Tony Westell, the fourth director of the School of Journalism and Communication, died in Toronto on April 1 at the age of 91.

Reporter, commentator, analyst, editor, teacher and author, Tony’s career spanned half a century and bridged the worlds of journalism and the academy.

Tony in the summer of 2015

Tony in the summer of 2015

Born in England in 1926, he left school at the age of 15 to begin his career in journalism as an apprentice reporter at the Exeter Express and Echo. As soon as he was old enough he enlisted in the Royal Navy, and his three years of war service took him around the world.

After the war, he returned to newspapers, working in Bristol at the Evening World, where he met his wife of 67 years, Jeannie. He then became political and diplomatic correspondent for the London Evening Standard, owned by Lord Beaverbrook, the Canadian press baron. Beaverbrook, ever irascible, judged the young Westell unsuitable for further promotion – “Small head, big feet, won’t do,” the publisher grumbled – and so Tony took his wife and two small children to Canada in 1956, where he joined the editorial board of the Globe and Mail, later becoming Ottawa bureau chief.

In 1969 he jumped to the Toronto Star as national affairs columnist, and began teaching part-time in the Carleton journalism program, eventually leaving daily journalism to join the faculty of the School.

In the 1970s, surveys of Canadians were in the main limited to studies conducted for marketing campaigns. There was very little public opinion research on political attitudes, beliefs and behavior. Tony was convinced that political reporting and analysis would benefit from a surer grasp of what mattered to the electorate and how they saw the issues. Together with his colleague Alan Frizzell, in 1978 Tony founded the Carleton University Survey Centre, a unit housed in the School of Journalism and Communication that pioneered political opinion research in Canada, and for which the major national news media became clients.

Dundurn

Out of that work, Profs. Frizzell and Westell trained their attention on Canadian federal elections, producing The Canadian General Election of 1984: Politicians, Parties, Press and Polls, a volume that included contributions from leading Canadian political journalists and that inaugurated a series of federal election studies produced by Carleton to this day.

Tony was also a founder of the Carleton Journalism Review, a quarterly publication devoted to critical analysis of Canadian journalism, and served as editor from its first issue in 1977 to its last in 1981. He wrote extensively on Canada-U.S. relations, and was appointed senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1980 and visiting associate at the Americas Society in 1983.

He adored the intellectual culture of the university, in which bright minds schooled in different disciplines jousted and joked over the pressing issues of the day. He was a charter member of the “bad boys” table at the Faculty Club, a lunch time gathering of wits that included Alan Frizzell, Patrick MacFadden, Bruce McFarlane, Josh Beer, Don McEown, Vic Valentine and others.

Though he had studiously avoided management positions while a newspaper journalist, he became director of the School of Journalism and Communication in 1988, and during his term oversaw the transformation of the one-year Bachelor of Journalism degree (designed for students who already possessed a baccalaureate) into a two-year Master of Journalism. This was followed by a term as associate dean of the Faculty of Arts, before he retired in the early 1990s.

The winner of three National Newspaper awards, Tony also wrote three books of political analysis: Paradox: Trudeau as Prime Minister (1972), The New Society (1977), and Reinventing Canada (1994). He published his memoir, The Inside Story: A Life in Journalism, in 2002.

He continued to write and publish in retirement, and served as editor and then contributing editor of the Literary Review of Canada.

His son, Dan, graduated from the Bachelor of Journalism program at Carleton; his daughter-in-law, Kimberley Noble, is a Ryerson Journalism alumna.

2 thoughts on “Anthony ‘Tony’ Westell: in memoriam”

  1. Pat Carney says:

    Thanks for a great obit for a journalist I admired for his objectivity and calm approach to his subjects. And a nice person too! We can be happy he contributed so much to the training of Canadian journalists who followed in his measured foot steps.
    Hon Pat Carney PC
    Senator, Ret

  2. Roger westall says:

    My name is Roger Westall. My father and mother were quite close with Tony and Jeanie. They worked together. I called them Auntie and Uncle. I just found out today. Wonderful stories and laughter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *