'Uncle Knowlty' remembered as top-notch journalist
TORONTO — Revered anchorman Knowlton Nash was remembered Wednesday as a devoted family man and top-notch journalist who always had time to help a colleague and steadfastly believed in the CBC.
Peter Mansbridge, Lloyd Robertson and Sen. Pamela Wallin were among the broadcasting stars who attended a funeral for the man known affectionately to viewers of The National as “Uncle Knowlty.” Nash died Saturday at age 86 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
“Knowlton chose to share his life with his family,” said his grandson, Rev. Jesse Parker, adding that although Nash once braved war zones to deliver the news, he was even braver in real life.
“That braveness lives on in our lives, in the life of the CBC, in the life of Canada, in all the lives that Knowlton chose to share his life with.”
Others who packed Grace Church on the Hill in the city’s leafy Forest Hill neighbourhood included CBC journalist Alison Smith and former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson.
At the front of the church, a framed photo of Nash sat next to a pale blue broadcast video box containing his remains. Outside, Mansbridge said that it took some time to find the vintage box, but it was the broadcaster’s wish.
“As a friend, as a colleague, as a mentor, all of those things, he was an incredibly kind person. He was willing to share his time and knowledge with not just me, but with anyone who wanted it,” he said.
Mansbridge, who also acted as a pallbearer, said it was like a “hall of fame” inside with all the CBC personalities who had come to pay tribute. He said Nash had thought hard about the future of the struggling public broadcaster in the final years of his life.
“He’s going to be remembered as a great journalist, a real believer in public broadcasting and the CBC,” he said. “That never left him. He was passionate about the corporation in the good times and the difficult times.”
Nash started his news career before the age of 10, when he created his own weekly newspaper and sold ad space to local merchants in exchange for bubble gum and chocolate. By the Second World War, Nash was hawking the Toronto Star and Telegram on a Toronto street corner.
He went on to have a 37-year career with the public broadcaster, including a stint as a Washington correspondent in which he interviewed Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. During his years helming “The National,” between 1978 and 1988, the news program became an unassailable jewel in the CBC’s lineup.
Nash’s large family, including wife Lorraine Thomson-Nash, as well as children and grandchildren, warmly welcomed supporters inside the church.
Parker recalled one night when a complete stranger embraced Nash, yelling, “It’s Knowlton Nash, the Walter Cronkite of Canada!”
Nash quickly quipped back, “Well, at least I’m the Knowlton Nash of Canada.”
Another grandson, Robert Parker, said Nash was a generous and warm grandfather, but one who also commanded the same kind of natural respect from his grandkids as he did his audiences. He never thought to disobey his grandfather — not out of fear, but simply out of love.
Robert Parker recalled that even after a 14-hour day at work, Nash was happy to stop and talk to people in the street who would ask him, “What was on the news tonight?” He was so devoted to reading the news he’d stop and give them a “private broadcast,” Robert said.
“He cared. He made people around him care,” said Robert. “He was a unique man and it was truly an honour and a privilege to be a part of his life.”
Robertson, now a CTV host, first met Nash long before he was an anchor. As a CBC manager in the 1970s, Nash was orderly, hard-working and a mentor to younger journalists, Robertson said.
“The service reflected him so well. It was calm, it was simple and yet it was sophisticated. That to me was Knowlton Nash — and he was such a force for quality journalism in this country,” he said. “He put so much quality journalism together at the CBC, and it sort of devised a path that we all follow still to this day.”
Robertson added: “I have such fond memories of him. The smile, the patience that he always brought to the table with the newcomers like myself. He was a quality individual. That was Knowlton. He cared about the news and he cared about his country and he wanted the best for both.”
Smith, CBC Radio “World at Six” host, said she remembers Nash not only as a great newsman but also a devoted grandfather, father and husband. He conveyed that humanity in his broadcasts, she said.
“What you saw on the air with Knowlton was who he was in person,” she said. “He was someone who recognized that people were inviting him into their homes every night to tell them the news of the day, and that that was a privilege and you had to behave in a certain way.
“He was thoughtful, gracious, truthful, trustworthy — everything you hope to be as a journalist.”
Wallin recalled that during her years as a CBC television host in the mid-1990s Nash would often call the studio after the show — but only to deliver praise, never criticism.
She said that Nash represents the highest ideals of journalism: seeking the truth while maintaining integrity in that pursuit.
“I think he just represented an era in which you did your homework and you asked all the right questions. It wasn’t always comfortable, it might have been difficult, but he led by example,” she said.
“He taught in the process of doing. I think that’s sometimes what we miss and why he’s being remembered today so fondly.”