It is with heavy heart that I report that on Sunday, June 10, the Beach lost its best friend. Glenn Cochrane, 84, one of the area’s most active supporters and volunteers, died after a brief illness.
Glenn was born into a large close family in Hamilton. He never forgot his roots and was always the proud Hamiltonian (right down to sporting an orange and black Tiger Cat scarf in the winter). His memories about his youth growing up in ‘Steeltown’ often involved the hi-jinks he and friends employed to attract the attentions of young ladies – usually to no avail.
And unlike so many such recollections, Glenn’s were often about the Hamiltonian winter complete with wet galoshes and snow-pilled mittens. In recent years, his stories took on a more Runion-esque cast with tales about the poster-girl for anger management, Sturdy Gert McCurdy.
For over 40 years, Glenn and his wife Jean have lived in the Beach – in Balmy Beach specifically. They are familiar figures on their daily travels along Queen Street.
“When I see them walking, I know I’m home,” said long-time friend Cathy Dunphy. “It’s a comforting feeling.”
It may come as a shock to those who knew him as a ‘good news’ journalist, but Glenn started his long career in the news business as a crime reporter for the Hamilton Spectator. He then went to MacLean-Hunter and Canadian Press as an editor.
In 1968 he started to work at CFTO in its ‘rip-and-read’ section. It was his job to gather together a summary of breaking news off the wires every hour. Soon, his ability to give a story a special twist led to on-camera assignments until he became a fixture on World Beat News.
His stories took him all over the world and into countless situations – as I recall, in later years, his TV spot often involved a buxom young lady or two – but Glenn’s emphasis was always on the positive.
Although Glenn was a staple of my evening news experience, I didn’t get to know Glenn and his wife, Jean, until I started working for Beach Metro. Just a few months into my tenure, I convinced Glenn to write a column on Beach culture. I patted myself on the back for years for scoring such a coup.
But it wasn’t until I participated in a Heart and Stroke fundraiser called Jail and Bail that I realized that not only did I have a terrific columnist but a hero on a white horse (or, at least, white bucks) working for me.
The idea behind the fundraiser (which I never did entirely get) was that local notables would report to jail (well, the bandshell in Kew Gardens) and be held there until they would be bailed out. As I waited in jail, while Judge Mark Dailey sentenced numerous other ‘prisoners’, I realized they had all pre-arranged for someone to put up their bail.
As I began to think I would have to fall on the mercy of the court, up came Glenn, announcing to all involved that he “would not allow his editor to languish in prison,” and paid for me to fly the coop.
Even before he retired from CFTO in 1993, Glenn was a tireless volunteer, lending his unique talents to almost every noteworthy endeavourer in the area. From the files at Beach Metro, I discovered that during the late 1970s and early 1980s he helped with a number of Senior Link fundraisers, served as the Grand Marshall of the 1984 Beaches Lions Club Easter Parade, was a volunteer canvasser for the Heart and Stoke Foundation, promoted Weedless Wednesdays and, in 1990, emceed the Lion’s Christmas Tree Lighting in Kew Gardens for the first time – something he did for the next 20 years. He was also a tireless supporter of the Beaches Library.
Former President of the Beaches Lions Club, Joe Bordieri, said, “Glenn was a driving spirit in our community, always ready to do what he could for the Lions Club. His contributions will be in our community forever.”
One of his major efforts was helping to save the Leuty Lifeguard Station from demolition. It’s hard to believe that the most iconic landmark in the Beach was ever in danger, but during the early 1990s, the station needed so many repairs that the city was thinking about tearing it down. A Save Our Station (SOS) committee was formed with Chris Layton at the helm and Glenn as vice-chair. The committee, which included Glenn’s frequent partner Gene Domagala, sold t-shirts, posters, raffled off a small version of the station, and eventually raised enough money to refurbish the Leuty. The efforts of the committee garnered an Award of Merit from the Toronto Historical Board (1995).
Layton remembers Glenn best for his sense of humour.
“I fondly recall working with him on the campaign to restore the Leuty Lifesaving Station. He made it fun. Even when donations were slow in coming, Glenn remained upbeat. He’d just tell a few stories from CFTO days, ending with his unmistakable chuckle, and the day would brighten up. He was a great, one-of-a-kind personality and a true supporter of his community.”
Perhaps his most long-standing volunteer commitment was to Community Centre 55. Glenn started working with the centre in the early 1980s and served as Board Chair for nine years.
“He was steadfast, loyal, always putting the well-being of the centre before anything else,” said former CC55 Executive Director Bob Murdoch.
The current Executive Director Debbie Visconti said, “I had the pleasure of being on the board at Community Centre 55 with Glenn for 10 years. It was very evident that he was a true champion of Centre 55, and of people that needed a helping hand. He was always game for a fun event to raise money to help the community. Glenn was very diplomatic, and as Chair he was really open to different points of view on the numerous topics up for discussion. He was well spoken and professional, but I will always remember Glenn for his quick wit and delightful chuckle. Centre 55 was fortunate to have Glenn Cochrane as a friend.”
Glenn was also extremely interested in preserving the character and history of the Beach. When the Ontario Jockey Club applied to build a teletheatre on Queen Street just west of Kingston Road in 1996, he helped to form CAT (Coalition Against the Teletheatre), a group of local citizens who didn’t believe that the Beach was a suitable place for such a facility. When it appeared that the area could be the site of a casino in 1997, he became co-chair of RAGE (Residents Against Gambling Expansion). He was also one of the founding members of the Balmy Beach Residents Association.
One of his oldest friends, Gene Domagala said, “Glenn was always happy to help out when you needed him. He would say, ‘Just let me know’, and he would be there. He just never stopped, he had such dedication…A grand old man.”
In the last few years, Glenn became a best-selling author. His first book, Glenn Cochrane’s Toronto: Tales of the City, published in 2006, was given an Award of Merit by Heritage Toronto. His second, written with wife Jean, The Beach: An Illustrated History from the Lake to Kingston Road was published in 2009.
Over his lifetime, Glenn received a number of honours including the 125th Canada Anniversary Medal, the Queen’s Jubilee Medal and was selected as the 2002 Beach Citizen of the Year.
But I believe Glenn will best be remembered for is his unflagging good-humour and love of his community. He was a true gentleman, and totally irreplaceable.
Glenn, we are going to miss you.
A night in remembrance of Glenn Cochrane will be held on July 12 starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Balmy Beach Club.