George Manning (right), seen here in the pressroom of one of the publications he oversaw, was a legendary figure and mentor in the local community newspaper industry. He passed away last week at age 81. (Facebook/Gail Manning)

George Manning (right), seen here in the pressroom of one of the publications he oversaw, was a legendary figure and mentor in the local community newspaper industry. He passed away last week at age 81. (Facebook/Gail Manning)

Newspaper executive left large mark on Vancouver Island journalism

George Manning dies at 81, was key figure in the growth of Black Press on Vancouver Island

A pioneer in Vancouver Island newspapers is being remembered as a man with a larger-than-life personality, and a passion for both good journalism and the business side of the industry.

George Manning, who co-founded the Goldstream and Lake Cowichan Gazettes, died suddenly last week at 81. Family members posted on social media that he had been living with increasing pain for a long time and his health was becoming more complicated.

Veteran newspaper man George Manning died last week at 81. (Photo by Sharon Tiffin)

With industry roots dating back to the 1960s when he was publications director for the University of Victoria student newspaper The Martlet, Manning’s career saw him come up as a principled journalist and later embrace the business side.

He served as editor of the Sidney Review beginning in the late 1960s, started up the Goldstream Gazette with two friends in 1976, and later served in an upper management role in the Vancouver Island expansion of what would ultimately become Black Press Media. He later opened up another new paper, the Lake Cowichan Gazette, in that resource-based community in 1995.

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Over the years he mentored many young journalists, including Jim Zeeben, his first editor in Lake Cowichan. Zeeben remembers Manning as someone who expected much from his staff, but also had a compassionate side.

“He supported us even as we were making mistakes and growing and learning,” said Zeeben, now communications director for the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

“The compassion he had for people and his ability to see a much bigger picture is something I still strive to do with people I work with, especially if I get a chance to mentor someone.”

Keith Norbury, editor of the Goldstream Gazette from 1991 to 2004, was steered by Manning toward his first job with Black Press at the Cowichan News Leader in Duncan in 1986. He remembers Manning as a big bear of a man that you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of, but who could also turn into a teddy bear.

Norbury was shop steward in Duncan when Manning was negotiating for Island Publishers.

“He drove a hard bargain,” Norbury said. “But I also thought that he really cared about the newspapers, and the business and journalism. He had a mind for the bottom line but he always treated people fairly.”

On the occasion of the Gazette’s 20th anniversary in 1996, Norbury chatted with the founders for a story on the paper’s beginnings.

In 1975, Manning, Verne Percival and Mike Crossman, who knew each other from various previous jobs in the industry locally, were trying to buy the Juan de Fuca News, which served the Western Communities. When that deal fell through, Manning and Percival decided they would start their own paper, but didn’t have the capital to secure the requisite loan. Crossman, who had sailed a boat from England through the Panama Canal, to Hawaii and up to Victoria, said he’d put the sailboat up for collateral.

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They got the loan, Norbury wrote, held interviews and business startup meetings in the old Westwind Hotel in Langford and the first edition of the new Goldstream Gazette rolled off the presses on March 17, 1976.

Manning played important roles in the development of that publication and later in Island Publishers, the Vancouver Island division of what would ultimately become Black Press Media. Manning and company purchased their own press from David Black’s Williams Lake operation in 1981 – a deal that made Black a minority shareholder in the Gazette – and in 1984 the Gazette became a cornerstone of the News Group, the Greater Victoria division of Island Publishers.

As the Island group was getting off the ground in the mid-80s, Manning was made its general manager and oversaw the acquisition of a dozen other publications on the Island.

But Manning was far more than just his career. He was a free spirit who loved his family, motorcycles, his communities and driving fast – he raced stock cars in Alberta as a young man. And he was a fierce defender of the rights of citizens who might be marginalized or taken advantage of.

Son James Manning wrote on Facebook how he treasured trips he took with his dad, whether cross-country on the back of a powerful motorbike or across town to watch a rugby game together.

“When I was in trouble as a child, I was always a little bit scared of him, but I loved him fiercely, idolized him and wanted to grow up to be just like him,” said James, who served as News Group publisher for a time in the 2000s and now lives in Ontario.

Zeeben said Manning, through his mentorship of journalists and managers, had a broad impact on the local newspaper industry.

“I think in the city there’s a lot of current and former newspaper people who are kind of reflecting on the loss, because George was somebody who was the best of what that industry was. It was tough, honest, it challenged power and held power accountable.”

Manning is survived by his wife Charlene, daughters Mary and Gail Manning, son James and his fiancee Cindy Ross, sisters Catherine (Miles), Jane (Don, predeceased), and brothers Don (Kath) and Peter (Becky).

No information was immediately available on a service.


 

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