2013-11-27 William Stevenson passes away. His ashes will be scattered on the ocean around Bermuda Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   

Toronto Star, Oakland Ross


Whenever his prospects started to look dodgy, as they sometimes did during a long and eventful life, William Stevenson reassured himself with the conviction that things would put themselves right somehow.

Time and again, they did just that - no small accomplishment considering the dangers inherent in Stevenson's chosen professions.

He was an aircraft pilot in the British Royal Navy during the Second World War and later spent much of an often hair-raising life as a risk-prone foreign correspondent, traversing the planet on behalf of the Toronto Star and other Canadian news media.

But every story comes to an end, and Stevenson's long romance with adventure, revelation, and daring met its inevitable conclusion in typically understated style when he died late Tuesday at St. Michael's Hospital.

He was 89.

Although he wrote some 20 books during a peripatetic and prolific career, and penned thousands of articles with datelines from practically every region of the world, Stevenson will likely be best remembered for A Man Called Intrepid, his 1976 biography of Sir William Stephenson - the similarity in names is coincidental - a Canadian businessman who set up and ran Allied espionage efforts during World War II.

The book racked up huge sales and was later made into a movie starring David Niven as Intrepid.

But Stevenson, the writer, led a life of his own that was as thick with adventure as that of his best known subject and no less laden with discovery and import.

"He had courage and an appetite for adventure," said chemist and Nobel-laureate John Polanyi, a good friend. "He asked a great deal of himself, and he delivered."

Stevenson denied engaging in espionage himself - or at least what most people would consider to be espionage - but many of those closest to him say they doubted that claim.

"Bill was very old-fashioned in keeping his secrecy oath," said Monika, his wife of 29 years. "He did some things he never spoke about."

That might not be surprising, considering how very numerous were the things he did speak about, though always in a quiet voice and with a self-effacing air.

Following the war in Europe, Stevenson decamped for Canada, possibly in response to the admonition of an acquaintance - none other than novelist Ian Fleming, the creator of 007 James Bond - who urged him to "go somewhere exotic."

Soon enough, the British war ace found work as a reporter at the Star, where he was supposed to cover the courts. Instead, through a combination of charm, cheek, and serendipity, he soon found himself trekking all over the world at the Star's expense, in search of scoops, exclusive interviews, and adventure - all of which he managed to find with stunning regularity, thanks to an apparently inexhaustible fund of energy and a nearly infallible instinct for the news.

He was practically on a first-name basis with many of the grandest names of the 20th century, from Mao Zedong and Han Suyin to Jawaharlal Nehru and Ho Chi Minh.

When he wasn't typing news flashes into his Olivetti typewriter, Stevenson was writing books, something he did with the sort of facility most people associate with toasting bread.

Long a fervent supporter of Israel, Stevenson scored another financial success with Ninety Minutes at Entebbe, his book-length account of the 1976 airborne Israeli mission to rescue 103 hostages being held at an airport in Uganda. The volume spent seven months on the New York Times best-seller list and was made into a movie.

As for his own exploits, Stevenson was invariably subdued.

"I'm very convinced that Bill did a number of things he never boasted about," said Toronto businessman and restaurateur Barry Chaim. "He was never a ‘big man.' "

Monika Jensen-Stevenson - herself an Emmy-award-winning TV producer - remembered her husband as "a perfect gentleman" above all.

Stevenson is survived by three grown children with his first wife, Glenys, as well as six grandchildren. He and his second wife have a grown daughter.


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