John Dafoe, the grandson of a Canadian newspaper giant, left his own considerable footprints across the print landscape.
Before Mr. Dafoe was finished, the shy, award-winning, yet humble, master of opinion-making had achieved his dream job: editorial editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, the paper his grandfather John Wesley Dafoe edited from 1904 to 1944 when it was known as the Manitoba Free Press.
Mr. Dafoe died on Tuesday night at the age of 83 after battling Parkinson’s disease.
His motto, “Opinion is cheap, facts are sacred,” was the calling card of a career that saw him win two National Newspaper Awards for editorial writing and earn another two nominations.
Mr. Dafoe was remembered as a journalist who based his work on a foundation of respect for colleagues, subjects and readers.
“He was a wonderful friend and mentor,” recalled Jim Carr, who served on the Free Press editorial pages from 1992 to 1997.
“He taught me about balance, fairness and reflection. But never to shy away from controversy or boldly advancing an argument. And pay attention to every detail.
“He epitomized more than anyone else … the combination of discernment and persuasion,” Mr. Carr added. “He was humble, he was modest. He rarely talked about himself. Because what mattered most was the argument. We were in the business of making a case.”
Born on July 1, 1930, Mr. Dafoe once wrote that he wanted to be a “not just a newspaperman but a newspaper editorial writer” since the age of five. His attempts to conquer London’s Fleet Street in his youth came up short, however, and Mr. Dafoe “kept from starving” with odd jobs at Haringey Circus and British Rail. For the former, Mr. Dafoe shovelled up after elephants. For the latter, he swept out first-class compartments of the Flying Scotsman.
After moving back to Canada, Mr. Dafoe began his career with the Lethbridge Herald and Edmonton Journal, before joining the Free Press as a reporter in the 1970s. With the Free Press, Mr. Dafoe covered the legislature and then Premier Duff Roblin. The two would eventually become lifelong friends.After a stint in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau, Mr. Dafoe became editorial editor of the Montreal Star at age 40. When the Star folded in late 1979, Mr. Dafoe moved to the Winnipeg Free Press. He retired in 1995.
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