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Link Up congratulates David Onley on his appointment as the next Lieutenant Governor of Ontario

Link Up Employment Services for Persons with Disabilities joins the rest of Ontarians in congratulating David Onley on his appointment as the next Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

As well as being an accomplished author and broadcaster, David is a longtime supporter of disability causes and a booster for many community agencies that assist people with disabilities, including Link Up.

Congratulations David! This is exciting news for all of us.

David was the guest speaker at Link Up’s workshop series launch in October, 2004. At that time, Link Up contributor Bruce Etheridge wrote an article about David which we are pleased to reprise here.

David Onley: A Success Story

By Bruce Etheridge

David Onley, accomplished author and broadcaster and next Lieutenant Governor of Ontario

Most people would be surprised to learn that Citytv’s David Onley, host and co-producer of HomePage, and a CablePulse24 news anchor, space/technology expert, weather specialist, and best selling author did not have a full-time job until the age of 34.

Onley has more than made up for his “"slow start”, however. After carving out a niche for himself as one of Canada’s leading experts on NASA’s Shuttle and space programs, Onley was hired by Citytv co-founder, Moses Znaimer, as Science and Weather Specialist in 1984.

That same year Toronto Life magazine named Onley one of the “Torontonians Most Likely to Succeed” following his accomplishments as a media broadcaster, science specialist, and bestselling author with the release of Shuttle: A Shattering Novel of Disaster.

Over the past two decades, Onley has shown just how prophetic the editors were at Toronto Life. He was the first Canadian broadcaster to receive a National Weather Association Certificate. He was given the “Courage to Come Back” Award in 1996 from the Clarke Institute for his battle with polio and post polio symptoms. Onley was also inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame in 1997 for his ongoing contribution to advance the causes of persons with physical disabilities.

The road to success has not been an easy one for the Scarborough, Ontario, native.

“Getting a university degree was a seven year process for me – from age 20 to 27,” Onley says. (He also took a one-year hiatus during that seven-year period.)

Onley completed first year law at Windsor University before transferring to the University of Toronto where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Honours, and a Specialist Certificate in Politics in 1975. Upon graduating, however, Onley found himself with an education but no job.

“I decided to write a book at the age of 27 because, number one, I had an idea, and number two, because I could not find a job.”

The timing for his novel appeared ideal. The Shuttle program had rekindled public interest in space exploration (not since the Apollo missions to the moon had anything grabbed media headlines as the Shuttle program.) The first mission was scheduled for 1979 – it was now 1977 – so Onley had two years to complete his novel.

But two things happened. First, the Shuttle program was delayed two years (the first Shuttle launch did not take place until 1981) and, second, it took Onley much longer to write his book than anticipated.

“My parents were extremely supportive,” he says. “They allowed me to continue to live under their roof while I wrote my book, which took almost three years to complete.”

There were many “dark moments” and “depressing times” during the writing of his novel, Onley concedes. “I’d see my friends not only getting jobs but buying cars and homes and building careers.”

When Shuttle: A Shattering Novel of Disaster was released in 1982, Toronto Star columnist Joey Slinger dubbed Onley “Arthur Hailey Number 2” (Hailey’s book Airport spawned an entire genre of disaster movies.) Shuttle became a bestseller and Onley began appearing on Canada AM and radio stations promoting his book.

“While researching the book I absorbed a tremendous amount of knowledge about space and the space program,” he says. Onley used this knowledge not only to promote his novel but also to build a reputation as one of this country’s premier experts on NASA’s Shuttle and space programs. The book provided the opportunity Onley had been waiting for.

“My dream job was always to get into media broadcasting but there was no one in the Canadian or U.S. media with a disability. I had no role model, so I totally dismissed it. When Shuttle came out, I started promoting the book and promoting myself as a space program expert,” he says.

In addition to guest spots on television, Onley began hosting a weekly science and technology show on the radio station, CFRB. “At the time I was earning $50 a week and my only other source of income was freelance work,” he says.

His strategy finally paid off. Onley was offered a full-time position with CKO – an all news radio network – in 1982. At the age of 34, it was his first full-time job.

“At the time I was making $20,000 a year, keeping a wife and baby and I only got that job through a Federal Government program which subsidized 50 per cent of my salary, so CKO’s risk was only $10,000,” Onley recalls.

Two years later, Citytv approached him.

“Moses Znaimer had seen me covering various events related to the space program and offered me a position as weather specialist,” Onley says. “At the time I remember saying to my mother, ‘I don't know if I should take this job (at Citytv). I don’t know if they’re hiring me because I’m disabled.’ My mother said, ‘You’ve been turned down enough times because of your disability, so take it!’ I thought to myself, ‘Damn it, she’s right’ and that’s how my career at Citytv began.”

Onley celebrates his 20th anniversary at Citytv this November.

“I’m very conscious of the fact that, because of Moses’ progressive attitude 20 years ago – his attitude was really cutting edge back then for an organization – I was presented with a wonderful opportunity. He hired people not because they were black or because they were women but because they had talent. I wasn’t hired as the token disabled guy but because I’m talented.”

According to Onley, CHUM Limited, the parent company of Citytv, has continued that “progressive” attitude. He recently approached management regarding post polio fatigue-related issues.

“I’ve had to go to management and tell them that there’s been a change in my condition. I’m still healthy and can still do the job but I have to discuss new accommodations. Their response was, ‘What can we do for you? What do you need?’ They’ve been very supportive. This is a unique work environment,” Onley says.

He’s had a varied career at Citytv. Onley was the station’s Weather Specialist from ’84 to 1989. Then, an opportunity arose to become involved in a “brand new show” (at the time) called “Breakfast Television”. Onley was the show’s first news anchor and remained so for five years before becoming Citytv’s Education Specialist from 1994-1999.

Throughout his career at Citytv, Onley has reported on science, technology, and space-related stories. (He covered the Challenger Shuttle disaster in 1986, for example, and most recently interviewed Canadian astronaut, Colonel Chris Hadfield, to mark the 35th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic 1969 moon walk.)

Link Up celebrates Simply People with David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario - July 17, 2007

Link Up celebrates Simply People with David Onley, Lieutenant Governor
of Ontario (July 17, 2007)
Left to right: Ali Mohamed, David Onley, Rukia Jama, Nicole Jacksic, Mary Daniel

In 1999, Onley moved to Citytv’s speciality channel CityPulse24. Currently, his days are spent anchoring the news and hosting HomePage, a live program that airs every Wednesday between 5 and 6 p.m. HomePage (which Onley also co-produces) offers viewers a look at the latest cutting edge technologies on the market today and glimpses of what’s to come in the digital world.

In his off hours, Onley is an avid hockey dad visiting the rink often four nights a week to watch two of his three sons (ages 20, 17, and 14) play Canada’s favourite sport. He and wife, Ruth Ann, a professional singer, have been married for 22 years and are active members of the Bayfair Baptist Church. Onley also remains involved in the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons, the Ontario March of Dimes, and The Muki Baum Association.

With his news anchor duties and HomePage, Onley seems to have found his niche – and a home at Citytv.

“I’m intensely grateful to Citytv and Mose Znaimer. Citytv hired me with the full knowledge of my disability an Moses hired me because I had talent. As for the future, well, I’m enjoying what I’m doing now and, with CablePulse24 becoming a real success story, I plan on sticking with it.”

Photo credits:
David Onley picture courtesy of Citytv
Simply People picture courtesy of Link Up

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