Western mourns loss of former dean Desbarats

The Western community is mourning the death of Peter Desbarats, former dean of Western’s Graduate School of Journalism from 1981-97, who died Tuesday, Feb. 11.

He is survived by his wife, Hazel; children, Michelle, Lissa, Sharon, Brynne, Shasta, Nicholas, Jane, Jennifer, Jane and Jonathan; and 11 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Gabrielle.

Visitation is scheduled for 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13 at Harris Funeral Home, 220 St. James St. at Richmond, London. Funeral services will be conducted at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 14 at Colborne Street United Church, 711 Colborne St. at Piccadilly, London, with the Rev. David R. Carrothers officiating.

Born in 1933, Desbarats worked as a print and television journalist for 30 years, starting as a copy boy with The Canadian Press, in his home town of Montreal. He worked in London’s Fleet Street for Reuters news agency as a political reporter and foreign correspondent for the Montreal Star and as national affairs columnist for the Toronto Star. In the 1960s and early 1970s he hosted a supper-hour news and current affairs show on Montreal television station CBMT, and in the 1970s was co-anchor and Ottawa Bureau chief for the Global Television Network, winning the 1977 ACTRA Award for best news broadcaster.

Desbarats was an important figure in Canadian cultural and political life. He held the Maclean-Hunter chair of Communications Ethics at Ryerson University; was a commissioner in the Somalia Inquiry, which investigated the brutal death of a Somali teenager at the hands of two Canadian soldiers serving in Somalia in 1993; and wrote some 13 books, including a best-selling biography of René Lévesque, Somalia Cover-Up – A Commissioner’s Journal and Guide to Canadian News Media, a standard journalism text. He was also a playwright and an author of children’s books.

In 2006, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Memorial contributions to the McCormick Home Foundation (Alzheimer Outreach Services) would be gratefully acknowledged.