ben is survived by his wife Elaine, son Reg (Cynthia), daughter Kim Burns (Tony), grandson Derek Meisner (Tanya Grondzil), daughter Kelly Gair (Michael), and grandson Wil Royrock. Brother Bill (Leona), niece Melissa Meisner, brother Ron (Marge), and sister Trudy Perkins, brother-in-law Gordon MacDonald (Judeth) and several nieces and nephews. And by Ben’s dear friend, Daisy.
We have had the distinct and rare pleasure of working with a true and great newsman, who sought out the truth for the public no matter the size of the rocks that had to be overturned. We were fortunate because Ben let you know you worked with him, not for him. A pleasure indeed.
We know the running of 250 News has always been a pairs event, Ben and Elaine. We know that pride in the operation of this business and pride in its product is as paramount as the pride both have had in putting their name to any article written, newscast read, program hosted. That pride remains.
With that, a visual memory of Ben Meisner