In August, 1970, Kevin Doyle, a parliamentary and economics reporter for The Canadian Press, accompanied Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on a widely publicized trip to the Northwest Territories. Together, in the same canoe, the politician and the journalist traversed the waters of the Nahanni River. A different reporter, alone with Pierre Trudeau, might have pressed for some advantage, or some tidbit of insider information. Not Kevin Doyle. He just shut up and let the Prime Minister paddle. Mr. Doyle later deadpanned to a colleague. "I figured the guy was on his own private trip. I was just there to record whether he drowned or not."
Droll and driven to succeed, Kevin Doyle worked his way up the masthead of publishing. In 1982, Peter C. Newman hand-picked him to take over as Maclean's editor-in-chief, an influential position Mr. Doyle held for 11 years.
In a letter of recommendation for Mr. Doyle years later, Mr. Newman wrote, "He possesses unusual leadership qualities in that those who work for him, and with him, repeatedly have a similar experience when he believes in them. They begin to believe in themselves."
Mr. Doyle, who died on May 12 at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, began his reporting career in 1966 at the Windsor Star. He then tried his hand at working for the Ottawa Journal, lasting a mere four days. In disgust, he wrote to friend and fellow reporter, Dan Turner, calling the experience "a brief bitter stint with the worst paper in the world. Four persons killed in a car accident outside the city and I had to take a goddam city bus to the city limits and a cab from there to the accident."
Mr. Doyle's next move was to The Canadian Press. By 1972, he'd moved on from covering Parliament and was one of CP's foreign correspondents living in London. He called his CP years "the best time of my life." Among other newsworthy events, he wrote about the final days of the Vietnam War, Britain's entry into the Common Market and European economics. During his time in London, he was able to squeeze in classes at the London School of Economics, obtaining his MSc in 1972. Four years later he returned to Canada and joined Maclean's as a reporter.
In short order he was promoted to national editor, foreign editor then managing editor. As managing editor he was instrumental in the magazine's transformation from a biweekly into a weekly national news magazine.
In 1979, Mr. Doyle left Maclean's for a new position as bureau chief for Free Press news service in Ottawa. He hired the best and brightest young reporters and gave them freedom to report whatever they liked, something that was unheard of at the time. When the Free Press was bought out in 1980, Mr. Doyle headed south, working for two years as a general editor for Newsweek. His experience with a slick U.S. magazine gave him ideas that would influence him when he returned to Canada. Once again, Mr. Doyle entered the doorway of Maclean's, only this time, he was in charge.
An unassuming man who shunned the spotlight, Mr. Doyle appeared to be a paradox of burning ambition and low-key modesty. Mary Janigan, a social policy reporter for Maclean's during Mr. Doyle's tenure said, "K.D. (as he was known to friends and colleagues) was actually very shy. Very restrained. The inner reserve added to his authority."
He was difficult to know on a personal level, but there was no question where Mr. Doyle stood when it came to his professionalism. "Kevin considered journalism to be a sacred covenant with the reader. He was tough. He was fair. He knew what he wanted and was determined to get it," CBC radio host and friend Michael Enright said.
One thing Mr. Doyle wanted, while he was in charge, was a bureau in Moscow to cover the Gorbachev era. Impatient with bureaucratic molasses, Mr. Doyle personally prevailed upon then foreign affairs minister Joe Clark to speed things up. The bureau opened shortly afterward, in 1987. Mr. Doyle fought for the budgets necessary to report from around the world. In addition to the existing Washington bureau, he added bureaus in London, Paris and New York.
While not all staff liked their new boss's hands-on editing style and inclusion of celebrity news, Mr. Doyle's attitude was: "Too bad." By shifting the workweek from Monday to Friday to Tuesday to Saturday, he was able to cover stories breaking at the end of the week.
"He saw journalism as an inch deep and a mile wide," Mr. Turner said. "He was determined to bring depth to it." In the cases of both the complicated Charlottetown Accord and the Free Trade Agreement, Ms. Janigan said her boss asked her to take them apart clause by clause to make them clear to the Canadian public. It was a daunting, time-consuming task. "K.D. inspired the kind of loyalty that made you want to please him," Ms. Janigan said.
Loyalty was a key ingredient in Kevin Doyle's personality; it guided his professional choices, such as the appointment of Dan Turner as Maclean's bureau chief in Africa . Having been best men at each other's weddings, the two were close, or as close as Mr. Doyle would allow. "My wife worked with World University Service and had been sent to a remote mountain village in Lesotho, so we moved the whole family there," Mr. Turner said. "There's no way Kevin should've hired a bureau chief who was living in a remote area of Africa with no car. My only transportation was a horse. But he figured I'd come through for him, and I did."
In a tribute, Robert Lewis, managing editor under Mr. Doyle, wrote, "K.D. treated the 70-member editorial staff like family. He hired a whole generation of reporters and writers who established their careers at Maclean's. Some writers chafed under his demanding editing style, sprinkled as it was by such exclamations as 'Wazzzzzzat?' and 'Get a grip,' and the occasional 'Nifty.'"
"I never got 'Get a grip,'" Ms. Janigan said. "Thank heavens."
Mr. Enright, a senior writer at Maclean's for two years said, "His idea of editing was [to] cut away the frills. Cut away excessive linguistic baggage and just provide information. Information was the key to any successful reporting – that's what people needed and that's what people wanted – but at the same time, don't be boring."
Humour was one way to avoid boring the reader. Reporting on civic unrest in Jamaica in 1976, Mr. Doyle described a marijuana-smoking Jamaican as "drawing on a turnip-sized wisdom weed."
Creative and innovative, Mr. Doyle launched the first in a series of annual polls on Canadian attitudes. He also initiated the widely read Maclean's university rankings.
The magazine's new analytical approach and straightforward coverage of events yielded results. Under Mr. Doyle's stewardship, its circulation grew to 2.3 million weekly readers, a significant number during the halcyon days of print journalism.
After leaving Maclean's in 1993, Mr. Doyle spent two years as a senior fellow at the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg. In 1995 he joined Bloomberg News as its Canadian editor, building the office from scratch, hiring and training 17 business reporters and editors. In 2005, he joined the C.D. Howe Institute, an influential think tank on public policy, as editor. Before he retired in 2008, his last official position was executive director for public affairs and communications at the University of Windsor.
"He always presented as somebody who was frail. He smoked too much," Mr. Enright said. "We'd go out for a drink after work but I never saw him roaring drunk. I can't say that about many others in the journalism profession."
Born in Arnprior, Ont., Kevin John Doyle grew up in Fitzroy Harbour, a small town in the Ottawa Valley. He came into the world on Feb. 6, 1943, the second son of Teresa and Jack Doyle. He had an older brother, Terrance, and younger brother and sister, Patrick and Mary. The family was hard up, managing to eke out a meagre living from their dairy farm. As a boy, Kevin got up early to help tend their dozen Holstein cows and two workhorses. Buying a chocolate bar was a rare luxury. At the behest of his strict father, Kevin and his older brother took boxing lessons. At age nine, while walking across a field, he had an epiphany: "I can do anything."
Coming from a strongly Irish Catholic background, he decided to become a priest. His father was extremely proud of the decision. After high school, Kevin Doyle spent two years at St. Jerome's College, a seminary in Kitchener. The belief that he could accomplish anything stayed with him but, at age 21, his life was shattered by personal tragedy. While taking his father and brother to an Ottawa hospital to visit his mother, who was seriously ill with stomach cancer, he drove their car underneath an oil truck. His father was killed. His brother Terrance was seriously injured. After the accident, Kevin Doyle was unable to recall any details. When Teresa Doyle heard the news she left her hospital bed, saying she had to go home and look after her family. Crediting their mother with an extremely strong faith and will, Patrick Doyle said her cancer disappeared. She went on to live another 20 years, dying of dementia.
Wanting to be close to home in order to help his mother and younger siblings, Mr. Doyle left the seminary and, instead, completed a BA in philosophy and economics at the University of Ottawa. In 1967, he met Marion Edmonds, a social worker and teacher. She was lively and bubbly, and laughed a lot. Their opposites attracted. They married on June 26, 1970, and remained fiercely devoted. Seven years later, they had their only child, Hilary. Marion died unexpectedly after contracting the flu in 2005. It was a severe blow to Mr. Doyle. His own health had been gradually declining prior to his death last month at the age of 72.
Mr. Enright said Kevin Doyle grew up determined to get as far away as possible, emotionally and geographically, from Fitzroy Harbour. In many ways he succeeded, but there was one fictional story he frequently told about the day his relative John C. Doyle, a notorious and wealthy Newfoundlander, came to visit. According to Mr. Doyle, his father bought a few five-cent cigars for the occasion. He asked John C. Doyle if he would like one. "Sure Jack," John C. Doyle supposedly said as he took a cigar and flashed his lighter. "I'll light your five-cent cigar with my hundred-dollar lighter."
"I could never understand why he told that story," Mr. Enright said.
"It was Kevin's way of reflecting on his impoverished past and the ways of the moneyed class," Mr. Turner said.
Throughout his long editing and writing career, Mr. Doyle held up a mirror so Canadians could reflect on the world around them and see their place within it.
"He was the most conscientious man you could ever meet," said Julian Porter, long-time legal counsel for Maclean's. "Kevin was utterly ethical. Unlike Peter Newman, he didn't have a sense of flamboyance. He never desired to get much press for himself, and he didn't."
"My dad's life was all about getting the story," his daughter, Hilary, said. "I think I'll just spend the rest of my life believing he's still around."
A memorial for Mr. Doyle will take place at the University Club of Toronto, 380 University Ave., on June 26 at 4 p.m.