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David Onley, 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario passes at age 72

David Onley in an audience with Queen Elizabeth in 2008

Former Lieutenant Governor David Onley has died at age 72. He was Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor serving from 2007 to 2014. Prior to that he was a familiar face to TV audiences in the GTAH as first a weather reporter on CITYPulse news and later as a science and technology reporter. When the all-news channel CP-24 was launched Onley became an anchor there.

Onley was stricken with polio as a child and required the use of canes and a mobility device. When he took on the Lieutenant Governor’s role he focused on advocacy for persons with disabilities.

Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the current Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, has released the following statement on the death of Mr. Onley.

It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of the Honourable David C. Onley. On behalf of the people of Ontario, I convey my deep condolences to his wife Ruth Ann, to their children Jonathan, Robert, and Michael, and to their extended families.

Mr. Onley served our province with distinction as the 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He was a valued friend and colleague, and I was always grateful to receive his counsel, particularly in the summer of 2014 following my appointment as Lieutenant Governor.

His smiling face and exceptional skills as a communicator were already familiar to the many Ontarians who had followed his career in television journalism, which included a focus on science and technology reporting. Early in his media career, camera shots often focused only on his upper body, but Mr. Onley insisted that he be shown in his mobility device. Not content to simply lead by example, he was an active advocate on disability issues, particularly in the area of making the economic case for improved access to employment for people with disabilities.

Before his time as Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Onley served as the chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and as a member of the accessibility councils for the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre. Upon taking office as The Queen’s representative on September 5, 2007, he brought with him a conviction that every person should be able to contribute to the heights of his or her own ability. As Ontario’s first Lieutenant Governor with a physical disability, he adopted accessibility as the overarching theme of his mandate, just as he had made breaking down barriers a mission earlier on in his life.

While in office, his commitment to accessibility fostered an acute awareness that access to opportunity for all is a powerful force for transforming individual lives, and society as a whole. It is in this spirit that Mr. Onley expanded existing literacy and education programs for Indigenous peoples in Ontario while emphasizing the importance of reconciliation and the value of bringing people together in dialogue. Later in life, he shared his experiences with others while acting as a special advisor on accessibility within the provincial government and as a senior lecturer at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

Whenever Mr. Onley entered a room, those present saw beyond physical limitations. They saw a person they liked and admired. So when his trusted voice defined accessibility as that “which enables people to achieve their full potential” by allowing them to participate meaningfully in social, cultural, and economic life, Ontarians not only heard the words. They saw the essential truth in the embodiment of the person who said them.

Mr. Onley believed so deeply in the goodwill and firm practicality of Ontarians that he saw no reason why we could not lead the world in transforming society so that everyone is able to contribute something of value. And there is no doubt that his legacy has positively impacted the lives of people across Ontario.

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