Obituary of Michael Finlay
September 15, 1949 - January 31, 2023
While walking along Danforth Avenue to buy groceries on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 24, Michael, age 73, was the victim of a random assault. Thrown to the pavement, he suffered a collapsed lung and fractured ribs and was rushed by police to the Michael Garron Hospital where his injuries were treated over the following days. On Thursday, January 26 he went into cardiac arrest, falling into a coma from which he never recovered. On Tuesday, January 31 a CT scan of his brain revealed extensive and permanent brain damage. In accordance with his living will he was then taken off life support and passed away peacefully with his older brother Andrew at his side.
Michael grew up first in Boston, then in Ottawa, Bangkok, Toronto and finally in Vancouver where he completed high school and undertook his studies at UBC, obtaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing in 1971. Initially a poet and then a journalist for the Vancouver Sun newspaper, he moved to Toronto in the late 1970s to begin work there at CBC Radio, a career which he pursued until his retirement in 2010. Colleagues of Michael will tell of that career in an obituary to be published shortly in a Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail*. Suffice it here to say that his journalistic standards were of the highest calibre, that he was for years Executive Producer of As It Happens, later Senior Producer for Sunday Morning. He was an inspiration for and a driving force behind Dispatches where the many documentaries he created were simply extraordinary.
Michael travelled the world over for work and for pleasure and had a particular fondness for the African continent. Since his retirement, however, he was most often at home as he had several health challenges which he took on with undaunted courage and determination. Spring, Summer and Fall he would enjoy listening to music on his front porch and chatting with neighbours as they went by. In the late afternoon he would saunter down to Gabby’s pub on the Danforth to read a book or to solve a crossword puzzle, but especially to share good times with his many friends there. Evenings he would often be out to attend a concert of a favourite artist in the genre of Americana music.
Michael will be tremendously missed by his brothers Andrew and Steven, his sister-in-law Atsuko, his nephew Douglas, by Terry whose special friendship with him went back some 50 years, by his close friends Jerry, Penny, Phil, Monique, Dave, Patsy, Judith, Marla, Miche, Paul, Chris, Rod, Alex, Marly as well as by many other relatives, friends and colleagues across the country.
In accordance with Michael’s wishes, no funeral service will be held. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Journalists for Human Rights or Reporters Without Borders. Condolences may be forwarded through www.humphreymiles.com.
* The Globe article mentioned above appeared in it's February 11th edition and reads as follows:
September 15, 1949 – January 31, 2023
Michael was a brilliant journalist who helped bring the world closer to Canadians during his 31 years at CBC Radio. He set a bar for excellence and exacting standards that has rarely been matched. Not only did he produce outstanding documentaries himself, he was a remarkable editor, tirelessly honing correspondents’ work to make it better. In his younger days, he was also a published poet and a top-flight reporter for the Vancouver Sun.
Michael died in hospital, a week after being assaulted by a stranger while walking along Danforth Avenue in Toronto. He was predeceased by his parents, Douglas Finlay and Rachel (Rae) Finlay. He is survived by his brothers, Andrew (Atsuko) of Montreal and Steven of Pickering, Ont., his nephew, Douglas of Toronto and his close friend, Terry Paterson of Vancouver.
Michael Finlay was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, where his father worked with emotionally disturbed children. His expertise in the field led to subsequent positions in Ottawa, Bangkok and Toronto, before the family finally settled in North Vancouver.
Michael was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of BC in 1971, specializing in poetry. A book of his poems, the harpo scrolls, was published by Sono Nis Press. But it was the student newspaper The Ubyssey that gave him his start in journalism. He was elected its editor in 1969. It was after graduation that he began full-time work at the Vancouver Sun.
As a member of the paper’s legislative bureau in Vancouver, Michael covered the tumultuous years of BC’s first NDP government. He subsequently left the Sun for a year’s travel, during which he kindled a deep affection for Africa. Back in Canada, he began his long career with CBC Radio as a producer with As It Happens, working with its legendary host Barbara Frum, before signing on at Sunday Morning. Travelling the world for the CBC’s flagship current affairs show, his documentaries stood out for their clear writing, crisp delivery and an ability to make listeners feel they were on the spot with him, through his superb use of raw sound.
When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Michael was there. In Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, during violent protests against white farmers by supporters of Robert Mugabe, he was surrounded and threatened, until he repeatedly declared “I support Mugabe!” into his tape recorder. His best work included a gripping documentary from Death Row in Georgia and another described by a boxing aficionado as “the finest documentary on boxing ever made.”
After Sunday Morning, where Michael rose to executive producer, he led development of the weekly global affairs show Dispatches, then shifted to CBC News. There, in addition to his instinct for news, editing skills and graceful writing, his experience in the field made him an invaluable asset for younger correspondents. He retired from the World at Six in 2010.
Underneath his sometimes-gruff personality, Michael had a great appreciation for whimsy and a sense of fun, reflected in his life-long affection for Looney Tune characters Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy Duck and, especially, the beleaguered Sylvester the Cat. He named his real-life cats Thabo and Mbeki, after Nelson Mandela’s successor as president of South Africa. He also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of, and great fondness for, Americana roots music, rarely missing appearances by artists he admired.
Michael faced several health challenges during his retirement but seemed to have overcome them all, until he was struck down on a Toronto sidewalk. His home away from home was his cherished local pub, where he could be found doing the daily crossword, reading a book, or hanging out with his pal Jerry and many other good friends. They came to know and love Michael, as had so many others, sharing deep admiration and affection for this extraordinary individual.
Donations in Michael’s memory can be made to Journalists for Human Rights or Reporters Without Borders. Condolences may be forwarded through www.humphreymiles.com.
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