The first time I met Peter Diplaros, he was not happy to see me. He was supposed to be on leave, but had returned to the office early only to find me sitting at his desk. Despite our rocky start, he quickly took me under his wing, teaching me the art of magazine writing and a philosophy of life that anything is possible.
I remember being in a panic working against a tight deadline for my first feature-length article for Investment.com’s flagship magazine, the Mutual Fund Review. The magazine had been founded at Peter’s urging by his long-time colleagues Levi Folk and Richard Webb, and then sold to Investment.com. (Aside: A few years prior, Levi and Richard had met Peter at Krishna Copy, where he was working. They’d gone there to spiff up the design of their investment newsletter – child’s play for Peter, but he did wonder out loud critically why they were so bullish on gold.
Richard and Levi decided they had to hire this guy, and their newsletter company flourished into a personal finance media empire.)
So, I asked Peter sheepishly if he could help me with my article. He shepherded me across the street to a coffee shop – his real office – and asked me what the article was about. After a couple minutes of blathering, he stopped me and said: “Sit down, shut up and write that.” And then stayed with me over the next few hours to coax out the story.
When we finished, he suggested we get dinner. En route, we stopped at the bank machine. As he was punching in his code, he paused and said “If my mortgage went through, I am not going to have any money. If it didn’t, dinner is on me,” which I thought an odd remark coming from one of Canada’s pre-eminent personal finance columnists at the time. That was Peter. Dinner ended up being his treat.
Investment.com was a junior mining company that discovered it owned a valuable domain name and reinvented itself accordingly, raising several million dollars from the frothy markets of the dotcom era. A few months after I arrived, the dotcom bubble burst.
By then, I was getting bored with mutual funds and knew I wanted to write about broader themes like how investments and businesses were impacting the world.
Peter and I took a stroll down the racks at Indigo looking for a magazine on this theme, with an eye to finding future employment. No such rags were on the shelf, so Peter looked at me and said:
“Why don’t you just start one then?” Never mind that I didn’t have any money or clue how. I had something better: Peter. He helped me write the Corporate Knights business plan, designed the media kit to get advertisers, made a website and acted as art director for the magazine. He even let me store the furniture we had rescued from Investment.com liquidators in his garage until we could find office space. After many nights of burning the midnight biofuels, which we would usually cap with a big breakfast at Dooney’s, Corporate Knights launched as an insert in the Globe and Mail, and is now one of the world’s most relied upon sources for corporate sustainability information.
Later when we brought our corporate rankings in house, Peter also took over database duties.
Once, over the course of a chain-smoking fuelled weekend (a nasty habit he eventually gave up), he built a database to map Environment Canada’s entire National Pollutant Release Inventory with the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxicity data intensities to pump out the first-ever ranking of Canada’s 50 most toxic polluters. A couple of years after publishing, we got a call from one of the biggest offenders (Abitibi, now Resolute), who let us know the ranking had provoked its board of directors to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to retrofit some of its most toxic mills that
Peter’s analysis had shined a spotlight on.
Over the years, I made few big decisions without calling on Peter. He would invariably tell me where I was wrong, and what to do. The “Dip” in Diplaros did not stand for diplomat.
Peter often proved to be right, of course, and helped a lot of people like me with a spark but lacking in kindling. They ranged from serious Bay Street players like Transmission Media to more exotic pursuits like “Sexy New You™ – The World’s First 24-Hour Weight Loss Channel and Walking Club Network.”
Peter and his beautiful wife Maria lived a classic Greek love story. Their conversations didn’t lack for volume, whether they were singing together while he played his keyboard or shouting at each other as a matter of regular discourse, but he always supported her dreams. These ran the gamut from hosting couples’ love therapy sessions at the Fern Resort to a feature-length movie (Red Door and Lemon Tree, which is under development), in which Peter acted as writer, director, producer and even script lawyer, never mind his lack of legal training.
Out of their earshot, he often marvelled at his three boys – Costaki, George and Stefanos.
While he initially threatened to kill me when I adopted a black cat named Raymond on his behalf without his knowledge, the two grew close over the years.
Peter also had a fascination for all things Japanese, becoming a haiku master and teaching himself the language while sipping fine sakes.
During the past few years, as the cancer took hold, he became reconciled to his fate and his gruffness was replaced with a tenderness.
On May 9, not yet 50 years old, Peter said goodbye. We will miss this noble man, a modern-day Merlin whose magic brought so many creative ideas to life.