In his last email to me just two weeks before he died, Joe King signed off as “the ageless one.”
King, a well known Jewish journalist, author, communications guru, fundraiser and former member of the Canadian Royal Air Force, passed away suddenly on October 26 at the age of 90. He was a tireless worker until his last breath, each day refusing to accept the word “retirement” and undertaking one different project after another. I must say, even at 90 Joe left us way too soon.
A native of Toronto, King’s professional career took him to the four corners of the world, but particularly to the Middle East (19 visits in war and peace). His major publications included a trilogy on Montreal Jewish history (From the Ghetto to the Main, Baron Byng to Bagels and Fabled City), The Jewish Contribution to the Modern World and The Case for Israel as a handbook and DVD.
King may have been best known for the decades he spent as the communications director for the local Jewish Federation of Community Service. Then known as Allied Jewish Community Services, King reportedly retired in 1988. He subsequently resurfaced as a communications advisor for several organizations and then assumed the role of executive director of the Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University. He remained at that post until about 15 years ago, moving on to dedicate himself to writing books and giving lectures. King was a familiar site around town, walking the streets with his small brief case. His press releases went out fast and furiously, usually written at 4 a.m.
The Jewish Public Library’s archivist-emeritus, Eiran Harris, once wrote that “every Jewish community should have a Joe King book written about it.”
Dubbed the “Historian of Jewish Montreal,” King poured 40 years of research into his book book From the Ghetto to the Main. In 30 chapters, his research has turned up sensational findings on the Canadians who schemed to prevent Jews from escaping Hitler’s Europe while assisting war criminals to enter Canada. In one instance, he found that, when the French government sent a warship to bring a convicted (in absentia) killer of Jewish children back to justice, he was tipped off by a Canadian prime minister and fled.
King’s career began with The Canadian Press News Agency and then their broadcasting division, Press News, with a time-out to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. He was a pioneer in television public affairs broadcasting and, at CJCHTV, Halifax, originated with the support of Senator Findley MacDonald, the hour long television news and public affairs telecast. He was one of the first public affairs broadcasters on Canadian television, a co-founder of the CTV station in Halifax (CJCH-TV), and came to Montreal in 1960 to work at CFCF Radio and Television, in part because of the city's much larger Jewish community. King met and interviewed some of the most important individuals in history, Canadian, Israeli and world. He researched, wrote and hosted a television documentary, Cosmonaut and Capitalist, with the world's first spaceman Yuri Gagarin and Cyrus Eaton, who sought to build bridges between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Only last May King launched a trio of handbooks, a “mini-reference library” in the fight against anti-Semitism and the campaign to destroy Israel. Federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney attended as a guest speaker.
“Joe was a remarkable man of prodigious talent,” commented Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation’s Rabbi Reuben Poupko. “His breadth of knowledge and experience was breathtaking. The Montreal community has suffered an immeasurable loss, and the Jewish People a brave defender.”
Federal Citizenship Judge Barbara Seal, who worked with King at the Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University, said, “Joe was a source of great knowledge. He loved nothing more than imparting this knowledge to others. His kindness and generosity was evident in the pride he took in the achievements of others and celebrating their successes.”
Former Quebec Justice Minister Herbert Marx and his wife Eva were close to King. “We remember Joe for his dedication, hard work and imagination, all laced with his delightful sense of humour and fun,” said Herbert Marx. “ We got to know him when he was executive director of Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University. As such, he led groups to Israel and we were fortunate to be part of his missions. He always did much research and planned our trips meticulously. We remember many special visits, but one stands out. We went to Jordan and viewed the promised land from Mount Nebo, where our forefather Moses stood to view the land of milk and honey, a land he was forbidden to enter. It was a landscape and a sight we all remember. As well, every morning when we boarded our sight-seeing bus, Joe read to us excerpts from the Montreal Gazette, keeping us up to date on home news from the previous day. He also always carried a carefully wrapped gift for one or another of our Israeli hosts. Joe was thoughtful, caring, well-informed; these were gifts that did not need wrapping. His many books and articles will live on after his sad passing, but Joe as a person was a treasure in our community and he will be sadly missed.”