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Ian Munro, news agency vet, dies at 98; went from Morse code to computers

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TORONTO - Ian Munro, whose half-century career at The Canadian Press news agency took him from Morse telegraphy to the beginnings of the computerized newsroom, has died at the age of 98.

He died Saturday of heart problems in Sunnybrook Hospital.

Munro spent 50 years with the news service, starting as a copy boy and retiring as the head of its technical operations on his 65th birthday.

He was born in Toronto in 1913. His Scottish immigrant father enlisted in the Canadian army during the First World War and was killed at Passchendaele.

The family returned to Scotland briefly, then came back to Canada, where Ian quit school at 15 to join The Canadian Press.

At the time, the staccato rattle of Morse code dominated the newsroom. By the time he left, he had helped usher in the computer age.

Munro worked his way up through the communications side of the business. He was there for the introduction of teletype machines, teletypesetting systems and the early wirephoto machines that transmitted news photographs.

Within 10 years of joining the company he was a communications mechanic and by 1938 he was overseeing night operations. He spent most of his career in Toronto, with brief stints in London, Ont., Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal.

In 1967, he was named general traffic chief, supervising the communications services that brought news, photos and audio material to newspapers and radio and TV stations across the country.

Keith Kincaid, a retired CP president who worked closely with Munro on the computerization effort, called him "one of a kind."

"CP was the first news organization in Canada to take baby steps into the world of computerized editing," Kincaid said, and Munro was a key player.

Munro learned his trade on the job, reading voraciously.

"Everything he knew about the new technology was self-taught, and he knew a lot," Kincaid said.

"He always kept his composure in stressful times, continuing to smile even when things didn't always go well in the early days of newsroom computing and frustrated editors were noisily grumpy."

Munro made many friends during his long career. Among them was Scott Young, the Toronto journalist, novelist and sportswriter.

In his 1984 book Neil and Me, about his relationship with his son, rocker Neil Young, the writer claimed Neil was conceived on the living room floor in Ian's mother's house during a visit.

Munro's son, Scott, who was named after the author, said that was a family story retold with glee over the years.

Scott also said his father was deeply involved in setting up news communications systems for the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

"This was an interesting assignment, as his French was so limited as to be non-existent. The Montreal bureau had to create bilingual washrooms, when it became evident that Ian did not recognize 'hommes' and 'femmes.'

"Afterward, the bureau presented him with the special signs."

Munro worked as a telecommunications consultant for some years after his retirement.

"After that, he pretty much devoted his life to caring for my mother, Lola who suffered from Alzheimer's disease for many years, and to enjoying his family, of whom he was immensely proud. Mom and dad were married for 62 years," Scott said.

Lola died in 2002 and Munro is survived by Scott, his older sister Janice, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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