The longer formal obit in the Globe,
(written by a Ryerson student?)
BILL CAMERON, JOURNALIST AND TEACHER 1943-2005
'Thinking-man's anchor' who was one of public broadcasting's true
believers seemed destined for greatness until 1999 when he was
among CBC staffers cut by corporation number crunching,
writes JOE FRIESEN
By JOE FRIESEN
The Globe and Mail
Monday, March 14, 2005 Updated at 10:10 PM EST
On the day he had brain surgery, Bill Cameron, ever the
consummate newsman, roused himself from the anesthetic to set the
record straight. He had already started an argument with the
nurses for taking his books away, and wasn't supposed to be
reading or doing anything strenuous. But as he lay there, his
head bandaged, listening to his neurosurgeon discuss the day's
news, he couldn't help but interject to fill in the missing
"They were discussing something that had happened that day, and
Bill seemed to know all about it," his wife Cheryl Hawkes said
yesterday. "I said, you've been under anesthetic all day. How did
you do that? How do you keep up like that?
"Somehow, he must have read the paper."
Originally from British Columbia, Mr. Cameron spent his
high-school years in Ottawa. His father was a prominent
oceanographer and his mother died of cancer when he was a
teenager. He attended the University of Toronto from 1962 to
1965, and spent much of his energy as a young man trying to forge
a career as an actor and writer.
He got his start in journalism doing freelance work for CBC
radio, and at 25 was on the editorial board of the Toronto Star.
In 1970, he was part of a breakaway group that wrote the Real
Poverty Report in response to what they felt was a misreading of
the situation by the Senate Committee on Poverty.
He moved to Maclean's magazine before eventually being hired by
Global television in Toronto. Bill Cunningham, who was
vice-president of television and current affairs at Global, said
Mr. Cameron came highly recommended. "I've often wondered if by
taking him into television I didn't do him a bit of a
"It's not the kind of thing you win Pulitzer prizes for, turning
out copy for an anchor, but he sure did it better than almost
anyone I've ever seen," he said. "He could really turn a phrase."
By the mid-1970s, Mr. Cameron had established himself in
television, becoming a reporter and anchor for Global at a time
of ambitious expansion at the station.
In 1978, Moses Znaimer at the upstart CityTV was looking to add
some intellectual weight to his newscast. He leapt at the chance
to hire Mr. Cameron, who brought a natural gravitas with his
Walter Cronkite-like delivery.
"Because we had the only 10 o'clock newscast [in Toronto], I
wanted to make it more dignified, and Bill was perfect," Mr.
Znaimer said. "Bill was a guy who believed that ideas matter and
who believed that wrapping up the day's events in a pithy and
elegant way was worthwhile."
It was not long after that Mr. Cameron met Ms. Hawkes, a
freelance journalist. It was Aug. 15, 1980. She had been assigned
to write a profile of the handsome, broad-shouldered anchor.
They met at the Blue Angel restaurant, and as she left at the end
of the interview, Mr. Cameron chased after her and said "I don't
need a profile written about me. I need to marry you."
Later, he told her that he knew from the moment they first spoke
on the telephone that he would ask her to marry him.
A few days after the interview, she watched him on TV, looking
for material for her story. She remembers seeing one of the short
editorials he used to do at the end of the newscast. That night,
he talked about his experiences at summer camp.
"I thought he was handsome, smart and really weird," she said. "I
was just intrigued, I guess. He represented everything I thought
I wanted in a partner."
It was a whirlwind romance. They were married four months later
in December, 1980. The profile Ms. Hawkes submitted was published
in Star Week the day of their wedding.
Mr. Cameron left CityTV in 1983, after station executives decided
his formal style was no longer a good fit for the hip urban
market they coveted.
He was snapped up almost immediately by Mark Starowicz, executive
producer of The Journal, and worked there during the heady days
when the show was at the forefront of international
He travelled to war zones in Mozambique, Croatia and the Persian
Gulf with The Journal, producing work that colleagues said ranked
with the best ever done at CBC.
Robin Benger was a producer at The Journal who worked with Mr.
Cameron on a report on the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. He
said Mr. Cameron exuded a sense of calm even-handedness that
allowed him to connect with people from all sides.
"He could interview a peasant in a potato field with the same
equanimity and fairness as the president of a country," Mr. Benger
said. At one point, as shelling broke out around them while Mr.
Cameron was taping a direct-to-camera piece, he calmly worked his
way into an ad lib, describing the shell bursts as the sound of
giants dropping sandbags.
Away from the camera, Mr. Cameron was a shy and private person
who didn't covet the spotlight. He was a voracious reader who
constantly had three or four books on the go. His wife said he
would often roll out of bed clutching a book, ready to start the
day. "We have a picture of him floating on the Dead Sea, when he
was on assignment with The Journal, reading. He could read in the
most extraordinary circumstances," she said. "I think he had a
great fear of getting caught somewhere without a book in his
She said Mr. Cameron felt he always had to be prepared for any
kind of assignment, and so tried to know as much about everything
as he possibly could. "It was like being married to my own Google
search engine," she said.
And even with all the travelling his job required, he was always
very close to his family. Mr. Benger remembers his colleague, in
the middle of a war zone, being anxious to get back to the hotel
to hear how his son had fared on a math test that day.
Mr. Cameron once described a 1983 documentary he did on the civil
war in Mozambique as his best work. But it also raised doubts for
him, which he expressed in an essay for the book The Newsmakers:
Behind the Cameras with Canada's Top TV Journalists.
He wrote about feeling the dreadful suspicion "that we dip into
the surface of deep events, paddle with our feet, guard our
comforts, patronize our contacts, exploit great tragedies for the
good of our careers, and get the story wrong. . . . Maybe the
real reporter is not necessarily the most talented but the one
who can survive all this guilt, doubt, shame and suspicion, and
get at least some part of the story home."
Mr. Cameron was also one of the alternate anchors of The Journal
who shared time with the late Barbara Frum. But while Ms. Frum
was given glamorous interviews with the likes of Margaret
Thatcher, Mr. Cameron would be relegated to grilling Alan
MacEachen in the show's second half.
Mr. Starowicz described him as the "thinking-man's anchor." And
he was even given the chance to share his sense of humour in the
Journal Diary segments, which Mr. Starowicz describes as "a
cynical tour d'horizon, or Michael Moore before there was a
Mr. Cameron had been chosen to succeed Ms. Frum as host after her
death in 1992, Mr. Starowicz said, but the show was cancelled as a
result of a power struggle at the CBC. Mr. Starowicz remembers the
Journal staff gathering at a pool hall in Queen Street in Toronto
and crowding around the TV to hear Mr. Cameron utter the show's
final words: "Thank you for letting us serve you."
Mr. Cameron considered himself one of public broadcasting's true
believers, and was bitterly disappointed when he was eventually
pushed out of the network in 1999 by a take-it-or-leave-it
contract offer that promised a massive pay cut.
After having accepted assignments to host CBC's local news in
Toronto, where he won a Gemini award, and for a spell as CBC
Newsworld's morning anchor, he left the corporation for a
short-lived public-relations job with American Gem Corp.
Friends say it's a shame that Mr. Cameron never got the
recognition, or the high-profile anchor job, that he deserved.
"If he had a problem, it was that he was very bright, and
appeared that way on camera," one former Journal staffer said.
In 2003, Mr. Cameron became the media ethics chair at Ryerson
University in Toronto. It was a good fit, friends said, for he
always took seriously his responsibility to his subjects.
Mr. Henderson remembers that Mr. Cameron, before every televised
interview, carefully warned his subjects that the tape was rolling
and whatever they said could now be used against them. "He was a
guy who was always in search of fairness. He was inquisitive, as
every good journalist should be. But if he thought somebody was
treated unfairly, it really hurt him."
His latter years were spent mainly on his writing, including a
column in the National Post.
He was known as the best documentary writer in the country, and
was called in to rescue scripts on some of the CBC's
"His writing was just superb. It lifted up anything you were
working on," Mr. Henderson, a senior producer for Canada: A
People's History, said. In 2002, Mr. Cameron directed his own
documentary The Season, chronicling the harvest in Biggar, Sask.
He also published a novel, Cat's Crossing, a dark, literary
portrait of Toronto, and before he died had finished a draft of
his second novel, which centres around a freelance travel writer.
Mr. Cameron, 62, died at his home in Toronto on Saturday, March
12, of esophageal cancer. He was surrounded by his family.
Bill Cameron was born in
Vancouver on Jan. 23, 1943.
He died of esophageal cancer
at his home in Toronto in the
early hours of Saturday morning.
He was 62. He is survived by
his wife, Cheryl Hawkes, and
their children Patrick, 22,
Rachel, 21, and Nick 15.
============= side bar =============
A TEACHER FULL OF INSIGHT AND CURIOSITY
When I walked into Bill Cameron's class at Ryersen for the first
time in the fall of 2003, I was shocked to see that my ethics
teacher wasn't just the Mr. B. Cameron listed on the timetable,
but a genuine star of the CBC. More astonishing, was that he
lacked the celebrity attitude we've all come to expect from a
star. Instead, what we got was a teacher full of insight and
He didn't seek the spotlight; he was respectful; and he cared
about what his students had to say. And when his class discussed
the media business, he was never condescending, despite his
wealth of experience. For someone who had been around the world
and covered many of the great conflicts of the late 20th century,
he was surprisingly interested in what a group of aspirants
Of course, there was plenty of his own wisdom as well. In a
discussion of the ethical implications of journalists carrying
weapons in war zones, he casually mentioned that he had never
thought it was a good idea. In Africa, it had once came up as an
option but he dismissed it.
He thought that any interview conducted by someone holding a
lethal weapon was probably compromised.
I once approached him to ask about the ethics of going undercover
to expose a professional essay-writing service used by university
students. Bill discussed how it could be done in the most honest,
straightforward way. He was adamant that the owners of the service
could be persuaded to tell their side of the story, and eventually
On the morning the story was published, Bill had already
carefully read the student paper by the time I arrived. He said
he thought we had got the ethics just right.
It was a compliment I will always treasure. -- Joe Friesen