John Honderich, the long-time former editor and publisher of The Toronto Star, has died. He was 75.
Born into a newspaper family, Mr. Honderich, in his ever-present bow tie, was a legendary champion for journalism and journalists, endlessly devoted to Canadian political life and social justice issues.
“John Honderich was a giant of Canadian journalism who believed deeply in building a better Toronto – and a better Canada,” tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau late Saturday. “As we mourn his passing, I’m sending my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and former Toronto Star colleagues.”
Friends were also mourning him.
“He was one of a kind, there’s no doubt about it,” said his long-time friend Scott White, former editor-in-chief of The Canadian Press news agency, in an interview late Saturday. Along with Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley, he noted, Mr. Honderich was “kind of the last of the lions of journalism in this country.”
CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme also paid tribute to him.
“This is the loss of a giant in Canadian journalism,” Ms. LaFlamme wrote on Twitter. “John always fought for the reporters, for the story, for the truth. I’m shocked and saddened. She called him “a force.”
Former Toronto Star columnist Royson James told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Honderich was “absolutely one of the great figures in Canadian journalism.”
“He saw something in me and I was and am determined to never let him down.”
In a thread of tweets, Toronto Mayor John Tory also expressed his condolences.
“John Honderich truly believed in Toronto, our city’s promise and its unique place in the world. He was just as passionate about the Toronto Star and how big a part quality journalism had to play in building a Toronto which was strong and prosperous but also inclusive and fair,” Mr. Tory wrote.
“His contributions beyond business were many, always motivated by a desire to make this a better place to live. He was a larger than life Torontonian who left us too soon and who will truly be missed.”
A father of two, he lived in Toronto – of course – and spent summers at the family cottage on Georgian Bay. He was also a dedicated Toronto Raptors fan.
John Allen Honderich was born in Toronto in 1946 – into a life of newspapers. His father was Beland Honderich, also a former publisher of the Toronto Star – about whom John Honderich had written in a recently completed book. (He previously wrote the book Arctic Imperative: Is Canada Losing the North?, published in 1987.)
A graduate of a junior college in Switzerland, the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics, with degrees in political science and law, he initially rejected the idea of a career in journalism. “When I started ... I hadn’t even written a letter to the editor,” he said in 2019.
He began his newspaper career in 1973 at The Ottawa Citizen, working as a copy boy and night reporter. He joined The Toronto Star as a reporter in 1976. He later became bureau chief for the Star in Ottawa and Washington. After serving as deputy editor, he was appointed business editor in May 1984. He became editor of the Star in 1988 and publisher in 1994.
He became chair of the Torstar Board in 2009.
Mr. Honderich was a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario. He was the 2019 recipient of the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“His total dedication to journalism not only in Canada, but in emerging countries, is unrivalled,” the CJF said.
“A brilliant mind, a curious intelligence, and someone filled with scintillating good humour” is how jury member Adrienne Clarkson, the former governor-general, described Mr. Honderich in the award-ceremony video.
“Sadly, I think everyone knows there is a crisis in journalism today,” Mr. Honderich said in his acceptance speech, emphasizing the link between quality journalism and a healthy democracy. It was an issue of great concern to him. In his speech, he quoted perhaps The Toronto Star’s most-famous former reporter, Ernest Hemingway: “The best ammunition against lies is the truth.”
“Honderich was a businessman who, by job description, had to look after the dollars, which was easy when advertisers were knocking the Star doors off their hinges to advertise – 10 and 20 years ago. But times got tough and then desperate, and Honderich always protected the newsroom and reporters and The Truth – yes, with capital letters, against the Attacks of the Bean Counters. Reporters loved him,” former Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke told The Globe and Mail.
“I spoke to him just last week, and he was in fine form. He was excited about his new book on the Star,” said the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief Robert Benzie. “His enthusiasm was boundless. Nobody cared more about this city and telling its stories than John. He was such a champion for the newsroom and for our bureaus. He loved the newspaper and the newspaper loved him.”
Mr. White, who is now editor-in-chief of The Conversation Canada, an independent online publication that serves as a platform for academics, noted that among Mr. Honderich’s achievements was that he was largely responsible for the revival of CP.
He had also spoken with Mr. Honderich at length on Friday, and said he had planned to travel to B.C. for an extended holiday later this month. They talked about – what else? – politics and the state of journalism.
Mr. Honderich was also responsible for launching the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy in 1987, with his father. The Atkinson Principles, editorial values, which were embraced by Mr. Honderich – and many journalists – are summarized as: “a strong, united and independent Canada; social justice; individual and civil liberties; community and civic engagement; the rights of working people; and the necessary role of government.”
“He really was the embodiment of the Atkinson Principles,” said Mr. White. “And he lived them and he believed them. And he felt he had to be the guardian of them. And I always respected him for that, because the Atkinson Principles sometimes got in the way of what might have been good business, but he always put them first. And someone who was just in there being a bean counter wouldn’t have done it that way. He cared about Canada, he cared about journalism and he loved the Star.”
With files from The Canadian Press and reports from Robyn Doolittle