Journalist and broadcaster Betty Kennedy dead at 91

Journalist and broadcaster Betty Kennedy, famed for her work on CBC's long-running current affairs quiz show Front Page Challenge, has died at 91.

Best known for being a panellist on CBC-TV's current affairs quiz show Front Page Challenge

Journalist and broadcaster Betty Kennedy, who was born and raised in Ottawa, died on Monday at the age of 91. (CBC)

Journalist and television personality Betty Kennedy, famed for her work on CBC's long-running current affairs quiz show Front Page Challenge, has died at 91.

Kennedy, who was born and raised in Ottawa, died on Monday, according to a statement from her family.

Kennedy's interviewing ease charmed audiences but she said her career in broadcasting actually came about by fluke. She got her start at the Ottawa Citizen, working on the newspaper. When the paper's staff went on strike, she was asked to host a radio show in an effort to keep subscribers from fleeing.

Betty Kennedy, reporter and panellist

3 years ago
Duration 11:49
The radio host and member of the Front Page Challenge panel describes a memorable interview in 1965.

CFRB, the talk radio station in Toronto, took notice and she soon made the jump to the city to host her own program: The Betty Kennedy Show. That's where she developed her signature interviewing style — posing a question and just letting her interview subjects talk. And they liked it.

During an interview on the show with American architect Buckminster Fuller, he told Kennedy: "I don't think I recall a conversation where anybody has been quite as logically sensitive as you are about these questions you ask."

Bob Rae, former Liberal leader and Ontario premier, told CBC News Tuesday that Kennedy prepared meticulously for her interviews, calling her an "icon of Canadian journalism."

"She was always extremely polite and thoughtful. And she had a huge listenership and anybody in politics or public life at that time, that's the show you wanted to be on."

Kennedy hosted her own show at Toronto's CFRB for 27 years. She interviewed politicians, community leaders and celebrities, like Leonard Nimoy. (City of Toronto Archives)

In the show's 27 years, Kennedy got to talk to 25,000 guests, from celebrities and politicians to community builders.

She recalled her beginnings in a 1965 TV interview with CBC's Elwood Glover. "It's very much a sink or swim business. If you're lucky enough to get in, you're really on your own." He commended her on her interviewing style and the questions she chose to ask. Kennedy compared it to everyday life.

"Your own mind and your own curiosity is often the best guide, I think, on what you ask. If you're curious about something, chances are somebody else is too," Kennedy responded.

'She has class'

But it was her appearances as a panellist on CBC-TV's Front Page Challenge that's she's perhaps best known for. She started with the show in 1962 and lasted until its cancellation in 1995. The show saw panellists try to guess a mystery guest who they would then interview.

There she was paired with famed journalists like Pierre Berton and Gordon Sinclair, something she found intimidating at first. She said she was "scared to death" to start, but soon found that both men weren't that "frightening at all."

Gordon Sinclair (left), Betty Kennedy (second from left), guest panellist Lister Sinclair (second from right) and Pierre Berton, along with mystery guest Charlotte Whitton (top) take part in an episode of CBC's Front Page Challenge in November 1963. (CBC Still Image Collection)

The show's one-time producer Don Brown once said she was a perfect fit: "She has class. She's a very experienced journalist. She brought dignity, a femininity, a cool, controlled intelligence."

Her work earned her spots in both the Canadian Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Canadian News Hall of Fame and in 1982, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

  "When I first met Betty Kennedy I was a young reporter working for  The National. She was a network star because of  Front Page Challenge and her work in Toronto on CFRB. But she immediately treated me as an equal and made me feel totally at ease," said Peter Mansbridge, chief correspondent of CBC News.

"She was always classy and elegant in the way she went about her business and was adored by her fans. Broadcasting and journalism lost a leading lady with her passing."

  In her post-broadcast life, she sat on many different councils and committees and enjoyed being outdoors — swimming, bird watching and fishing with the Ristigouche Salmon Club in Quebec.
Part of the team from Front Page Challenge — Gordon Sinclair, Betty Kennedy and Fred Davis — visit the Sun Salmon Derby in August 1966. (Franz Lindner/CBC)

She was a longtime Liberal supporter; former prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed her to the Senate in 2000, at age 74. Since the mandatory retirement age is 75, she spent less than a year there. Chrétien defended her older age appointment at the time, telling reporters she brought lots of experience to the job.

On Tuesday, he remembered Kennedy, telling CBC News she was often "first at everything."

"She was a very elegant and sophisticated person and she was well known across the land and liked by everybody," he said. "She was a real great personality."

Kennedy beams shortly after being sworn in as a senator in June 2000. She retired less than a year later, in January 2001, upon turning 75. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)


Haydn Watters is a roving reporter in Ontario, mostly serving the province's local CBC Radio shows. He has worked for the CBC in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and entertainment unit. He ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont. You can get in touch at haydn.watters@cbc.ca.


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.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?