Perhaps you read in the business section of a paper or via broadcasting news that Richard Costley-White died last week. He was 48 and he was the owner of the company I work for, Blackburn Radio Inc..
Richard was an unusual man in several respects. He wanted to make money, of course, but more than that he felt the pride and weight of being a fifth generation owner of the company founded by his great-great grandfather. In 1922, Arthur Blackburn was granted one of Canada’s first radio licenses. Richard’s grandpa, Walter J., had died just a few years before I arrived at CKNX in Wingham, leaving the enterprise in the capable hands of his daughter, Martha. I met Martha several times while at the Wingham stations, having our longest conversation as we occupied adjacent stalls in the ladies’ room. She was down to earth. Often times, a station owner or company CEO will slip in the back way and find comfort in the corner office of the on-site manager. Not Martha. She entered the building from the front with little fanfare and had us all gather, casually, in the foyer to get updates from headquarters and to hear her praise us for our work.
Martha died in 1992 at age 47 of a massive heart attack no one saw coming. Her passing left the company in turmoil. Richard was 25 and his family was fractured over what to do with Blackburn’s assets which included CFPL radio in London and the London Free Press. His siblings, the story goes, had no interest in running media outlets and sold them off, including the newspaper. Richard earned an MBA at Western University and set about rebuilding his family’s legacy. The launch of Free-FM in London four years ago heralded Blackburn’s return to media in the Forest City. The radio chain now boasts 14 stations.
Whenever he was at the radio station, which was often, Richard smiled the smile of a kid in a candy store with a dollar in his hand. He had a huge, comfortable office here but would make the rounds and ask about our families and our work. He knew his presence was intimidating – not because he was – because of the calm clout he carried. He was the quietest one in the room, just enjoying the atmosphere. At the after-party following Free’s launch, we had a great chat at a local pub about radio and his Mom. He also loved to talk about his own family. He brought his wife Caitlin and their two young sons around sometimes. Richard also believed that those with money should help those without and he was known as a great philanthropist. He served on several boards. He was simply a nice, generous and decent man. A year ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Further investigation pinpointed the disease to Central Nervous System Lymphoma. As recently as February he was told his prognosis looked good. When we found out it wasn’t, we were all devastated. Blackburn is a family and he was our young Dad. We’ll miss him.