[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others, running every Friday. The following is from the chapter on diplomat, diarist, and charming dissembler, Charles Ritchie.]
Charles Ritchie should have been a spy.
By day, he worked as a diplomat: dispassionate, discreet, and diligent (apart, of course, from those afternoons when he slipped out to the movies). In his diplomatic role — in the words of the old Elizabethan joke, as “a man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country” — he was very effective at producing shrewd dispatches, as one of those legendary external affairs men whose sheer skill and dedicated professionalism allowed Canada to punch well above its weight in the international ring. By night — even when he was our ambassador to jfk and lbj’s Washington, or to Bonn, or to London — he emerged from his dark-suited carapace to become a wildly indiscreet diarist, a role that allowed him to be a gossip, a boulevardier, a ladies’ man, and a gifted writer with a novelist’s eye and ear, and an insatiable appetite for life.