Canada

Marguerite McDonald, 1st host of CBC Radio's The House, dead at 73

Marguerite McDonald, a trailblazing journalist and the inaugural host of CBC Radio's political affairs show The House, died after a battle with cancer this morning in Ottawa. She was 73.

Former Catholic nun and school teacher was CBC-TV's 1st female national news reporter based in Ottawa

Marguerite McDonald, the inaugural host of CBC Radio's political affairs show The House, died Monday morning in Ottawa. (CBC)

Marguerite McDonald, the inaugural host of CBC Radio's political affairs show The House, died after a battle with cancer this morning in Ottawa. She was 73.

A former nun and school teacher, McDonald had a long and storied career as a trailblazing journalist and a trusted CBC broadcaster, both in television and radio.

"I've never met any human being before who had so many warm friendships," said her husband Bill Young, a co-founder of CBC Radio's Ideas.

"She has friendships right across this country with people that she's known and kept in touch with for years. The affectionate relationship with her and pretty much everyone she's ever worked with was something to see."

Young said many of McDonald's friendships stemmed from her lengthy career with CBC, a time of her life he said she remembered fondly.

The affectionate relationship with her and pretty much everyone she's ever worked with was something to see.- Bill Young,  McDonald's husband

Retired CBC Radio producer Bernie Lucht wrote about McDonald on his Facebook page Monday. 

He said his professional association with McDonald began when she hosted Open House, a radio program about religion and spirituality that was regularly hosted by Peter Meggs. The show was predecessor of today's Tapestry.

"Marguerite would sign off each episode of Open House with the words, 'Take care of each other.' She was a deep, loving and generous spirit. Her friends, family and all who encountered her are grieving today."

'Far from conventional' 

McDonald grew up in a farming community outside of Aubigny, Man., Young said.

She landed her first job in journalism as a summer intern at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1960 when she was still in high school. When she graduated, she pursued a different passion — she became a Catholic nun and worked as a high school teacher in Manitoba and Alberta, said Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor in chief of CBC News.

During that time, Young said, she worked for local radio stations, talking about religion and theology. This ignited in her a passion for broadcast. After 12 years as a nun, she left the convent and returned to journalism with a job at CBC Calgary. There, she rose through the ranks from newsreader to co-host of the morning radio program Calgary Eyeopener. 

"Marguerite's route to the CBC was far from conventional, and as a journalist she amassed a number of impressive firsts," said McGuire.

"It's almost impossible to remember what political reporting was like before the media were allowed to broadcast the House of Commons," McDonald once mused about the impact of The House, which began airing in 1977. "No one in the radio and TV audiences had ever seen or heard anything that took place inside the chamber."

For nearly a decade, McDonald's voice guided listeners through the week in federal politics. Though she gained a deep understanding of the Canadian political sphere, McDonald found she could still be surprised. 

"I remember interviewing Jean Chrétien, then minister of finance. As he reminded me of all the posts he had held in cabinet over the years, I thought, 'My goodness! This man thinks he's going to become prime minister!' And I went on to think, 'Not in our lifetime!' Which goes to show how much more Chrétien knew than I did," she said.

You can listen to her first episode of The House here

She was a deep, loving and generous spirit. Her friends, family and all who encountered her are grieving today.-  Bernie  Lucht , retired CBC Radio producer

In 1983, McDonald  was appointed social affairs correspondent for CBC-TV, making her the public broadcaster's first female television national news reporter based in Ottawa. 

In 1990, she returned to her broadcasting roots and became host of Open House, a show about religion and spirituality. She retired from the CBC in 1996.

Her first husband, CBC announcer Harry Elton, died in 2004. McDonald later married Young.

"It's been tough, but Marguerite was quite stoic until the end," Young said. "I  think she was at peace with the world."

McDonald leaves behind four adult stepchildren from her marriage with Elton, and two stepchildren from her marriage with Young.

"On behalf of Marguerite's many friends and colleagues, I would like to convey my condolences to Bill, and to the McDonald, Elton and Young families," McGuire said.

McDonald became host of Open House, a show about religion and spirituality, in 1990. She retired from the CBC in 1996. (CBC)

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.