Former CBC Radio host Arthur Black wouldn't have liked a headline saying that he died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday (February 21) at the age of 74.
That would have been far too bleak for the three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and one of the funniest men who ever hosted a national show.
In fact, after the long-time Salt Spring Island resident learned of his terminal disease, he tried coming up with an upbeat way to let his friends and fans know of his passing.
"I thought of Dead Man Blogging," Black wrote on his website, "but that sounded a little dark. And prejudicial. After all, I could be cranking out this blog twenty years from now."
Then he revealed that his friend and neighbour, Bob Rush, suggested "Last Writes".
"Why don't I indeed? 'Last Writes' it is—and I've met a deadline with a...'dead' line," Black quipped.
It was just like him to leave people with a smile even as they're mourning his passing.
He always left his CBC Radio listeners of his Basic Black program laughing from 1983 to 2002, so why would things be different at a time like this?
Another post describing his medications began this way:
"I, ARTHUR BLACK, being of sound (sort of) mind, stable-ish in judgement and of three score and fourteen...
...have decided to become a druggie."
Here's the message that was left on his website announcing the news of his demise: "It will come as no surprise to those who have been fans of Arthur's work that he faced it all with his own unique combination of defiance and good humour."
No surprise indeed! He certainly did face this epic struggle with defiance and good humour, judging from his witty posts, which reflect how sharp he remained even while drugged to the hilt.
Black has been out of the spotlight for a few years. But for those who knew him or recall him in his broadcasting heyday, he was a relentlessly upbeat and clever man.
His humour column was syndicated to dozens of Canadian newspapers. He wrote many books.
But even more important than that, he was a fine and generous spirit, keen to support other writers and mentor young CBC Radio employees. And he did this with none of the ego that can come with being a nationally known and highly celebrated broadcaster.
Perhaps his humility came from selling encyclopedias door to door, or by working as a deckhand on an oil tanker, or from struggling to find a place in the CBC in Thunder Bay, Ontario, long before he became famous coast to coast.
The last time I saw Black was at a Word on the Street festival (now called Word Vancouver) in 2012.
It was on the weekend after the Straight had published an explosive story about former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong, who was publicly threatening to sue the paper.
It was a stressful time, but all of my anxiety seeped out of me as I enjoyed long chat over coffee in Blenz with Black and writer Gurjinder Basran, who was also speaking at the festival.
Black's love of life was contagious. He could brighten the day of anyone he came in contact with, even a journalist who was on the verge of being taken to court by a famous man hell-bent on clearing his name.
An obituary in the Gulf Islands Driftwood notes that Black was involved in countless fundraising causes on Salt Spring Island in recent years, including a benefit for the Stephen Lewis Foundation in December 2017.
That was Arthur Black: always ready to help, always ready to spread joy. Even when he had a terminal disease.
"For latecomers, let me explain," he wrote on his website. "I've just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It's the Mike Tyson of cancers.
"But I've got other problems to deal with first," Black continued. "Little things like cancelling three or four speaking engagements scheduled for the spring. I explain the circumstances over the 'phone; the principals at the other end are understanding and...stunningly kind, really, considering they're dealing with a guy they've never met who's just stiffed them."
Those who loved Black want to laugh when they read zingers like these, but it's also very hard not cry. He was that kind of guy.