Richard John Philip Jermy Gwyn, OC, journalist, author, bureaucrat (born 26 May 1934 in Bury St. Edmunds, England; died 15 August 2020 in Toronto, ON). Richard Gwyn was one of Canada’s preeminent political analysts. He spent 30 years as a columnist with the Toronto Star, winning two National Newspapers Awards and a National Magazine Award. He was a regular panelist on public affairs programs and published several award-winning books, including definitive biographies of Joey Smallwood, Pierre Trudeau and Sir John A. Macdonald. Gwyn was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002 and served as Chancellor of St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo from 2002 to 2007.
Richard Gwyn at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival, 16 September 2012. (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Early Years and Family
Richard Gwyn was born into a privileged family in England. His father, Brigadier Philip Jermy-Gwyn, was an army officer who had served in India. Richard Gwyn attended the Jesuit boarding school Stonyhurst College before graduating from the Royal Military College Sandhurst.
Early Journalism Career
Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, Gwyn emigrated to Canada in 1953. He pursued a career in journalism, beginning as a radio reporter in Halifax before landing a job with United Press International as a parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa. He also worked for Time magazine, Maclean-Hunter and Thomson Newspapers.
Gwyn’s first book, The Shape of Scandal: A Study of a Government in Crisis, about Lester B. Pearson’s government, was published in 1965. His second book, Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary, about Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood, was published in 1969.
Career as Bureaucrat
In 1968, Gwyn abandoned journalism to become executive assistant to Eric Kierans, then minister of communications in Ottawa. In 1970, Gwyn was appointed director-general of social and economic planning in the Department of Communications, a position he held until 1973.
In 1973, Gwyn resumed his journalism career as a syndicated national affairs columnist for the Toronto Star. One of the first newspaper columnists to make frequent appearances on radio and television public affairs programs, he quickly established himself as one of the country's preeminent political analysts. He was transferred to London in 1985 to serve as European correspondent and returned to Toronto in 1992. He co-hosted the TVO program Realities with Robert Fulford, and was a regular panelist on Studio 2, Diplomatic Immunity and The Agenda with Steve Paikin. He also published several acclaimed books, including definitive biographies of Joey Smallwood, Pierre Trudeau and Sir John A. Macdonald.
Richard Gwyn was married to award-winning journalist and Newfoundland native Sandra Fraser Gwyn from 1958 until her death in 2000. He developed passionate feelings for Newfoundland and vacationed there with Sandra every year. The two worked together often (they won a National Magazine Award for a Saturday Night article they co-wrote on Pierre Trudeau’s peace plan) and edited each other’s work regularly.
After Sandra’s death, Gwyn married dance historian Carol Bishop-Gwyn. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his final years and died at the age of 86.
Gwyn was Chancellor of St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo from 2002 to 2007. He also served on the board of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and managed the annual BMO Winterset Award, which was established by the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.
- The Shape of Scandal: A Study of a Government in Crisis (1965)
- Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary (1969)
- The Northern Magus: Trudeau and Canadians (1980)
- The 49th Paradox: Canada in North America (1985)
- Nationalism Without Walls: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian (1995)
- Pierre Elliott Trudeau (2006)
- John A: The Man Who Made Us (2007)
- Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His life, Our Times (2011)
- Best Long Feature, National Newspaper Awards (1980)
- Best Columns, National Newspaper Awards (1984)
- Best Investigative Journalism (shared with Sandra Fraser Gwyn), National Magazine Awards (1984)
- Honorary Doctor of Letters, Lakehead University (1997)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, Brock University (1997)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2002)
- Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Waterloo (2007)
- Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction (John A: The Man Who Made Us) (2008)
- Honorary Doctor of Letters, Memorial University (2009)
- Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing (Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times), Writers' Trust of Canada, (2012)
- J.W. Dafoe Book Prize (Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times), J.W. Dafoe Foundation (2012)
- National Leadership Award, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School (2012)
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)