Acclaimed Toronto writer and editor Kildare Dobbs, who co-founded the Canadian magazine Tamarack Review and won a Governor General's Literary Award, has died.

His wife of 33 years, photographer and artist Linda Kooluris Dobbs, says he died Monday morning of kidney and congestive heart failure at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital. He was 89.

"He was a man of great heart and generosity and I knew his writing before I knew him," Kooluris Dobbs said in a telephone interview Monday.


Literary editor and Tamarack Review co-founder Kildare Dobbs wrote poetry, novels, newspaper columns, short stories, travel pieces and memoirs, including Running to Paradise and Running the Rapids: A Writer's Life. (Dundurn Press)

"He was very loved by many, in many different areas of his life... He was so timeless."

"It's a great loss to Canadian writing," said Howard Engel, a Toronto-based mystery writer who was good friends with Dobbs.

"He was more than just a writer. I'd say he was a man of letters."

Editor, radio contributor on literature

Born in Meerut, India, Dobbs was educated in Dublin, Cambridge and London. He also served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. In 1952, he immigrated to Canada and was an early contributor to the CBC Radio programs Ideas and Anthology, where he provided commentary on literature.

"His mind was always interesting and he'd always managed to turn up something new to say about a book, a bit like someone turning over a pebble and finding some interesting things under it," Engel, who first met Dobbs at Anthology in the late '50s, said in a telephone interview.

"He was a good friend and a loyal friend. Certainly he was one of the very few people who ever encouraged me to put words down on paper."

Dobbs also worked as a senior editor at publishing house Macmillan Canada, co-founded the Tamarack Review, and wrote for publications including Saturday Night, where he also served as managing editor.

In 1962, his autobiography Running to Paradise won a Governor General's Literary Award.

"One of the interesting things about his critical writing is that, at a time when nobody was writing about Canadian writing or Canadian authors or Canadian books, he was," said Engel.

"And then later on, when it became almost de rigueur in the press to talk about only Canadian books, he tried again to restore the proper balance by writing about writers who might be of interest to Canadians."

Wide body of work

Dobbs — whose other honours included the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada — also published various collections of short stories, novellas and poetry, and was a renowned travel writer.

"He came alive when he was travelling and he brought that vision back to Canada and people wanted to travel because of what he wrote," said Kooluris Dobbs, who was his third wife.

Dobbs' ailing health in recent years meant he couldn't travel, though, which Kooluris Dobbs called "a great tragedy."

'He had a very elastic mind and was not stubborn about taking in new things...He was fascinated by life and what was going on in it'

—Writer Howard Engel

"I think the other side of him is ... he did a lot of things quietly. He was a person who couldn't brag about himself," she said, noting that worked against him as an author in recent years because he didn't promote himself enough.

"His work was the doing of the writing and producing great beauty through that, so he was from another generation altogether. And as a life partner he was just a wonderful person to share a life with. We both worked at home, we travelled well together, we shared family that we enjoy, we shared friends.

"He told my mother, when he married me, that he had to marry three times to get the right mother-in-law. So that sense of humour was always intact. ... I envied his wit."

Engel also praised Dobbs' humour.

"I don't think I know a younger man mentally than Kildare," he said. "He had a very elastic mind and was not stubborn about taking in new things or taking up new interests and things.

"He was fascinated by life and what was going on in it."

Dobbs is also survived by his four children — John Dobbs, Christian Dobbs, Lucinda Favell, and Sarah Dobbs — as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.