Lorna Jackson became one of the early female announcers on national CBC Radio broadcasts in the 1970s. Over the years, her distinctive voice could be heard reading The World at Eight morning newscast, scripts for As It Happens and Quirks and Quarks, and listeners’ letters on Peter Gzowski’s Morningside, as well as doing voice-overs for television programs such as The Nature of Things.
Canadians knew her name and her voice but since she was mainly on radio, few knew her face. When she and Allan Bonner married in 1981, they went to Newfoundland on their honeymoon. Mr. Bonner wanted to meet Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first premier, but he did not get a response to his request. However when Mr. Smallwood heard Ms. Jackson’s name, he immediately arranged a meeting.
Ms. Jackson, who died of cancer in Toronto on Nov. 4 at the age of 77, had little professional training in voice work; she was a natural. Her husband said it helped that she never smoked, seldom drank alcohol, and sang in a choir as a young woman. She loved words and the way they were used.
She was also well read and brought a serious tone to her work when she was reading a national newscast.
“Lorna had a sense of gravitas, a word you never hear at CBC Radio now,” said journalist Michael Enright, who has hosted several CBC programs including As It Happens and Sunday Morning. “She had one of those voices that operated like a scalpel. It sliced through the rubbish and got to the point of something.”
Her colleague Judy Maddren agreed that Ms. Jackson had a gift for lifting the meaning of words from the scripted page.
“She had empathy, which I valued so. When she read a story, you knew she was ‘in’ the story, feeling it but that doesn’t mean she was telling the listener how to think or how to feel but you knew she was connected,” Ms. Maddren said.
“I liked Lorna’s warmth, I felt as if she were talking to me. Also, she had children when I had children so that was another thing that we could talk about, the vicissitudes of being an announcer/mother, the weird hours and all that kind of stuff. She did a weekend run for quite a long time which is not easy when you have a family.”
Ms. Jackson was far more than just a reader of other people’s words, according to Ron McKeen, a retired CBC Radio producer. He said Ms. Jackson would often make suggestions to fine tune the copy.
“We had a segment on Quirks and Quarks that featured short news stories from the world of science that particular week, and I often produced it with Lorna,” Mr. McKeen said. “Lorna was our regular reader as we wanted a female voice given Jay Ingram was our host and so many of our guests in those days were male. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason. Besides loving that voice, we liked working with her. She was always on time, gracious and very calm. And she didn’t just read the copy – she absorbed it.”
Lorna Christine Jackson was born on May 21, 1946, in Winnipeg, though the family moved to Edmonton when she was a young child. Her father, John Jackson, served overseas in the army as a military police officer during the Second World War and played the trumpet as a member of the army band. She got her middle name from her mother, Kristin Anna Jackson (née Halldorson), who was of Icelandic extraction and spelled her name the Icelandic way.
Lorna graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in English and philosophy, and started work as an assistant to a senior manager at Chieftain Energy. When she heard of a job as a researcher at CBC Edmonton in 1972, she jumped at it. It wasn’t long until her natural voice landed her behind a microphone. She moved to Regina, where she doubled as a reporter and covered a royal tour.
When she was sent to cover Regina’s agricultural fair, she asked a farmer why his prize cow was such an odd colour. “He admitted he’d dyed the animal with Clairol. The story made the front page of dozens of North American dailies,” Mr. Bonner said.
The pair met in Regina at the CBC. He remembers the two of them flying to Las Vegas in October, 1980, to see the Larry Holmes/Muhammad Ali heavyweight boxing match. Later, when Mr. Bonner became a consultant, she would travel with him on overseas trips to places such as Hong Kong and Geneva.
Ms. Jackson moved to Toronto as a national announcer in 1979. Today most newsreaders began as journalists in the field, however for decades the news was read by career announcers, such as the famous Lorne Greene during the Second World War, whose deep voice inspired the nickname the Voice of Doom.
The announcers were in a separate union from the news writers and were not even allowed to change a comma. They were all men until the 1970s, when Jan Tennant started reading the national news, soon joined by a small group of female colleagues, including Ms. Maddren and Ms. Jackson.
“I first met Lorna in the announcers’ lounge of the old radio building. The announcers were all CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees] and all men who were born around the time of the War of 1812,” Mr. Enright said. “She was a sign that things were changing, as one of the first women announcers.”
Ms. Jackson read The World at Eight with Rex Loring, a CBC announcer of the old school. In those days if there were two readers of a major national newscast one of them had to be a man.
“I worked with Lorna, but it was in the days when you never had two women co-hosting, it was just not done,” recalled Ms. Maddren, who at the peak of her career oversaw language used on the CBC. “So, she and I would not have co-hosted on The World at Six or The World at Eight or World Report. So, I knew her mostly in the newsroom.”
Though the name Lorna is not common, there was another Lorna Jackson in the Toronto area: the mayor of the suburban city of Vaughan. This coincidence caused some confusion. One listener wrote in to say it was a conflict of interest that an elected politician should be reading the news.
Ms. Jackson’s interest in domestic and industrial design led her to visit the Bauhaus museum in Berlin and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She was also a news junkie who subscribed to major newspapers online and listened to newscasts on radio, television and her iPad.
She and her husband went to New York at least three times a year and he estimates they saw a thousand plays. They also saw theatre at the Shaw and Stratford festivals in Canada and travelled to London, as part of Mr. Bonner’s business, where they would also take in the theatre.
“Blue was her favourite colour. I think it had to do with her Icelandic background, the love of blue skies,” Mr. Bonner said. “She had blue handbags and wallets, blue China, even a blue umbrella holder.”
Ms. Jackson leaves her husband, Mr. Bonner; two sons, Michael and Christian Bonner; and three grandchildren.
“When I reflect over the years I have spent with CBC, I feel like I have filled in on just about every show on CBC Radio One and CBC Radio Two,” Ms. Jackson said upon her retirement. After more than three decades with the CBC, her last day reading the news was May 27, 2007, on The World This Weekend.