CBC Montreal's 1st female TV anchor Kathy Keefler remembered for her 'brilliant mind', 'big heart'

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Kathy Keefler, a well-respected former news anchor for CBC Montreal, died early Friday morning at the age of 88. Keefler is described as a pioneer by former co-workers, becoming the first female television anchor at the station in the 1980s. (Submitted by Nicole Keefler - image credit)
Kathy Keefler, a well-respected former news anchor for CBC Montreal, died early Friday morning at the age of 88. Keefler is described as a pioneer by former co-workers, becoming the first female television anchor at the station in the 1980s. (Submitted by Nicole Keefler - image credit)

Kathy Keefler, a well-respected former television news anchor for CBC Montreal, died early Friday morning at the age of 88.

Keefler is described as a pioneer by former co-workers, becoming the first-ever female TV anchor at CBC Montreal in the 1980s. She worked at the corporation for 26 years between 1967 and 1993.

Starting her career in radio, Keefler moved into the world of TV broadcast on a show called Consumer Scope before securing a position on a three-person team hosting CBC Montreal's late-night newscast, then titled Newswatch. She gradually became the sole host of the show until 1987, when she was replaced by Dennis Trudeau.

"She was one of the trailblazers for feminism in journalism," said former co-worker Carol Berringer, who worked with Keefler for decades on the late-night newscast.

"She was a very kind person, a very inspirational person, but she wouldn't be pushed around," she said of Keefler's professionalism and determination in her profession, which was predominantly male-dominated at the start of her career.

CBC News Archives
CBC News Archives

The talented retired journalist died Friday from complications of a stroke, according to her daughter, Nicole Keefler, who describes her mother as a pillar in her community.

"She was just an extraordinary woman, she had a brilliant mind and she had a big heart," said Nicole, adding Keefler was "very, very community-oriented."

A regular trip to the grocery store could take up to three hours between Montrealers stopping to meet Keefler, who would always give them the time of day, her daughter recalled.

"She really was the face of Montreal, I think she just really connected with people," she said.

'She just got things moving'

One of those long-lasting connections came in the form of a friendship with retired CBC broadcaster Dave Bronstetter, who hosted CBC Montreal's morning radio show Daybreak from 1995 to 2006.

"She was a person who just got up and got things going," Bronstetter said, recalling his time on the three-person anchoring team with Keefler.

"She didn't do a lot of 'oh gosh, I shouldn't try this' or 'oh gosh, I shouldn't try that' — she just got things moving," he said.

CBC News Archives
CBC News Archives

While Keefler's ability as a broadcaster couldn't be discounted, it was her sense of humour and supportive nature that made her such a pleasure to work with, Bronstetter said.

"If Kathy was laughing in a room, the entire room was laughing," he said. "We can all talk about the great broadcasting — she was a wonderfully tremendous pro — but Kathy also loved to have a really fun time. I loved her, I really did. She was special."

But as a woman starting out as a broadcaster in the 60s, Bronstetter said Keefler faced hardship unbeknown to most at the time.

"There was pushback, it wasn't really pretty," he said. Still, Keefler rose above it all, taking both young men and women under her wing, including "this callow young broadcaster," Bronstetter said.

'A golden gift of a broadcaster'

Bronstetter explained Keefler also channeled the industry's pushback into her own interviews, unyielding within her views to get the answers she thought listeners and viewers wanted.

"And that is a gift, a golden gift of a broadcaster," he said. "You got to be good at it to do it. And yes, experience certainly helps, but she had experience in life and intelligence that gave her the aptitude to get that answer."

Nicole says her mother's success, measured by skilled interviews like one with the late premier of Quebec René Lévesque, is all the more impressive knowing she propelled to the heights she did using just a high school diploma and a pure love of knowledge.

"She never went to university, I always found it so impressive — she just loved history, she was so passionate. She had the kind of brain that retained information, that retained facts. You would've thought she had a PhD."

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Keefler moved to Montreal at around age 20 after a brief stint at the New York Times. Here, she started her family and became a mother to three daughters.

"She absolutely insisted that we go to complete French schools, she wanted us to be fluently bilingual," Nicole said, adding her mother put in gruelling hours to shake her Brooklyn accent and learn French herself.

"I really appreciated that about her," Nicole said, although Bronstetter recalls Keefler could still do "a fantastic Brooklyn accent" on command, any day of the week.

Keefler leaves behind two daughters, six grand-children and six step-children.

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