Bob Stall was the most popular columnist in The Province in the 1990s.
He was a gifted writer who could write about anything, and did, whether it was underworld murders or a retired teacher who wasn’t fond of his syntax but still wanted him to do a column about cats.
Why? Because they reminded her of tennis player Daniel Nestor.
Sadly, his career was cut short when he had a heart attack in 1999. He wound up retiring at 56, but lived another 23 years before dying of leukemia on March 14. He was 79.
Robert Zev Stall was born in Montreal in 1943, and was something of a boy wonder as a journalist, getting his first byline in the Montreal Star in 1963.
He would rise to the Star’s Ottawa bureau before jumping over to Weekend Magazine in the early 1970s. It was of the great gigs in Canadian journalism, writing features all over the country.
He followed the Rolling Stones on their 1972 Canadian tour in Toronto and Montreal. He went to the Rockies to write about the railway workers who kept the CPR mainline up and running. He got up at 5 a.m. to profile the cleaning ladies of Parliament in Ottawa.
At one point, he was the managing editor of Weekend magazine, which was stuffed into Saturday newspapers across the country. It had a circulation of two million.
But Weekend faltered in the late 1970s, so he jumped to the Montreal Gazette, then came west to work at The Province.
He started off as the editorial page editor and rose to assistant managing editor. But he wanted to return to writing and, on Sept. 16, 1990, became a columnist.
Unlike many columnists, he liked talking to people, which became the fodder for his stories.
“He was not one of those cold-hearted columnists,” said a former colleague at The Province and Weekend, Wil Wigle. “He talked to everybody.”
In retirement, he put up many of his old stories on his website, stallstories.org.
Some of them were first person, like a column about the last time he drove drunk.
Others were profiles of characters like “Alice and Enid, the legendary Eden twins of Watch Lake, B.C.,” who were “indisputably the toughest, cussedest, most identical sisters who ever strode, rode and hoed the Cariboo.”
He won four Marjorie Nicholls Award as B.C.’s top newspaper columnist, but lost the two times he received a National Newspaper Award nomination. This led him to label himself a “repeat loser.”
His most popular columns may have been a series in 1998, when he wrote an open letter to Vancouver Canucks owner John McCaw, imploring him to not trade Pavel Bure. Hundreds of readers sent in letters.
Stall was never a sports writer, but maybe should have been.
“Moves? Watch (Bure) in heavy traffic,” Stall wrote in an April 11, 1993 column.
“He bounces the puck off each of his skates, back to his stick and through his own legs before flipping around the last dizzy defenceman and over a dead goaltender. The stupefied faces in the crowd are eerily similar to the ones around Michael Jordan when he’s making mid-air moves toward another kind of net.”
Stall is survived by his longtime partner Jacqui Bishop and four children, Joshua, Shaughnessy, Cassidy and Riley.