Bryan Cantley, 1946-2013: “Where will we ever find his like again?”

It is with sorrow that we announce the death of Bryan Cantley, long-time Executive Secretary of the National Newspaper Awards.

Bryan has been a friend and colleague to countless Canadian journalists, from students and cub reporters to senior executives, for more than 30 years.

Smilin Bryan

Earlier this month, Bryan received one of Canada’s highest awards for service to journalism, the Michener-Baxter Special Award, for “continued commitment and outstanding service to Canadian journalism and the newspaper industry.” The award was presented by Governor-General David Johnston in Ottawa.

“Bryan had a complete and total dedication to Canadian newspapers,” said Scott White, Chair of the National Newspaper Awards Board of Governors. “He believed in news and the value it brought to a stronger democratic society. He saw tremendous changes in the newspaper industry during his career, but never lost sight of the need to strive for excellence in daily journalism.”

A native of Montreal, Bryan spent his formative years in Red Rock, Ont. He worked in Toronto-area newspapers for 10 years, primarily as a Managing Editor before joining the Canadian Daily Newspaper Association (now Newspapers Canada) in 1981 as Director of Editorial Services.

In 26 years with the organization, he had an enormous impact on Canadian journalism through training sessions he led and organized as well as his role as Executive Secretary of the National Newspaper Awards. Among his initiatives was the establishment in 1999 of the Canadian Association of Newspaper Editors, which replaced the Canadian Managing Editors Conference and expanded the latter’s mandate to include editors at all levels.

When Bryan retired in 2007, publishers and executives of the newspaper industry paid tribute to him at a luncheon during the annual Newspapers Canada conference. Clark Davey, who worked as Publisher of the Ottawa Citizen and Managing Editor of the Globe and Mail during a long and distinguished career, called Bryan “a great and giving repository of institutional memory about the black art we call journalism,” and added, “Where will we ever find his like again?” Several other speakers spoke of Bryan as a valuable mentor.

A lifelong fan of the Montreal Canadiens, Bryan was presented that day with a cartoon by legendary Montreal Gazette cartoonist Aislin. It depicted Bryan ripping open his suit and shirt to reveal a Canadiens sweater underneath.

After retirement, Bryan remained at the helm of the NNAs, which he had set out to freshen and expand upon his 1989 appointment as Secretary to the awards program. Bryan was adamant that the awards should be truly national. He encouraged greater participation and devoted considerable effort to finding judges with talent, experience and passion for great journalism.

“His great legacy was felt whenever journalists sought Bryan out to thank him for encouraging them to hone their skills and bring their best effort to the duty of telling the important stories,” says Stuart Robertson, a media lawyer who also serves as Secretary-Treasurer of the NNAs. “His focus on and regard for journalistic excellence was infectious.”

In recent years, Bryan helped oversee a number of important changes to the NNAs that opened the competition to online publications as well as newspapers.

He also served as Executive Director of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, helping to promote journalism training in the neediest countries of the Commonwealth, until he retired from that role last year. He worked with the Canadian sector of the International Press Institute and as administrator for the Hon. Edward Goff Penny Awards for Young Journalists.

A 1969 graduate of Ryerson University, Bryan was a founding member and treasurer of the Ryerson Journalism Alumni Association. He also was the organizer and primary impetus behind Wordstock, a popular journalism training workshop. He received a Ryerson Alumni Achievement Award in 2007.

Bryan was diagnosed in May with pancreatic cancer. He was unable to attend this year’s National Newspaper Awards gala in Ottawa, but his guidance, based on his experience overseeing the competition for three decades, helped ensure another successful event celebrating the best of Canadian journalism.

Bryan, who was 67, is survived by his wife, Eleanor, his parents, three siblings and their spouses, and five nieces and nephews.