Henry Champ 1937-2012

Henry Champ was an absolutely terrific journalist, and in that old fashioned Victorian sense, a gracious gentleman.

Henry Champ 1937 – 2012

Henry’s career spanned the evolution of modern journalism.

He was born in the Brandon (Manitoba) General Hospital (as was I, five years later). As a teenager, I was a member of something called the High School Militia. It was something more than Army Cadets, but less than the regular Militia. Henry, then a regular Militia Lieutenant, volunteered to be in charge of us. He had that magic that cannot be taught: he was a natural leader. Today it’s called charisma or charm; but that suggests something vaguely artificial. With Henry it was the real thing. Those who knew him will know what I mean.

It was from Henry that I first heard much of the Korean War, and the PPCLI; and Kapyong.

He entered journalism as a sports reporter with the Brandon Sun (as years later did I, only as a summer intern in charge of weddings and seniors’ birthdays and funerals).

Henry 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, for NBC news in Europe, and in Washington for CTV and then CBC Television for many years.

Behind his disarming impish, Mona Lisa-type smile; and his engaging warmth, lurked a razor-sharp mind that raced ahead like a rocket.

He always took his work very seriously indeed, but never himself.

And he never got confused into thinking the reporter was the story. To Henry, The Story was always the story.

Henry was generous with what he knew … and Henry knew a lot. Many times I would call. saying, Henry, I need: a senator (or whatever: lobbyist, or CIA agent, or State Dept official) who was an expert in _____ (file in the blank). Henry always would know precisely such a person and then phone to set up a meeting.

A few years ago, a young student from Brandon University wanted to go to Washington for Obama’s inauguration. I asked Henry to suggest some inexpensive hotels/motels/hostels where the student could stay and any public events he might attend. In a heartbeat, Henry said the student — a complete stranger — could stay at his house, and where ever Henry went that that day, the student could come along. It was a front-row-to-history experience that student will carry in his memory to the end of his days.

In the 1950s, Henry flunked out of Brandon University. I don’t think he got beyond First Year. It puzzled me because Henry was a bright sharp guy. A few years later (when I was a student at the same place), I asked him: “Henry, why didn’t you ever graduate?”

“Bridge,” he smiled. “Too much bridge.”

Henry, the dropout, ended up being Chancellor.

I am making a journalist’s mistake here that Henry would never have committed. I’ve ended up writing mostly about me. But I’m not the story. Henry’s the story. Sadly.


About Dan Bjarnason

Dan Bjarnason is the author of "Triumph at Kapyong, Canada's Pivotal Battle in the Korean War." Bjarnason was a television news and documentary reporter for The National at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for over 35 years, He specialized in military history and has worked on documentaries from the Little Bighorn to the Falklands. He now lives in Toronto and can be reached at: danbjarnason@gmail.com
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7 Responses to Henry Champ 1937-2012

  1. Mike Duffy says:

    Excellent as usual. We have lost so many old friends in the last year. But Henry’s passing is especially tough because he always seemed so energetic and healthy. I doubt they make those kind anymore. Duff

  2. Maria says:

    Hi Dan,

    I am doing archival research for a documentary about the Battle of Kapyong. I’d like to ask you a few questions, if possible. I can’t seem to find your email anywhere, so I thought I’d leave you a message here. I can be reached at mariatrimble@gmail.com.

    Thank you and kind regards,

    Maria Trimble

  3. Bettyjane Wylie says:

    Thank you , Dan, for a lovely memoir/Obit. I hadn’t heard of Henry but I will check the internet and follow up on him. As usual, I enjoy anything you write.
    Betty Jane

  4. Thanks for writing this. I knew and loved Henry too. When I was starting out and needed someone to help me deal with the trials and tribulations of a young journalist, Henry invited me to Washington. We sat in the Press Club and he gave me the best advice I have ever had: Do your job well. Learn everything there is to know and the rest will take care of itself.
    My favourite memory of Henry though was when I joined W5. I was shocked to see the host of the program answering the phones at the switchboard. I asked him what he was doing. He told me he didn’t want to miss the best stories. He spoke to anyone who called in with an idea for a story. To this day I am awed by his dedication to his profession.

  5. Ted Barris says:

    Mentors never expect accolades, never seek praise, never look to see who might be watching. Henry Champ gave back because it was the right thing to do. And as long as those beneath his wings work in the profession his name and his gifts will never be forgotten.

  6. Freeman Hall says:

    I worked a few years with Henry when he was hosting CBC Newsworlds’ morning show from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was the technical supervisor and over the years we had many good times and interesting conversations. His grasp of situations and observations always intrigued me and he didn’t pull any punches during the many interviews he had with the worlds’ newsmakers on air.

    His skills as an interviewer shone during the Bosnian conflict and I remember his many chats with Cristiane Amanpour. He thought she was a very brave and talented broadcaster.

    He will be missed by those who knew him and he gave us all something to cherish.

  7. Claude Adams says:

    Nice tribute, Dan. I knew Henry slightly, from my Washington days in the Carter years when I was in print, and he was a very knowledgeable standup guy . . .

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