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Veteran journalist passes from apparent stroke

March 26, 2014   ·   0 Comments

WesKellerwebThe unofficial dean of Dufferin’s journalists has died.

Wes Keller, who at various times was a staff reporter at all Dufferin’s newspapers, died of an apparent stroke over the weekend. He was 82.

After reaching the then-normal retirement age of 65, Mr. Keller continued writing for the Orangeville Citizen, Shelburne Free Press and Economist and Grand Valley Star Vidette, and in addition to other assignments was covering Dufferin County Council and Shelburne Council for the Citizen and Free Press.

After careers in Western Canada in life insurance and as a private investigator, Wes decided to become a full-time journalist in the mid-1970s, joining the FP&E in January 1978.

Sheila Duncan, who joined the Citizen later that year and was Wes’s editor for many years, described him as “a relentless investigative reporter and a hard-nosed writer.”

Now director of communications for the Town of Orangeville, Ms. Duncan said Wes “lived for the thrill of the story. But his passion also included people.

“He loved to converse  – getting lots of stories and chuckles out of talking to people. He had an insight that sometimes led to the less-than-usual angle with an article. His slow drawl belied his quick wit and sharp words. A stereotypical newspaperman of his day – and for about  five decades — there are lots of stories about Wes Keller and most of them are undoubtedly true.

“He was always an interesting presence, with strong opinions, in the newsroom. Whether he was waxing poetic or cursing fiercely, there was no mistaking that he  also had a gentle soul capable of writing some wonderful features. Once you met Wes, there was no forgetting Wes. A character and a charmer, he was a well-respected journalist and a great friend.”

Dufferin Warden Bill Hill, mayor of Melancthon, who knew Mr. Keller for 35 years, was shocked and surprised to hear the news of his passing.

“I talked to him for about an hour on Friday, and it’s just kind of mind-boggling to realize that he’s not here on Monday,” said Mayor Hill. “I’m just trying to get a grip on it.”

He added that while he did not know Mr. Keller outside of the political/work realm, he found him to be a kind, likeable and good man. He was unique, but dedicated to getting things right and pursuing the truth with all stories he covered.

“Wes was a guy that marched to his own drum,” explained Mayor Hill.

“He took a different perspective on a lot of things, but he gathered his facts, did his job and he reported what he thought was right. He was a good guy, he always did his job well, and I’m still surprised that he passed away on the weekend.”

A long-time friend, Shelburne Mayor Ed Crewson, agreed that Mr. Keller was indeed a unique but interesting individual. He explained that when anyone was having a rough day, it seemed Mr. Keller always had the perfect story from his past to cheer them up.

“He was a character. He had lots of experiences in life that gave him the skills and the sense of humour that made his stories interesting,” said Mayor Crewson. “I very much enjoyed listening to his stories; he was indeed a gifted story teller.”

Mr. Keller was an unofficial servant of the people who always pursued the truth and fought for the public’s right to know what was going on with their government.

“His life was certainly spent providing the public with the information about its government and the events of the day,” said Mayor Crewson.

“Even though he was not an elected servant of the people, he took that role of informing people very seriously. You could tell him things and he would present them fairly. He never did a hatchet job on anybody; he was always very fair in his presentation of the information.”

They spent much time talking, and had regular Sunday afternoon conversations. Mayor Crewson added that Mr. Keller had led a very interesting life, with many different things to share as life went on. He was a dedicated and passionate journalist who was incredibly diligent in all that he did.

“He was very curious, but that’s what makes a good reporter,” said Mayor Crewson.

“I think that curiousity is something that leads to a long life as well. If you don’t stay curious, you lose imagination. Without imagination, life is short. Curiousity is what I think kept Wes so young at heart.”

“I will miss him,” he added. “He was my friend.”

In a Facebook entry, Orangeville Mayor Rob Adams said Wes “was a fixture in the local community, an incredible investigative reporter who had a good pulse on the community. I had a great deal of admiration for Wes as he was a well respected journalist who always nailed the story.

“Wes would give me invaluable advice on local issues that helped me better serve the residents of Orangeville in Municipal Government and Dufferin County. … I’ll miss Wes at the County meetings and around town. Orangeville and Dufferin will miss his insight. But our community has benefited from his legacy.”

A public celebration of Wes’s life is being planned for the Orangeville Legion hall on Friday, April 4.

Wes was profiled by Orangeville writer Jeff Rollings in the Winter 2007 issue of In The Hills, which Publisher/Editor Signe Ball has posted on the magazine’s website, www.inthehills.ca .

Appropriately headed “Wes Keller, Intrepid Reporter,” the article said that in the 30 years since his byline first appeared locally, “there have come to pass 23 Dufferin County wardens, nine mayors of Orangeville and Shelburne, and more reeves, deputy reeves, deputy mayors and councilors than you can shake a beer bottle at.

“He’s been a pain in the butt to pretty much all of them. And that’s just a start.”

Wes told Mr. Rollings he first became interested in the community newspaper world in the 1940s when as a high school student he regularly read the Durham Chronicle (based in the Grey County town, not the region of the same name). His parents had moved to the area with six-year-old Wes, his brother and two sisters in 1937 after escaping the Saskatchewan dust bowl.

After high school, Wes set out for Toronto and a career in life insurance and married his first wife, Greta, in 1954. “It was the day after Hurricane Hazel,” he recalled in the interview.

“By 1956, another interest had also taken hold,” Mr. Rollings wrote. Having heard that the Canadian Army was looking for commissioned officers, Wes joined in Toronto, received his commission as an artillery officer in 1957 and spent the next eight years as a reservist, working half-time for the military, while continuing to sell life insurance.

“Though he never saw action, he did become an expert in various killing machinery, including 105-mm howitzers. Must have made for an odd day: I’m gonna blow you away, but first, can I interest you in term life?”

Wes’s son, Mark, who currently lives in the Teeswater area, was born in 1958, and in the early ’60s the young couple moved to Winnipeg and had a daughter, Krystal. It was 50 years ago, in 1964, that Wes’s first freelance writing assignment – coverage of local community clubs – was published in the St. Boniface Courier.

In the late ’60s Wes moved to Yorkton, Saskatchewan, where he ran a life insurance agency and did some freelance writing for the Yorkton Enterprise.

Then, on his return to Ontario in 1969, he obtained his private investigator’s licence. He told Mr. Rollings that most of his sleuthing was on behalf of insurance companies and Toronto law firms.

“People thought I was good at it in those days, but I don’t think I could do it any more,” he said. “One has to be a competent actor to get away with it.”

It was in the mid-1970s, when he decided to pursue full-time writing, enrolling in a journalism course and later interning at the Orangeville Banner.

His long association with Claridge Community Newspapers began on January 9th, 1978, at the Shelburne Free Press and Economist.

When his first marriage ended in late 1982, Wes again headed west. After a year at the local paper in Crow’s Nest Pass, Alberta, he moved on to the Lethbridge Herald. Two years later he was freelancing, not only for the Herald, but also for the Great Falls Tribune in Montana and Western Producer and Alberta Reports magazines.

Wes married his second wife, Debra, in 1984 and in 1989 they returned to Ontario. While she furthered her educational training, Wes returned to the Claridge newspaper fold.

“He’s been airing our laundry, dirty or otherwise, ever since,” wrote Mr. Rollings.

         

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