The CBC’s Brian Stewart signs off

CBC News senior correspondent Brian Stewart

CBC News senior correspondent Brian Stewart

Though he’ll be back on the air from time to time to help cover major events, today marks the last day on the job for CBC News senior correspondent Brian Stewart. After he anchors The National tonight in place of Peter Mansbridge, he’ll saunter off into semi-retirement.

Stewart is a journalist’s journalist and has had a remarkable career. Like so many others of his generation, the 1964 graduate of Ryerson‘s journalism program started in print. He was a reporter and columnist at the Montreal Gazette in the late 1960s, winning a National Newspaper Award in 1969 for feature writing. From there, it was on to a current-affairs show on CBC-TV’s Montreal affiliate, CBMT, and then to Ottawa as a political reporter in 1973. It was while Stewart was in the nation’s capital that he honed his skills and broadened his knowledge in foreign and military affairs — a specialty that would shape the rest of his career.

After a three-year stint as the CBC’s foreign correspondent in London, Stewart joined NBC News in 1985. However, he returned to the CBC two years later to become senior reporter with the CBC’s The Journal.

The rest, as they say, is history. Quite literally. What motivated Stewart in the decades that followed were the things that drive all great journalists: to satisfy one’s curiosity about the world and why things happen the way they do; to bear witness to the unfolding of history at home and abroad; to tell meaningful and important stories in compelling and interesting ways; to find out, firsthand, what will happen next in some of the greatest historical and human dramas of our time.

Like many others, I’ll remember Stewart best for his unparalleled coverage of the famine in Ethiopia in the early 1980s. He and fellow CBC journalist Tony Burman were the ones who, almost singlehandedly, alerted the world to the unfolding human crisis in that part of eastern Africa, prompting a massive aid response.

As a foreign correspondent, Stewart was on the front lines of other big international stories too. He reported extensively from Beirut on the Lebanese civil war; he filed gripping accounts of child slavery in Sudan. When the international coalition drove into Kuwait to wrest it from Saddam Hussein’s grip in the Gulf War of 1991, Stewart was the first Canadian reporter on the scene. He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and filed extensively from the war zones of El Salvador, Iraq and Afghanistan. In all that time amid the dangers of the field, Stewart’s greatest fear appears to have been that he’d somehow get the story wrong.

The CBC has, fittingly, built a special Web tribute page in his honour; several compelling interviews are there, including chats with Burman and Mansbridge. Also available there is the profile that aired last night as part of The National.

Though he’s already past the traditional retirement age of 65, Stewart’s departure from the CBC is part of the public broadcaster’s efforts to downsize through attrition and buyouts. He lives in Toronto with his wife, former broadcaster Tina Srebotnjak, who now works in the communications and marketing department of Toronto Public Library. They have a daughter, Katie.

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