Michael Davies, former owner and publisher of Whig-Standard, dies at 85

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Michael Davies, publisher of the Kingston Whig-Standard from 1969 to 1990, as well as its owner from 1976 to 1990, died Tuesday after a long illness.

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Davies, who was a member of the Order of Canada, appointed to the Order of Ontario and a local philanthropist, was 85.

He leaves behind his wife of 62 years, Elaine, five children – Gregory, Eric, Andrew, Tim and Jennifer – as well as 14 grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Davies was the grandson of Senator Rupert Davies, who purchased the Whig-Standard in 1926. In 1976, Davies took out a large bank loan and purchased his brother and cousins’ shares of the company to take control of the newspaper.

From then on, Davies guided the paper and helped its reporters produce award-winning work and provocative investigative reporting that much larger market papers would normally do.

His first decision was to promote Neil Reynolds to editor in 1978 to guide the newsroom staff.

Douglas Fetherling, former editor of the Whig-Standard and author of the 1993 book “A Little Bit of Thunder: The Strange Inner Life of The Kingston Whig-Standard”, said in the book that Davies had strong opinions about topics such as health care. , federal politics, constitutional issues, raising the profile of the arts and preserving Kingston’s cumulative past while maintaining the growth of the local economy.

Fetherling also wrote that Davies wanted to be known for being associated with quality and hired Reynolds, giving him carte blanche to produce a newspaper that Davies and the community could be proud of.

“He was the ideal editor from a journalistic point of view,” Harvey Schachter said in an interview with the Whig-Standard this week.

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Schachter was hired by Reynolds in 1978 to become city editor and held various newsroom management positions before leaving the Whig-Standard in 1994.

Reynolds resigned in 1992 to become editor of the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal and the Saint John Times-Globe, and he led the editorial departments of other Canadian newspapers until 2003. Reynolds died in 2013.

After Reynolds took office, Davies encouraged him to start investigative projects, and the Whig-Standard won numerous journalism awards. Over the years, Kingston journalists have traveled the province, the country and the world to bring these stories to readers.

“He invested a lot of money in the newsroom, which he didn’t necessarily have to do,” Schachter said. “At that time, we were the No. 1 newspaper in newsroom spending in North America for our size.

“He supported, he questioned things and he supported his publisher.”

Schachter said that on occasion, well-heeled Kingstonians, advertising clients or family members who have been convicted of a minor crime or caught driving under the influence will put pressure on Davies not to put their name in the “In The Courts” section of the newspaper. but Davies heard nothing of it.

“He would come with the phone message and the person’s name written down, and he would give it to the city editor and say, ‘Make sure they’re there. I don’t want people to say I quit it if it doesn’t happen. To be one of them.'”

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Schachter said Davies had the courage to publish an article even though his subject threatened legal action.

In the early 1980s, the Whig-Standard ran an exclusive story about a man who was a suspected war criminal during World War II, living his final years in Toronto.

“The lawyers for this person said, ‘If you publish this story, you might as well give us the keys (to the Whig-Standard office), because you will lose the newspaper.’

“And he published the story and they didn’t prosecute,” Schachter said.

“When Michael appointed Neil’s editor, Neil was about to resign, and Michael said, ‘Please stay, please be my editor and give me an article that I can be proud.'”

Davies, a former smoker, was the first publisher not to take lucrative advertising revenue from cigarette newspapers and banned smoking inside King Street offices of the Whig-Standard long before the provincial government requires buildings to be smoke-free. Newspapers also had to stop accepting cigarette advertising.

“He didn’t have to. It was before the pressure, but he felt it was wrong,” Schachter said.

Schachter said Davies gave his staff editorial freedom.

“Once we walked into his office, Neil Reynolds and I,” Schachter said. “We were getting up to leave and Neil said, ‘By the way, Michael, we have a scoop that will be very unpleasant for the Kingston Symphony’ (regarding their leader leaving), and Michael was Mr. Kingston Symphony. Michael had the looked pretty grim when he got the news, then he said, “I can’t wait to see it (in the paper).” Some editors would say I don’t want that in my paper.

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“It was good for the community because it allowed us to produce a top newspaper.”

In 1990, just before the sale to the Southam newspaper chain, Davies wanted to pass the Whig-Standard to his son Eric, who had worked at the paper for a few years after graduating from Queen’s University.

“It had been my plan, until recently, to sell the Whig-Standard to one of my five children, who was both able and interested in running the business,” Davies wrote when the newspaper has been sold.

But Davies said Canadian tax laws made it difficult to complete the transaction.

“As a publisher he embodied the highest principles of journalism and took seriously his role as guardian of a public trust,” Reynolds wrote on October 26, 1990, after the sale to Southam was made official. . “I don’t know of a single case in all these years where, faced with a journalistic challenge, he didn’t make the decision in principle.

“At the end of the day, that’s why Michael Davies was not just a good editor but a great editor.”

Away from owning the journal, Davies and his family enjoyed exploring the Thousand Islands aboard their 45-foot sailboat “Minstrel” and ventured as far as Newfoundland and Bermuda. In 1980 he commissioned “Archangel”, a 67-foot fiberglass ocean-going vessel from C&C Yachts. Over the next 10 years Davies circumnavigated the globe twice, visiting Tahiti, the Galapagos Islands, Bali and the Mediterranean Sea. When the ocean sailing chapter of his life came to a halt in 1990, Davies bought a helicopter. Over the next 10 years he flew to the east and west coasts of Canada and south to Florida.

There will be a family-only burial ceremony at Cataraqui Cemetery. A celebration of the life of Michael Davies will take place this summer based on pandemic restrictions at that time.

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