Former television journalist, author and 28th lieutenant governor of Ontario David Onley passed away Saturday. He was 72.
The first person with a disability to hold the post, Onley suffered partial paralysis after a bout with polio as a child and preferred to get around via electric scooter. His appointment as lieutenant governor, from 2007 to 2014, followed a radio and television broadcasting career as one of the first on-air television personalities with a visible disability.
Born in Midland, ON and raised in Scarborough, Onley didn’t gain full-time employment until age 34. Unable to find work after graduating from the University of Toronto, Onley established himself as a Canadian authority on NASA’s space programs after publishing Shuttle: A Shattering Novel of Disaster in Space in 1982.
“My dream job was always to get into media broadcasting but there was no one in the Canadian or U.S. media with a disability,” Onley told LinkUp Employment Services in a 2007 interview. “I had no role model, so I totally dismissed it. When Shuttle came out, I started promoting the book and promoting myself as a space program expert.”
That led to a broadcast career that began at CFRB Toronto where he hosted a weekly science show. He went on to join the CKO network full-time in 1983. Citytv co-founder Moses Znaimer took notice and hired Onley a year later as the station’s weather specialist. He went on to serve as the first news anchor for the station’s new morning show, Breakfast Television, from 1989-95, followed by a stint as an education specialist. With the launch of CP24, he continued anchoring in addition to hosting and producing technology series Home Page.
Onley was appointed the inaugural Chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council of the Government of Ontario in 2005. Following his tenure as lieutenant governor, he began lecturing at his alma mater, the University of Toronto Scarborough in the Department of Political Science. In 2020, he took up a one-year term as Special Advisor to the VP Dean on Disability Studies (DS).
Onley received numerous honours in recognition of his advancement of disability advocacy, including induction into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame, the Scarborough Walk of Fame, the Order of Ontario, and the Order of Canada. He was named Vice-Prior of the Order of St. John in 2007, a British royal order of chivalry.
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