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Cyril Knowlton Nash was born in Toronto on 18 November 1927. His involvement in journalism began as a boy, when he sold copies of the daily newspapers Toronto Star and Telegram on a street corner. He studied journalism at the University of Toronto and began his career as a freelance reporter for The Globe and Mail, covering City Hall, the police beat, sports, labour disputes, and politics. Nash joined the British United Press Service as a copy editor in 1947, and during the next three years, lived in Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver, where he became a writer and bureau chief for the wire service. He traveled extensively throughout the country, covering a wide variety of stories that included politics, economics, local news, and sports. In 1951, Nash became Director of Information for the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, a non-governmental organization that represented farm organizations in 40 countries at the United Nations. He was based in Washington, but his work took him to Paris, Rome, London, New York, Mexico City, and Nairobi. He participated in various United Nations and international committees, and organized conferences in Europe and Africa on international trade and business issues. Nash continued his involvement with print journalism by becoming Washington correspondent for the Financial Post in 1954, and also writing articles on American political and defence issues, and especially trade and commerce for the Windsor Star, Vancouver Sun, and Halifax Herald, as well as Maclean's, Chatelaine, and other Canadian periodicals.
His career expanded to broadcast journalism in 1956, when he began working as a freelance correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). He was appointed Washington Correspondent in 1961, and reported on assignments from almost every part of the world that included the war in Vietnam, various Middle East crises, civil war in the Dominican Republic, political upheaval in South America, and an interview with Che Guevara in the cane fields of Cuba. Nash gained prominence for his coverage of the administrations of Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, including the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Cuban missile crisis, and Kennedy's assassination. Nash also interviewed many of the world's key political leaders during this period, including Presidents of the United States and the Prime Ministers of Canada and the United Kingdom. Attracted by an opportunity to take a lead role in transforming the CBC's public affairs programming, Nash returned to Toronto in 1969 and was appointed Director of Information Programming. He was made Director of News and Current Affairs in June 1976, responsible for broadcast journalism at the national and local levels. Under his leadership, television journalism enjoyed increased resources, the national evening newscast was lengthened, and the CBC developed several series exploring the country's heritage, such as The National Dream and the broadcast memoirs of John Diefenbaker and Lester B. Pearson. Nash left his executive position in 1978, when he succeeded Peter Kent as Chief Correspondent for the CBC's English Television News, anchoring the network's National newscast and hosting the weekly series Newsmagazine as well as major television news specials. The appointment gave Nash an opportunity to return to front-line journalism, reporting on Canadian, American and British elections, the Quebec Referendum, First Ministers' conferences, summit meetings, political conventions, royal and papal visits to Canada, and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Nash's connection with the viewers turned The National into a ratings success. He also led its transition to the 10:00 pm time slot in 1982, the same year that he married CBC television personality Lorraine Thomson. Nash served as Chief Correspondent until 1988, when he stepped down to prevent Peter Mansbridge from accepting a position in the United States. Nash remained with the network as senior correspondent, and anchored the weekly documentary series Witness, as well as the CBC educational series News in review from 1990 to 2004, long past his official retirement from the CBC on 28 November 1992.
Nash wrote nine books about his experiences as a journalist -- History on the run : the trenchcoat memoirs of a foreign correspondent (1984), Times to remember : a Canadian photo album (1986), Prime time at ten : behind-the-camera battles of Canadian TV journalism" (1987), Kennedy and Diefenbaker : fear and loathing across the undefended border (1990), Visions of Canada : searching for our future [views on national unity] (1991), The Microphone wars : a history of triumph and betrayal at the CBC (1994), Cue the elephant! : backstage tales at the CBC (1996), Trivia pursuit : how showbiz values are corrupting the news (1998), and Swashbucklers : the story of Canada's battling broadcasters (2001). He also wrote several articles on the CBC and issues in broadcast journalism for Canadian newspapers and magazines, as well as a regular column for the Osprey Media Group.
Nash has been actively involved with many educational and philanthropic organizations devoted to journalism and the advancement of literacy. He was associated with the University of Regina's School of Journalism, where he presented the inaugural James M. Minifie Memorial Lecture on the importance, standards and ethics of modern journalism on 5 October 1981, and taught in 1992-1993 as holder of the Max Bell Chair of Journalism. He was the founding chairman of the Canadian Journalism Foundation, Chairman of Word on the Street (a Canadian organization devoted to promoting the reading of books), honorary chairman of the Toronto Arts Awards Foundation, and honorary chairman of the Canadian Organization for Development Through Education (CODE), a group devoted to fostering literacy throughout the developing world.
Knowlton Nash's significant contributions to Canadian broadcasting and society have been marked by many honours. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1988, and to the Order of Ontario in 1998. He was presented with the John Drainie Award by the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists in 1995, and the lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation in June 2006. He also holds honorary degrees from the University of Toronto (1993), Brock University (1995), the University of Regina (1996), Loyalist College (1997), and York University (2005).