John Furlong, a CBC journalist who covered every facet of Newfoundland and Labrador, has died just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 63.
Furlong hosted his last edition of Radio Noon on March 3, ending a journalism career that ran over four decades.
"He knew what a good story was [and] he was not intimidated by anything or anybody," said Bob Wakeham, a retired CBC producer who knew Furlong so well over the years that he considered him a brother.
"It seems so unfair. It just seems so cruel to me .... It just seems to me that he deserved to live longer than 63 years."
Furlong worked in newspapers and private broadcasting before moving to the CBC, where he produced radio programs such as the St. John's Morning Show through the 1980s. He switched to television in 1990, working as a producer at Here & Now, On Camera and the documentary series Soundings.
Switched to hosting in 2005
Having worked behind the scenes for most of his career, he went on air in 2005 as the host of the Fisheries Broadcast, which he helmed until last year before switching to Radio Noon. He also wrote a number of columns for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador's regional website.
he worked, and he was really, really smart," said Wakeham.
"He knew that Newfoundlanders had an insatiable appetite for news about themselves, and John exploited that — and I mean that in a good way."
Cross-Country Checkup host Rex Murphy, whom Furlong hired to do CBC commentaries, said he admired Furlong as a journalist with both dignity and fortitude.
"He wasn't a cause fanatic, but he would ask a hard question," he said. "John Furlong, and I'm serious, had more courage in that direction than any journalist that I know."
Murphy also said it was fitting that Furlong — "one of the deepest townies that I've ever known" — wound up hosting the Fisheries Broadcast, the longest-running daily radio show in Canada.
'Sharp-minded, quick-witted and acidly funny'
"[It] was a marriage made in heaven," said Murphy, adding that Furlong tackled topics with depth. "He knew things so deeply, and if he didn't know them, he got to know them."
Colleague Azzo Rezori described Furlong as "a journalist's journalist — sharp-minded, quick-witted and acidly funny" who was also undaunted in his pursuit of stories.
'It seems so unfair. It just seems so cruel to me .... It just seems to me that he deserved to live longer than 63 years' - Bob Wakeham
"He was never afraid to ask the most politically incorrect questions if it meant pushing past blather and baloney," he said.
Furlong, who was open about his battles decades ago with alcohol, pursued a wide range of hard-to-cover stories, including addictions, mental health and social injustice.
He also earned a reputation for on-air jibes, once referring to the A1C postal code — which covers downtown St. John's — as the granola belt, and raising questions on a number of occasions about whether the seal hunt was sustainable. He once described seal flippers as "a big clump of stringy meat... you could knit a sweater with it."
Furlong had only been diagnosed with cancer in early March.
"This whole matter happened so quickly ... it took our breath away," said Wakeham, who visited Furlong on Tuesday afternoon.
"There's a finality to it that I have a hard time grasping this morning, to tell you the truth."
In 2011, The Independent profiled Furlong for its video series "The Most Interesting People in Newfoundland."