The Daily Telegraph, which has a reputation for publishing obituaries of little-known eccentrics, has excelled itself this week with an obituary of a Canadian businessman called Monte Black. George Montegu Black, as he was really called (though the Telegraph, uncharacteristically, only referred to him by the shortened "Monte"), died from cancer at the age of 61. He had a successful, if not spectacular, career in business that was summarised in the obituary as follows: "He was a director of several Canadian firms, including the Toronto Dominion Bank, and a former governor of the Toronto Stock Exchange. In recent years, he served on the board of several biotechnology companies, including Syn-X Pharma, which he helped to take public."
Actually, he was not a mere board member of Syn-X Pharma but the Chairman of the company, which (according to its Web site) seeks to "improve health outcomes of patients with diabetes, cardiovascular and central nervous system diseases", as well as the Chairman of Txibanguan Ltd., a not widely-publicised Canadian company. So the Telegraph, if anything, played down his achievements. But the newspaper, as is its custom, was more interested in Monte Black's human idiosyncrasies. "While not academic," it said, describing Black as a boy, "young Monte developed early a droll sense of humour, once waking his parents with the news that there was a weevil in his cereal and that King George VI had died." The paper doesn't make clear whether Monte imparted both these bits of information to his parents separately or during the same wake-up call; but the death of George VI had in fact taken place, and was therefore not perhaps especially funny. The weevil sounds funnier.
The obituary of Monte Black ran with a photograph over four columns on the Telegraph's obituaries page on Monday. The paper doesn't normally devote so much space to Canadian businessmen who have made little impact in Britain. But the thing about this particular Canadian businessman is that he was the elder brother of another one who has had a major impact—Conrad Black, or Lord Black of Crossharbour, proprietor of the Daily Telegraph. Together, in the 1970s, Monte and Conrad took control of a Toronto investment company, the Argus Corporation, where, according to the Telegraph, they "signalled the arrival of a new generation of financial entrepreneurs as they enthusiastically sold off many of its various holdings in supermarkets, broadcasting, mining and agricultural equipment". The younger brother, Conrad, "with his deep knowledge of the campaigns of Napoleon and others", provided the vision for all this, while Monte "offered a reassuring down-to-earth side of the Blacks' enterprise".
The difference between the two brothers became evident at an early age, the Telegraph disclosed."If Conrad seemed somewhat set apart from his contemporaries because of his dedication to mastering historical knowledge, Monte was the sociable figure at Upper Canada College and Trinity College School". But it was his "ready sense of humour" that made up for his lack intellectual interests. "It was he who commissioned the corporate logo of an eagle eating a snake which appeared on the bonnets of their cars", said the Telegraph. "Although not unduly interested in politics, he once offered a Tory MP a $10,000 campaign contribution if he carried outa threat to punch his party leader, who was wavering in his Conservative principles". The Telegraph obituary gave no other examples of his humour, but one feels sure there must have been many more.