Anyone might give a helping hand to struggling musicians, hungry journalists or stranded students. But bankers? If there is more compelling evidence of a selfless heart on the part of Conrad Black, it’s hard to imagine what it would be.
Conrad Black’s defence team has filed statements and letters from family and supporters as part of its pre-sentencing submissions to U.S. federal court judge Amy St. Eve. There are the usual flattering accolades that are to be expected about how the sick were helped and the broken mended. Some of the claims are no doubt true. But it is also true that the rich and powerful often see the conduct of one of their own through a lens that magnifies the positive and clouds the disagreeable.You may recall that similar glowing character references were made about one-time hockey impresario Alan Eagleson, another holder of the famed Order of Canada who was stripped of the honor prior to his incarceration. He was charged with and eventually pled guilty in 1998 to mail fraud in the United States and fraud and embezzlement in Canada. The effusive testimonials, which, like Mr. Black’s, included a supportive letter from a former Canadian prime minister, did not stave off a loss of freedom.Many of the statements made on behalf of Mr. Black seem at odds with the public persona his own words have created. Still, little in life is entirely black or white. No doubt there are many admirable sides to Mr. Black in his roles as a father, husband, friend and parishioner, as my about-to-turn 86-year-old mother dutifully reminds me whenever the subject of Mr. Black’s travails comes up at family occasions. While Mr. Black’s lawyers have gone to predictable lengths to portray a kinder and gentler man, one item that may well prove evidence of an almost super human level of generosity was contained in the last word of a sentence on page 31 of the defence’s filing.
He supported musicians, artists, aspiring journalists, students and bankers.
Anyone might give a helping hand to struggling musicians, hungry journalists or stranded students. But bankers? Surely it was a typo that was meant to say bakers. The doughnut business has begun to sag as trans fats have become passé and the numbers at Krispy Kreme have turned unappetizing to investors. But it is hard to imagine that anything short of a Mother Teresa-like spirit of altruism could make a man warm to bankers, who, popular opinion decrees, rarely give a second thought about calling in a loan or foreclosing on a widow’s home. If there is more compelling evidence of a selfless heart on the part of Conrad Black, it’s hard to imagine what it would be. True, one has to stretch one’s mind to fathom why bankers would need to seek out Mr. Black’s assistance in the first place. But then there are those who leave their jobs a little early, as Charles O. Prince did a few weeks ago on the heels of the multi-billion dollar subprime mortgage losses at Citigroup. There is always room to top a $60 million dollar style severance package.Perhaps those qualities of patience, tolerance and charity that Mr. Black has shrouded so well in his public statements regarding Hollinger shareholders (“…we think they are a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites and ingrates…”), or servants (“A notoriously unreliable group, as any experienced employer of such people knows.”), or journalists (“The ‘profession’ is heavily cluttered with abrasive youngsters who substitute ‘commitment’ for insight, and to a lesser extent, with aged hacks toiling through a miasma of mounting decrepitude. Alcoholism is endemic in both groups.”) have belied the real person. Among his uncommon gifts we can now count a willingness to see the human side of needy bankers.I shutter at what my mother will think when she hears about this. She has been willing to give a maternal benefit of the doubt to Conrad Black, remembering fondly her days of driving along The Bridle Path by his family home. She is not as forgiving in her views about bankers.