For nearly two decades, he was your voice in the face of big business, less than scrupulous operators and just plain bureaucratic red tape. But now Peter Silverman, who has been Citytv’s ombudsman and your advocate when you had no one else to turn to, is calling it a career.
The 76-year-old reporter has spent 19 years hearing your complaints – and then using the power of persuasion and the media to fix them.
Silverman has a background as varied as the stories he’s covered. He started at Citytv as its Money Specialist, just one his many areas of expertise. But in a sea change, the station decided to take a chance on advocacy journalism and Silverman – an army veteran and a man who proved he never backed away from a fight – immediately took on the challenge.
The unit, led by producer and right hand man Terry O’Keefe – who became an expert at detecting truth from lies – was inundated by thousands of requests and both were always sad they couldn’t take them all on.
But many of those would-be stories resolved themselves with just two simple words from the complainants: Silverman Helps. “I know one of the things that emerged over a period of time with us was that people would call us or e-mail us and say, ‘you know all I had to do was say I was going to Silverman Helps and they took care of it right away,’” Peter relates.
Some problems were resolved quickly – others took months. Viewers were often treated to the bizarre sight of Peter wearing a heavy coat surrounded by snow on a segment that would air in July. It was all part of the waiting game that was essential in helping so many people.
And what a list it was. There were the two young disabled girls whose school moved their class to the second floor – which left them stranded. When money raised by a promoter to build an elevator went missing, Silverman got a number of contractors to volunteer their time and materials to build it for free.
Not long after, the kids were riding back to class with a smile on their face that still lingers.
That story and the series that followed won Peter the Edward R. Murrow Award, one of the most coveted prizes in TV news.
Then there were the nuns who hired a paving company, only to find the work that was done didn’t have a prayer. Peter managed to keep the faith and got the problems fixed through the aid of some equally generous corporate donors.
But the most famous Silverman Helps moment of all time made headlines around the world and is still talked about today. It started when a client of a downtown optician’s shop felt he’d been sold a pair of high priced sunglasses that he was sure were fakes.
When Peter went to investigate, it escalated into a shoving match and a physical confrontation between the 70-something reporter and the proprietor, with Peter giving as good as he got. (See below to relive some of these stories.)
Silverman came by his concern for the little guy honestly and there was a large part of his background you may never have been aware of. He has a PhD. in military history from the U. of T and a diploma in native law from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
He served as a captain in the Six Day War, and along with his education in all things military, became a passionate advocate for veterans. He’s written countless book and articles about crime, labour, terrorism, social activism and more.
For his part, Peter knows he’s leaving with his head held high and his legacy intact. “I think we raised the bar in a lot of ways, in terms of consumer advocacy,” he reflects. “We were certainly as good as, if not better than, any other consumer advocacy program around, and I think, from the e-mails and the complaints we got and so on and so forth, we were probably the most popular.”
With all that, you might think a guy this busy would need the occasional vacation. But Peter rarely took the kind you likely do. He would regularly head to Africa and Latin America to aid in relief efforts for natural disasters or to build houses for the poor, never taking a penny for his efforts.
It was part of the nature of the man that made him such a great advocate for others, and for almost 20 years, when his segment came on, made so many want to ‘watch it Buddy.’
Replay some of Peter’s most famous stories at the links below: