Sitting in my office on Sept. 11, 2002, conjures up a lot of negative memories from a year ago, exacerbated by the fact that my old pal and colleague Peter Barton passed away last Sunday [Sept. 8]. He was, and will always continue to be, one of a kind in an industry that used to be peopled by one-of-a-kind characters.
Consolidation has put us in the position of becoming "vanilla," which during Diversity Week seems to be an appropriate concern.
I first met Peter in Minneapolis during a first-time visit as the incoming publisher of Cablevision
magazine. He was running something called Cable Value Network for John Malone and was clearly in charge when we entered his domain.
After exchanging the usual business courtesies, he asked me about my New York heritage, quickly pointing out his own roots and the fact that he had managed Hugh Carey's successful gubernatorial campaign in a previous life. We bonded at that point, as do all New York Irish Democrats, and shared that relationship over many years in the cable-television industry.
A week or so after that visit his daughter Kate McCord was born, and my wife sent him an Irish sweater to commemorate the occasion. I had not thought about that for a long time until this past weekend, as I am told that she [Kate] is now preparing for her college days. Life truly moves along very quickly.
Love him or not, you always knew he was in the room. Curtis Symonds told me a tale of calling on Peter shortly after Liberty Media Corp. had taken a stake in Black Entertainment Television. As a result, he felt he had a "leg up" in negotiating with Peter, which was far from the case. Liberty was a tremendous undertaking and Peter thrived in that role for many years. He was at once cantankerous, demanding and irascible — a fierce negotiator, but also capable of great friendship and generosity of spirit if you were lucky enough to be invited into his world.
Peter was a "man of many hats" — a pilot, a hot-dog skier and a humorist of the first magnitude, in addition to his business acumen and prior political success. He was one of those rare people who valued his family first and was still able to cultivate his friends and business colleagues, keeping it all in balance and perspective. He shared a view with me several years ago that "he refused to see his life through the lenses of fear" and indeed lived his life that way, making every moment count — too briefly, as it turns out.
When I called Peter earlier this year to invite him into Broadcasting & Cable's
Hall of Fame, he graciously accepted. Mindful of his condition, I related a few thoughts regarding Paul Carey, Hugh Carey's son, who himself succumbed to cancer last year at an early age — and who was a favorite of Peter's right until his death. Peter explained that he had "called to thank me, not to write his epitaph," spoken in true Barton fashion. My last conversation with him a few weeks ago from the Denver airport ended with his telling me a story for the road that I cannot repeat in this column. Vintage Peter even in the worst of circumstances.
I shall miss him greatly, as will the industry he helped shape and in which he was a major force over the years. He was truly "one of a kind" and I will "lift a jar in his honor" in Denver, but most certainly back in New York when he is inducted on Nov. 11 into our Hall of Fame, which he so richly deserves.
William McGorry is senior vice president of the Reed Television Group, Reed Business Information, parent company of
Multichannel News and our sister publication
Broadcasting & Cable.