Salmon Arm Friend and Foundation Director

For more than three decades Gordon Priestman documented the events and people that shaped Salmon Arm while producing work of the highest journalistic quality. With his full beard and piercing eyes, he was instantly recognizable–the very image of the dignified newspaper editor.

Gord was a true friend of Salmon Arm. He observed and loved to chat with people then shared his experiences with the community and gave needed perspective. He called on residents to live with integrity and honour; challenged those in power; spoke for those without a voice; and above all treasured free speech and encouraged debate.

Being the consummate reporter, Gord wrote his own obituary:

Longtime Salmon Arm Observer editor Gordon Priestman died August 4, 2003 at his Gleneden home.  Born, August 4, 1936, and raised in Toronto and Muskoka, Ont., he was 67.  He is survived by Faye Fawcett, his wife and companion of 19 years, his three children and his beloved pets.

After completing his education, Gordon travelled in industrial sales for several years, freelance writing as a sideline. In 1964 he moved to British Columbia and, after a brief stay in Vancouver, accepted a post as reporter/editor for the Merritt Herald. A year-and-a-half later he became editor of the Powell River News in addition to two smaller papers.

The family moved to Salmon Arm April 1, 1967 when Gordon became editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, a position he was to hold for most of the next 33 years. During that period his column, “Observations,” was a popular feature and both the paper and Gordon were recipients of a number of newspaper industry awards.

A lifelong Social Democrat, he took a leave of absence to run for the NDP Party in the 1986 provincial election. He then returned to the Observer, retiring for health reasons in December 1998.

Gordon was always interested in the arts—writing, music and painting. He loved the outdoors, including camping, canoeing and observing nature. Until middle years he was active in a number of sports.  He was involved with numerous local organizations, was a member of the Salmar Community Association, was a life member of the Fall Fair Society and a director of the Shuswap Community Foundation.

The many letters to the editor in Gordon’s memory attest to his impact on our community—four excerpts:

His love of our small town continues to shine for me. I will miss his quick mind and his gentle gift of caring. (Lois Higgins)

The culture of a town is determined by the voices of its citizens. Salmon Arm is the richer for Gordon Priestman’s intellect and the personal sense of honour that distinguished his writing. (Jane Petch)

Truly a Renaissance man. A man of courage, of unique intelligence encompassing a passion for “the little things in life.” (E. Beacham-Reynolds) It was Gord who suggested our motto, “Promises for Tomorrow.” (Directors of the Shuswap Community Foundation)

The ‘Gordon Priestman Endowment Fund’ has been established and is open to further donations.  Proceeds from the fund will be disbursed at the discretion of Foundation Directors in support of community projects, thus ensuring Gord’s legacy in perpetuity.

Gordon Priestman – August 4, 1936 to August 4, 2003

Gordon Priestman was born and grew up in Ontario. After a brief stint as an editor in Merritt, he moved to the Shuswap in 1967 to take the position of editor of the Salmon Arm Observer–a position he held for 30 years.

Gordon was always deeply concerned with matters of social justice, and many of his editorials and columns reflected his constant preoccupation with wanting to build a better community, a better society.

He took time away from the editorial desk in 1986 to stand (unsuccessfully) as an NDP candidate for Shuswap in the Provincial election. When he died, Gordon was serving his second three-year term as a Director of the Shuswap Community Foundation. He was also a long-time member of the Salmon Arm Fall Fair Board. In 1976, Gordon suggested creating a “Friends of Okanagan College” trust, which led to the establishment of the extremely successful Salmon Arm College Scholarship Fund–the largest agency fund held by the Shuswap Foundation.