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Knowlton Nash anchored CBC news’ The National, from 1978 to 1992. (CBC)
Knowlton Nash anchored CBC news’ The National, from 1978 to 1992. (CBC)

Obituary

Journalist Knowlton Nash, a tireless advocate for educational media Add to ...

He returned to his first love in 1958 as a freelance Washington correspondent, just in time to snag a front-row seat on an explosive decade: the triumphs and assassinations of both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, race riots and numerous political conventions.

In Prime Time at Ten, Mr. Nash wrote that he became a journalist “perhaps, for the same reason people become cowboys: too lazy to work and too nervous to steal.” That was too modest by half, for he was both tireless and unflappable – traits that served him well in the field but also meant sometimes fraught personal relations.

Mr. Nash married his first wife, Kathleen Barron, in the summer of 1949; their daughter Anne Elizabeth was born the following May. Within two years, the couple divorced; Knowlton and his daughter were estranged until she was 16 years old. The loss, he wrote, was “a soul-tearing wound, especially since I was still cursed by that damnable WASP credo of not sharing or showing my feelings.”

In July, 1955, he married Alicia Banos, the daughter of a retired Mexican diplomat. She worked, she told The Globe in 1961, as “a leg man” for her husband, chasing down stories he then reported for CBC and the Financial Post. The couple divorced in 1964.

Later, he married Sylvia DeCunha, the ex-wife of the CTV executive Tom Gould. They divorced in 1972. By that point, he was living in Toronto and heading up the CBC’s information programming, working to merge the current affairs and news departments.

He did not always deftly handle the job’s mix of politics and journalism.

During the 1970 October Crisis, on a request from CBC president George Davidson, he directed his journalists to not engage in “speculative discussions” about the crisis. Two hours later, he rescinded the order, realizing it amounted to self-censorship. Later, he said he had let his “nationalism override my journalistic values.” He took the mistake as a lesson.

He also learned from mistakes in his personal life. In the 1970s, he met Lorraine Thomson while serving as chairman of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Toronto branch. A former ballerina and dancer on early CBC-TV variety shows, she was a CMHA board member and fundraiser who had become an on-air radio and TV interviewer, as well as a program co-ordinator of the broadcaster’s Front Page Challenge. The two moved in together in 1976, and married April 22, 1982. She had two children, Francesa and James, from a previous marriage; they each married and had children of their own, giving Mr. Nash another shot at a full family life. All told, he and Lorraine had three grandchildren. “He was very interested in the lives of his grandchildren,” said Susan Mallin, the wife of his stepson James. “He had a great warmth for them.”

Ms. Thomson encouraged him to pursue the job of chief correspondent of CBC’s national news, which he won in 1978.

A little more than three years later, Mr. Nash championed another project that brought together news and current affairs: a one-hour flagship newscast, airing at 10 p.m., known as The National and The Journal. It was a bold and risky experiment that paid off in both a sharp ratings increase and a renewed relevance for CBC News.

While Mr. Nash was a strong proponent of public broadcasting, his personal views on other matters rarely shone through: He kept them hidden even from family members. One of the few times he dropped his objectivity was while reporting the results of the 1980 Quebec referendum vote: Rather than ending the broadcast with his usual “Goodnight,” he bid viewers a smiling “Bon soir.”

And he was indefatigable. “He didn’t finish work after The National,” Ms. Mallin recalls. “He’d come home around midnight, and the first thing he’d do would be to go and get a giant glass of milk and about five cookies. He was a very, very slow eater. His mother told him to chew his food properly, so he’d always take a bite and chew it and chew it. He was always the last one to finish eating.

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