The public funeral service for Knowlton Nash, longtime anchor of CBC's The National, was held today at a church in Toronto's Forest Hill neighbourhood.

Nash, who spent 37 years with Canada's public broadcaster, died at his home in Toronto on Saturday after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 86.

Family, personal friends, former colleagues, and some of Canada's most notable journalists packed Grace Church on the Hill to say a final 'goodnight' to Nash. 

Throughout the funeral service, a photo of Nash placed next to a broadcast videotape box containing his remains sat at the front of the church. 

Joe Schlesinger, another longtime CBC journalist and friend, recalled Nash's passion for his chosen profession, and for public broadcasting.

"Knowlton loved his work and he did it well. He loved Canada and he served it well. He carried his fame with dignity, and modesty. Canada can be proud of him," he said.

Lloyd Robertson, another giant of Canadian journalism and former national news anchor for CTV, told CBC News that the funeral was an appropriate tribute. 

"The service reflected him so well. It was calm; it was simple; and yet it was sophisticated. That to me was Knowlton Nash."

The current host of CBC's The National Peter Mansbridge was a pallbearer at the funeral.

Life of a journalist

Born Cyril Knowlton Nash in Toronto in 1927, it didn't take him long to find his calling. At eight years old, he put together his own newspaper. At 10, he operated his own newsstand. Later, during his first big journalism job as night editor with the British United Press, a Toronto-based wire service, he wrote an estimated 4,000 articles.

"Journalism has been the love of my life," Nash told The Canadian Press in 2006.

Shortly after taking a job in Washington with the International Federation of Agricultural Producers — during which he moonlighted as a freelance writer filing stories for a range of Canadian publications — Nash landed a job as Washington correspondent for CBC's Newsmagazine. The high-profile role and his legendary work ethic thrust him into the spotlight.

Knowlton Nash funeral

Tributes to Knowlton Nash's life were on display at Grace Church on the Hill in Toronto Wednesday, where friends, family and the public gathered at his funeral to say goodbye. (Simon Dingley/CBC News)

During the post, he tracked down Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara for an exclusive interview. He was one of the last reporters to interview Robert F. Kennedy before the New York senator's assassination in 1968. Nash also dodged gunfire in the Dominican Republic as U.S. forces fought with rebels, something he later had some fun with on the program Front Page Challenge.  

"I don't put myself first. I put work first," Nash said, during a CBC Life and Times documentary released in 2001.

Move to management

In Washington, Nash went on to cover the Cuban missile crisis, space launches at Cape Canaveral and the riots surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In 1969, he took a management role at the CBC, a career move that surprised many of his colleagues.

Knowlton Nash portrait

A portrait celebrating Knowlton Nash's life is displayed at Grace Church on the Hill in Toronto, where people gathered for his funeral Wednesday. (Simon Dingley/CBC News)

But in 1970, just one year after Nash had begun his new role, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau blasted the CBC for its coverage of the October Crisis, calling it a propaganda vehicle for the FLQ. Nash reacted by sending a directive to limit coverage of the crisis.

Nash later owned up to the error, saying: "It was my fault. We went too far — farther than we should have."

Nash's management work did, however, give him a rare understanding of the CBC's history and culture, something he would write about in several well-received books, including The Microphone Wars: A History of Triumph and Betrayal at the CBC and Cue The Elephant!  Backstage Tales at the CBC.

Birth of an anchor

In 1978, Nash returned to the screen as chief correspondent and anchor at The National.

His return upset some, but Nash's steady presence won over. While critics said he had an unemotional delivery, he was beloved by Canadian audiences.

As the face of The National, Nash covered all the major stories, from the collapse of Joe Clark's government to the 1980 Quebec referendum on the sovereignty question, and Trudeau's 1984 "walk in the snow" resignation.

Nash's look also left an impression on TV viewers — wearing thick-rimmed glasses and bold attire such as a pink shirt under a suit jacket — though management eventually forced him to give up the colour, according to CBC archives.

On screen, Nash's voice was engaging and amiable, but he believed in a straight-faced style of news presentation so as to not distort a story.

"It's inconceivable to him to actually contaminate a report with his own view. I think he'd probably blow up if he tried," said longtime CBC producer Mark Starowicz.

Nash officially retired from CBC News after hosting The National on Nov. 28, 1992, handing over the reins to Peter Mansbridge, with whom he had been sharing hosting duties since 1988.

In 2002, Nash was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

"There are a lot worse things that could be happening to you … with Parkinson's, you just have to cope with it and get on with it," Nash told the Hill Times in 2010.

Nash spent his final years in Toronto, alongside his wife of four decades, Lorraine Thomson, who also worked as a host with the CBC.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Knowlton Nash spent his final days in Florida. He owned a vacation property in the state, but lived in Toronto.
    May 28, 2014 7:23 PM ET