Rick MacInnes-Rae says goodbye

Sixty-six countries in 37 years of mostly foreign reporting and veteran correspondent Rick MacInnes-Rae has decided to pack it in. But not before a few last thoughts — his version of the six-word novel.

Veteran foreign correspondent, former host of 'Dispatches' retires after 37 years

Rick MacInnes-Rae in Gaza in 1995. Although he visited at least 66 countries in his 37-year career, he was one of the CBC's true veterans of the Middle East. (Rick MacInnes-Rae)

Sixty-six countries and I wind up back where it all began. And frankly, in 37 years, I've yet to find one better than Canada.

I started with the CBC in Toronto as a trainee TV reporter in 1976. Walked in with longish hair and a powder-blue denim lounge suit. (What can I say? It was the '70s. My boss wore a dashiki to work and he was Jewish.)

Initially, they threw the soft stuff at "the Kid."

Baby elephant getting a tetanus shot? Assign the Kid. They're stocking the city fishponds? The Kid.

After that, the Kid had other thoughts. It was the Watergate era after all. 

He hid a mic under his powder-blue jacket and parked a hidden camera across the road to expose a nest of scalpers profiteering off a mysteriously large bloc of tickets to the '76 Olympics in Montreal. 

That was a good day.

They weren't all like that. Reviewing the raw film of an angry picket line in St. John's, the camera took in something I hadn't: A guy in the crowd behind me with a knife.

There's a flash of silver and an eight-inch serrated blade is suddenly visible until the crowd surges around him and bears him away. 

Then there was the time in northern New Brunswick, shooting an interview on the poverty among Acadians.

When the camera turned off, this substantial matriarch of one sprawling family fixed me with her very dark eyes, and in halting English said, "If I don't like the picture story you make, I got eleven sons, and they're gonna find you and mash your neck."

On the road

The course of my career was coming clearer. It was going to be dodgy.

So I shouldn't have been surprised to find myself later immersed in conflicts in El Salvador, in Chechnya, in Gaza, Northern Ireland, the Gulf, and Bosnia, so much Bosnia. 

Bosnia, again, in 1993. Calling Toronto. (Rick MacInnes-Rae / CBC)

When the money ran out and I was repatriated to Canada from the CBC's London bureau, I felt I could identify emerging stories around the world and shape how they were covered.

Luckily someone in CBC management thought it was a good idea and the CBC Radio program Dispatches was born as an 11-week show that wound up lasting 12 years (using an unforgettable theme that helped pad out Mark Knopfler's royalties fund.) 

For 12 years I was able to share the stories of our correspondents with Canadians, offering them a forum for their craft and their words that the confines of daily news could not. 

And how they shone!

See, once you get the hang of news gathering, the writing becomes the thing for many reporters. Just the right economy of words.

You strive for the power of the six-word novel. You know the one I mean.

"For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

You want to find the lyrics that release the listener's inner baggage, make them thrill to the words and music of sound and imagination.

So I did that for 12 years, until the money ran out again, then told stories on my own as your World Affairs Correspondent for a couple more.

But now I'm choosing repatriation to the life of a civilian. No more stressing about how to stay on top of every crisis in the world, real or emerging. 

No more botching foreign names. (Funny how you can carry a tune in music and have a tin ear for some spoken words; guilty.)

The crew at Dispatches preparing the final show in June 2012: from left: Alan Guettel, Rick MacInnes-Rae, Nima Shams, Steve McNally, Alison Masemann, and Dawna Dingwall. (CBC)

And I got out before anybody mashed my neck.

But I'll still try to find the words. I have some plans that may be the genesis of a book about the opening up of Canada's Maritimes, and the injustice done to one man who helped do it. 

(He just happens to have been the first of my family into this country, and therein lies the beating heart of that story.)

I don't think we Canadians know enough about our own history. I think there's more to tell. 

So from now on, I'm going to be looking back for my stories instead of forward.

But I'll always thrill to the four words I hear from this place almost every day of my 37 years here. You know the ones I mean.

"CBC News has learned."  


About the Author

Rick MacInnes-Rae

World Affairs

Until his retirement in July 2014, Rick MacInnes-Rae was the World Affairs Correspondent for CBC News. A former Europe Correspondent and host of Dispatches, his 37-year- career with the CBC has taken him across much of the globe.


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