In Memory of Don Obe

don obe

Sadly, the legendary editor, writer and teacher, Don Obe, has died today at Toronto General Hospital after a period of declining health. His long career included newspaper work at The Windsor Star, Vancouver Sun and Toronto Telegram. Inspired by the New Journalism of Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Hunter Thompson and others, he jumped to magazines, first as an associate editor at Maclean’s in the early ‘70s, then as editor-in-chief of The Canadian (a national magazine included in a significant number of Saturday newspapers) and finally as editor-in-chief of Toronto Life, where he firmly transformed it from a society rag into an award winning city magazine. In 1983, he was appointed chair of Ryerson’s School of Journalism, where he created a magazine stream and launched The Ryerson Review of Journalism, which over the years won countless awards at the North American-wide Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) competition, as well as National Magazine Awards. After his retirement in 2001, he became Ryerson’s professor emeritus of magazine journalism.

In 1989, he became a senior editor at the Banff Centre’s Arts Journalism program—now renamed Creative Non-fiction and Cultural Journalism—and until recently he still took on freelance editing jobs, including for The Ryerson Review. Long ago he was awarded the National Magazine Award for Outstanding Achievement, his industry’s highest honour. He touched the lives of many hundreds of editors, writers & former students who draw inspiration and practical techniques from him every day, whether they always remember it’s Don they’re channeling or not.

Those are the facts, and Don cared deeply about them. But more importantly, Don was one of the great characters of modern Canadian journalism. He could be funny, biting, sweet, profane, hard-assed & kind, sometimes simultaneously. He was, for decades, the kind of journalist about which movies are made: hard-drinking and irascible with a soft heart. He was an important mentor of mine, as a writer, editor &, especially, as a teacher. But do you know what really matters? I owe everything I know about the soul of journalism to him.  R.I.P., Don.