We used to wander up to the 5th floor of the Halifax Central Library and try to grab a table. In those pre-Covid days, the café was usually busy.
For him I’d get black coffee and a ginger crinkle cookie.
For me it was just a black coffee.
We’d talk, and laugh. Laugh about provincial politics, and the (former) premier who had lasted through many scandals and missteps in a 10 year reign. We’d talk seriously about human rights cases in NS which had been all but covered up or dismissed outright. We’d comment on the mainstream media’s penchant for the slivers of “good news” that were both predictable and sort of old-fashioned. We talked about capitalism, socialism, communism and a world without “isms”. We talked about religion; we talked about feminism and art. We argued and disagreed. He was no pushover: he never went along to get along. We were like old comrades, arguing and commiserating.
Robert could be edgy with me and preoccupied. That’s when I knew he had to get back to his one man, one cat house, back to his spare bedroom office, to edit and write the NS Advocate.
Robert Devet, who immigrated to Halifax from Holland at age 21, gave everyone time and gave almost anyone a chance to write and to be noticed. The Advocate specialized in giving a voice to the voiceless. Robert raised money, small donations and monthly pledges, so he could pay freelancers who needed to earn money. He had one writer, Kendall Worth, who wrote passionately and politically about life on assistance. Worth’s articles were recognized by many nonprofits and he received awards for his social justice reporting.
Robert also gave journalism students a start, by publishing their reportage if it touched on social justice. Robert attended just about every demonstration and rally in town and wrote about them. He was an excellent writer and editor. He was also an ace photographer whose pictures he featured in many posts.
What made Robert tick? He retired as a civil servant some years ago. He had a decent pension and decided he’d start an online newspaper that would “afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted”. So he worked at the Advocate as he would have a job – except only more diligently – and for free.
He was a very kind person and one who did not put up with bullies. He was never scared or threatened by those in power. It was them he hated because of what they did to ordinary Nova Scotians – workers, the unemployed, the sick and powerless.
I should say he published almost all of my blogs and articles – always with a thank you. He used to run his diagnostics and often told me my articles on labour, unions, and human rights often topped 10,000 hits.
A few weeks ago, at a rally for Palestinian rights which we both attended, he handed me his business card – one line caught my eye: “The Nova Scotia Advocate- the tyrant’s foe.”
Robert Devet was one of my best friends. His death has been a deep blow. I’m not sure how to go on. Except to keep writing and to keep fighting.
Featured image above: Likely by Banksy (UK), spotted in New York City on Oct. 1, 2021. For more info see this site.