From the editor’s office to the baseball field, Peter Comparelli was a man for all seasons
Exacting journalist and compassionate friend, former editor left a sizeable imprint on many in Hong Kong and abroad
Hyperbole is truly a contagion, that much is understood. And so is the fact that Peter Comparelli would most likely not want any of this. Uncomfortable as he would be, though, he is sadly no longer here to stop it.
Peter succumbed to lung cancer last week, aged 63, and for a man who had no grandiose designs on a legacy, his imprint on Hong Kong and beyond is nonetheless indelibly etched.
He arrived from Vancouver in the mid-80s to work for Asiaweek magazine and was assigned throughout the region before returning to Hong Kong full time in the early ’90s as an editor at Asia Inc. He left the media business temporarily to work for the Hong Kong government before coming back for two stints as editor at Prestige Hong Kong.
Few of us, in fact no one I know, can claim to be the absolute and undisputed best at what they do. But Peter was.
So vigilant and exacting was he as an editor that colleagues called him “The Gatekeeper” because nothing got by him. “Best set of eyes in the business,” said one of his publishers and no one ever disagreed.
Self-deprecating and wise cracking, he was a no-nonsense professional infused with empathy and charm. Not surprisingly, these were all the qualities he relied on to deal with his health issues over the past year.
One of his oldest friends, and a former colleague, summed him up perfectly when he said “Peter had a boyish sense of wonder and cherished that in others”.
It’s true. In a profession often consumed with cynicism, he never lost his positivity nor his passion. Naturally, his wife Idy, his family and his many friends were his primary passion. But his consuming passion, aside from clean copy, was baseball and hockey.
Now how can you not love a man whose priorities are so perfectly attuned? Few managed to straddle so seamlessly two different worlds.
During the week he was a uniquely talented and principled journalist, often at odds with sponsored sections taking up the space of legitimate editorial.
But come Saturday he was Compy, an irreplaceable member of the Hong Kong Softball League who would hang out at King’s Park well into the twilight, drinking beer and helping to settle arguments about everything from baseball and politics to hockey and horseshoes.
Always with humour and warmth, never spiteful nor condescending, he made you better just by being around him.
In 1994, we were both genuinely excited when the Montreal Expos raced out to the best record in baseball. Les Expos seemed poised to make a run at their first ever World Series championship until a players strike two-thirds of the way into the season broke our hearts.
Eventually the season and the World Series were cancelled, leaving the game in ruins. Baseball became truly toxic and even when it did return in April 1995, no one wanted anything to do with the game.
No one except Peter. He couldn’t contain his enthusiasm, even though virtually everyone he knew had no desire to share it. But his logic was simple; life is too short to hold a grudge, especially against something you love.
And sure enough time would prove him right.
Most every March he would head down to Arizona with his father and brothers to watch his beloved Seattle Mariners play during baseball’s spring training while routinely returning with inside dope on the teams and players to watch in the upcoming season because, well, he had the best set of eyes in the business.
It’s inevitable to be consumed with your own sense of mortality when someone you care deeply for passes away.
We start defining ourselves by what we lose, not what we gain. Wallowing in self-centred pity and fear, it becomes more about us than about those we lost.
Still, even the gatekeeper himself might allow a moment’s indulgence and a few logical lapses, especially at a time when many of us just lost such a big part of our life.
It is very much a deeply personal pain and because he doesn’t want us to miss him, we will even more. The best set of eyes in the business may be resting now, but only for a moment. After all, spring training is no more than a few months away and that boyish sense of wonder, a gift from a dear friend, will be with us forever.