Appreciation: Mike Canning

Photo caption: Election Night party at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome, 1984. L-r: David Wagner, Michael Canning, Bruno Scarfi, Enrico Chini, Leonard J. Baldyga, Joe B. Joe B. Johnson

I met Michael Canning in Rome, during the early 80s. Mike was the Information Officer and I was the Assistant IO at the U.S. Embassy.
Many readers will have experienced work assignments that were unpleasant or terrible, and others that were satisfying and productive, depending on the timing, circumstances, and the mix of colleagues. USIS Rome in the early 80s was at the very top end of that spectrum. My wife Barbara and I made several life-long friendships there, including and especially the Canning family.
We all knew we had it good, starting with …. well, it was Rome after all. Mike and his wife Judy took full advantage of the art and architecture, the continual concerts and opera productions. Our Public Affairs Officer, Leonard Baldyga, joked that his IO was more of a Culture Vulture than his CAO. In a more serious vein, Len told me, "Mike's personal views regarding Rome and Italy's cultural scene were invaluable contributions at the morning USIS staff meetings."
Our workday would begin with a press briefing, after which we customarily repaired across the street for a cappuccino and cornetto in the bar, which was operated by a Communist Party trade union. After that we got down to work, and pretty hard, too. Mike had his hands full with the large American media presence and influential Italian television networks plus USIA’s innovative satellite television ventures. But there was always time to get together for outings with the Cannings and their two daughters Elizabeth and Rachel.
Mike was highly effective at his work, going on from Rome to head several USIA operations. One hallmark was his impatience with flattery or puffery of any kind, not always an easy trait in the diplomatic service. Mike would always give you his viewpoint, unvarnished.
The guy had talent galore. Mike loved music, and he could turn out some impressive artwork. But his big passion was cinema, and after eight foreign assignments, he and his family settled into life on Capitol Hill, where Mike became a movie reviewer for his local newspaper, the Hill Rag, and authored Hollywood on the Potomac, a guide to movies made in or about Washington. Just name a film and Mike could tell you the director, the major actors, and describe the plot. He reveled in getting into movie previews restricted to the critics, but he always picked and chose those films that he would write about. We looked forward to seeing Mike’s list of his favorites at year’s end.
He and Judy were also active in local causes: They were founding board members of Capitol Hill Village, a nonprofit that supports “aging in place.” My wife Barbara and I recall many parties and meals in their Hill townhouse, which they doubled in size with the purchase of the house next door. And, yes, they continued to attend a whirlwind of concerts and performances in Washington right to the very end.
Mike Canning lived a life to celebrate. He was a prince of the USIA Foreign Service and a joy to claim as a friend.

Photo caption: Election Night party at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome, 1984. L-r: David Wagner, Michael Canning, Bruno Scarfi, Enrico Chini, Leonard J. Baldyga, Joe B. Johnson.