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‘He believed learning was a lifelong endeavour’: New award at Concordia honours Russell Peden

The veteran journalist, who worked for the Montreal Gazette, Montreal Star and Canadian Press, passed away on May 31
October 27, 2021
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By Ursula Leonowicz, BA 97

vintage black and white photo of Russ Peden at his desk at the Montreal Star Russell Peden at his desk at the Montreal Star in the 1970s.

Russell Peden, a long-time editor at the Montreal Gazette who passed away on May 31, 2021, has inspired a legacy of support at Concordia through a new fund established by his loved ones.

The Russell Peden Memorial Bursary will provide financial support to a deserving full- or part-time student at the university, across all faculties, for three years.

“Russ believed learning was a lifelong endeavour, but that a quality post-secondary grounding was fundamental to that process,” says Barbara Black, Peden’s spouse of nearly 50 years. “He was an excellent student himself — he skipped two grades — but lack of money prevented him from completing university.”

For Black, choosing the Campaign for Concordia: Next-Gen. Now to honour her late husband made sense. Having previously worked in internal communications at the university, Black also served as editor of the Thursday Report, renamed the Concordia Journal — the community newspaper that ran from 1977 to 2011.

While Peden never studied at Concordia, two of his children are among the university’s alumni: Neil, BA (honours) 95, and Shelagh, BComm 00, who now works as a webmaster of digital content at University Communications Services at Concordia.

"Dad had a quiet intelligence, and with that came a way of explaining things that was appreciated by so many people — kind, but firm,” says Shelagh. “Because he was such an excellent mentor and teacher, it's fitting to honour his memory by supporting promising students."

Russell Peden and Barbara Black sit together, smiling at the camera Peden and his wife, Barbara Black, who worked as the editor of Concordia’s Thursday Report.

A veteran of his field

Russell Peden was born in 1934 and grew up in Port Arthur, Ont., where he worked in a pulp and paper mill as a high-school student. Following his studies, Peden enrolled in chemical engineering at the University of Manitoba but was unable to complete his undergraduate degree. He worked in western Canada for a wire and cable company and as an assistant mechanic for the Canadian National Railway before getting a job as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse on the north shore of Lake Superior.

Between his time living in a boxcar and becoming a teacher, Peden lived with a couple of men who worked at a newspaper in Edmonton, which eventually inspired him to try journalism.

He then moved to Montreal in the early 1960s, drawn by the city and the social and political transformations of the early days of the Quiet Revolution, and got a job with the Canadian Press. It was where he and Black first met.

“He was very calm and unflappable,” says Shelagh. “His easy-going temperament and sense of fairness had a calming effect in the newsroom.”

Peden was sent to Quebec City as a bureau correspondent to cover the National Assembly, even though he spoke only high-school level French.

“I’ll never understand how he did it, but he was smart,” Black remembers fondly.

After his time at the Canadian Press, Peden returned to Montreal to work at the Montreal Star followed by the Montreal Gazette, where he spent the remainder of his career. He served as a respected editor on the city desk and was indispensable to the paper’s coverage of the country’s most tumultuous era, from the October Crisis through both Quebec independence referendums and a series of crucial federal and provincial elections.

Paying it forward

In addition to helping students who require financial aid, Black also hopes that the Russell Peden Memorial Bursary will give her the opportunity to meet with and learn about the scholarship’s recipients.

“I liked the idea of giving someone who might not otherwise have the opportunity a crack at the university experience, because it’s so valuable for a lot of young people,” she says.

“I would love to have a bit of contact with recipients; to know who they are and what they do. I like hearing from young people.”

To contribute to the Russell Peden Memorial Bursary, visit engage.concordia.ca/donate.



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