In his many years at the Vancouver Courier, Dennis Watt had been a politician, a scientist, a poet, a drum circle enthusiast and a tunnel-obsessed architect. But in real life, and for nearly two decades, Dennis Watt was a beloved salesperson at the Courier newspaper. He passed away July 2 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Watt was born and raised in East Vancouver where he was reportedly a small but feisty kid, frequently getting into fights at Britannia school. Later he owned a downtown record store called Melissa’s before reinventing himself in the late 1990s as an advertising salesman for the Echo newspaper. The paper was absorbed by the Courier, and Watt immediately became the Courier’s best dressed employee, wearing a suit and tie every day to work when the company’s dress code tended to skew towards Hawaiian shirts and flip flops.
Watt’s Everyman appearance — and his willingness to step in front of the camera — made him the Courier’s go-to model for cover shots and inside photos that called for an unassuming or, in some cases, invented figure. For a 2011 April Fool’s Day story on the city’s plans to build an underwater bike tunnel or “funnel,” Watt posed as architect James "Bud" McElroy whose research focused on burrowing animals such as gerbils and groundhogs.
In a 2009 April Fool’s story on city hall implementing a pygmy goat to mow its lawn, Watts played Dr. Hans Andreas Fles-Derksen, a professor at Wageningen Agricultural University in Gelderland and founder of the GoatingGreen program.
Watt also regularly donned a Canucks jersey while standing plaintively under cherry blossoms and reciting haiku for the Courier’s annual Canucks playoff haiku series, both in print and on video.
Former editor Barry Link worked with Watt at both the Echo and the Courier and remembers him as unassuming, modest, charming, funny and “the least sales-like of any salesman” he knew.
“In a paper which had a sharp divide between newsroom and sales floor, his easygoing nature made him a welcome visitor in the newsroom,” Link recalled. “He shared news tips. He read our stories and always had something nice to say about our work. He bought individual lottery tickets for everyone at Christmas… He was private about his fight with cancer, but when we chose to talk about it he was, as usual, forthright and humble and showed no bitterness.”
And despite his gentle, mild-mannered nature, Watt took great pride in his work at the Courier, and his numerous appearances in its pages, which he kept track of. “His work as our photography ‘model’ was typical,” Link said. “Jumping into the shoots without fuss and enjoying the results. He was the Everyman face of the Courier. He was its heart.”