30 long years ago, when we were first referred to Vermont PBS as a potential supporter, we were introduced to a delightful gentleman by the name of Peter Shea, who was in charge of “development”. That memorable man, who would visit Montreal religiously twice a year thereafter, ostensibly to sound us out, would submit what was known as “The Long List” – a rough and ready cheat sheet, in which future programmes, fully 2 or 3 years off, many yet untitled, would be submitted for our consideration as potential sponsors. Cups of coffee would extend into lunches; a friendship was formed; and the PBS relationship strengthened throughout the years since until Peter’s recent retirement, which happened to dovetail with our own.
By that point, this amiable man knew us so well that he would quietly earmark in advance certain programmes for “spots” we would have otherwise missed, thinking they’d be right up our alley: always British, always originals, and frequently one-offs that would have otherwise dropped below our radar. It was thus, for example, that we were first introduced to a title-less show, bearing only the name of the writer at that point – one Julian Fellowes – at which we let out a banshee yell, much to Peter’s amazement, and signed up on the spot – a full 2 years before launch. “Downton Abbey” was hardly a one-off, as it turned out (Montreal viewers would scream to a halt on the street and wind their windows down to find out what was going to happen next), but we stuck by the series throughout. (Peter always relished having the British tables turned on him at the Long List stage, but more often he turned them on us.)
Our partnership was as affectionate as it was durable. When we both retired, we held a celebratory lunch in Burlington, Vermont, at which we shared, inter alia, our mutual plans for retirement. In his case, they included indulging his passion for fishing and a book or two (since published); in ours, the restoration of a home and an ensuing website, entitled “This Old Hoare House” (at which Peter promptly spilled his coffee).
We made a solemn promise then and there to stage a Vermont PBS comeback, at some level or other, once the retirement smoke had cleared. We’re now keeping that promise; and by starting our videos from scratch, this time in honour of Vermont PBS, as opposed to the valued customers of our 5 stores of old, we finally have a chance to give back to the community what it has so generously extended to us: a third of a century of peerless programming; some memorable friendships; and an unshakeable partnership that continues to this day.
This is not a eulogy, but an elegy. Peter is alive and well and living in Vermont, just as we are in Nova Scotia. But it might help to explain “Why PBS” is so important to us. We not only love their programming, but the hard-working people behind it. (Have you ever met a dislikeable Vermonter?) Vermont PBS’s historic record of political balance and impartiality, coupled with the sheer range of their programming, from cradle to grave, makes a mockery of their commercial competitors. It remains a rich resource in literacy, learning and enlightenment; and the ironic fact that its neighbours to the north are sufficiently starved for a Canadian equivalent that they remain, years in, its largest and most loyal constituency, makes the Canadian case for support complete.
We do not take PBS for granted, any more than you do. But we all need to rally round the flag. As a so-called major donor ourselves, we encourage all our fellow viewers – rich or poor, private or corporate, or north or south of the border – to support this noble cause as solidly as we do.
You couldn’t benefit finer programming or nicer people – Peter Shea included.