This article first appeared in the April issue of the Anglican Journal.
For more than three decades, Don Newman held what he considers the best job in television: senior parliamentary editor for the CBC and anchor of such influential programs as This Week in Parliament and Politics. Prime ministers, opposition leaders, premiers and kingmakers would drop in on the savvy Newman to chat about the pivotal issues of the day-knowing they’d be held to account unsparingly but in an evenhanded and decent way.
Newman attributes a large part of his respected reportage to his Anglican upbringing in Canada and in England, where, as the son of a banker, he attended daily chapel for five and a half years at a London private school. “There’s no doubt that what I learned as an Anglican is an important part of who I am. What the church tells you is that whatever you do, there is something else in your life. God is a force in your life,” he says in his trademark orotund voice.
Newman agrees that while he was holding top politicians’ feet to the fire of uncompromising scrutiny- “Democracy works best when you have a vigorous free press”-he always strove to be fair, restrained and non-personal. “And I tried never to be a sensationalist.”
Today his Anglican devotion varies in its intensity, he admits. “But at age 73, I think I have a right to vary in intensity.”
Newman is also thankful to the church for helping him survive two life-altering personal tragedies. In 1992, his 20-year-old son, Lincoln, died while under anesthesia for dental surgery. Less than three years later, he lost his beloved wife, Audrey-Ann, to ovarian cancer. Those events shook his belief in a personal, petitionable God. He now interprets God more deistically, as a universal force that, metaphorically, is “almost like a huge electrical current. We’re the lights that plug into it, and if we plug in, we can do infinitely more,” he says, echoing the words of the “Glory to God” doxology.
Born in Winnipeg, Newman studied history at the University of Manitoba and began his journalism career at 19 as a summer copy boy at the Winnipeg Tribune. Later, after working for the Globe and Mail, he segued into radio and television, eventually opening up CTV’s Washington bureau and later moving to the CBC. He covered Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, the end of the Vietnam War and the repatriation of Canada’s constitution. He was there for the leadership conventions of John Turner and Brian Mulroney, the Meech Lake Accord and the free trade election of 1988-formative events he writes about engagingly in his 2013 memoir, Welcome to the Broadcast, which takes its title from his signature on-air greeting.
Retiring from the CBC has left the Order of Canada member more time to serve the church and, until recently, he was honorary chairman of the diocese of Ottawa’s fundraising campaign. “The priests loved me because I went to a different church every week to make our pitch, and they didn’t have to write a sermon,” he says.
Currently, Newman is bringing his four-decade perspective on the body politic to Temple Scott Associates, a public- and government-relations firm in Toronto, where he serves as principal strategic counsel, offering advice on public affairs to mainly corporate clients.
A resident of Ottawa, Newman is a parishioner at Christ Church Cathedral. For him, the deity remains a daily presence. “I hope everyone can have the experience I’ve had of God informing my life, and knowing there’s a greater force to plug into.”