'You could always count on Cle': Former N.L. NDP leader, advocate Cle Newhook has died

Longtime Newfoundland politician, theologian, author and advocate for families of victims of the 1984 Ocean Ranger disaster Cle Newhook died Friday at 74.

NDP leader Lorraine Michael also worked with Newhook at Ocean Ranger Families Foundation

Cle Newhook, 74, former N.L. politician and activist, died Friday after a short bout with cancer. (CBC)

Longtime Newfoundland politician, activist and author Cle Newhook died over the weekend at the age of 74, after a short bout with cancer. 

"Cle was such a vibrant person. It's really hard to believe that he's gone," says NDP leader Lorraine Michael. 

Newhook led the Newfoundland and Labrador NDP from 1989 to 1992, but never held a seat in the House of Assembly.

He remained very active within the party, and Michael said it will be strange not seeing him at the convention in April. 

"Cle had a quiet strength. He didn't go around looking for recognition, yet you could always count on Cle and he was always there for support, and was just a very caring person," said Michael. 

Worked with Princess Diana

Newhook was an Anglican minister who studied at the University of Oxford in England and worked to help families living in poverty there for several years, before returning to N.L. to do the same.

Michael said she met Newhook shortly after his return, in the 1980s, when she was part of the Ocean Ranger Families Foundation that hired him to raise money. 

"As a matter of fact he was involved in fundraising with Diana, Princess Diana, and that was part of what he brought back in terms of his experience there."

Cle Newhook pictured with Princess Diana in this undated clipping from a British newspaper. (Submitted by Wade Pinhorn)

​Newhook was well-known as the director of the foundation, a non-profit organization established after the 1982 disaster that killed 84 men.

The Ocean Ranger Families Foundation helped ensure the families were represented at a public inquiry, and pushed for legislative changes to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. 

Michael said her heart goes out to Newhook's family as they deal with this "tremendous shock." 

NDP leader Lorraine Michael says Cle Newhook led their party before it had much of a profile, which "took a lot of work and courage."

'Caring and contributing'

Cle Newhook was succeeded by Jack Harris as leader of the provincial NDP in 1992. 

"He was a great friend of mine for many, many years," going back to 1967 at Memorial University, said former NDP MP Harris. 

"Cle had a lot of things that he did behind the scenes that no one knew about. Assisting families, and immigrants … he was always there to provide guidance and support ," Harris reflected.

Former NDP MP Jack Harris says longtime friend Cle Newhook was "an important voice for our party, and within the party for social justice." (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Newhook's love of helping others extended to animals as well, serving as a member of the Newfoundland Pony Society along with Harris.

"Everybody's life is important, and I think Cle's life is one that people can look at and see that he did what he thought was for the good of his fellow human beings, and he was active in that," he said. 

Harris said Newhook had "a great understanding of Newfoundland life, past and present," and wrote books about his experience growing up in rural Newfoundland. 

"So he leaves behind a legacy of a caring and contributing Newfoundlander and Labradorian who used his life very well, in that regard, and a lot of people, I think, are mourning his loss."

Newhook served as an administrator and chaplain at Memorial University, helped start the Wooden Boat museum in Winterton, and most recently worked as a marketing consultant, director of Landscape N.L., and served on the 2006 Electoral Boundaries Commission.  

About the Author

Meghan McCabe

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Meghan McCabe is a journalist who works with CBC News in St. John's.