Former OBJ editor Leo Valiquette dies after five-year cancer battle

Leo Valiquette

On Leo Valiquette’s first day of journalism school, he was asked to write my obituary. With a heavy dose of dry humour and a staggering attention to detail, he worked his way through my short life and came out with something already good enough to be published in a daily newspaper.

Leo was a gifted writer and an absolute stickler for procedure and etiquette when interviewing a source, even for a class assignment. I wondered if I should tuck away his work in case something happened to me.

Leo died on May 19 after a much-too-short life. Twenty-five years later, I find myself sitting here trying to apply the same level of detail to his all-too-real obituary. To help honour Leo’s legacy, his friends and family have worked with Algonquin College to set up a memorial bursary that will help aspiring journalists get through school.

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While Leo’s primary focus in life was his wife Natalie and son William, he interacted with literally thousands upon thousands of the Ottawa area’s most brilliant business minds while working as a staffer with the Ottawa Business Journal, a trusted adviser with inmedia Public Relations, and as one of the city’s go-to freelancers for all things business.

Leo’s first job out of college was at the OBJ, where he was hired as a web writer. It was the year 2000 and internet news wasn’t as pervasive as it is today ‒ just a few years earlier, OBJ had won an award for being one of the first publications in North America to publish a web edition.

We were figuring out how to do it well; sometimes we did better than others. Leo would crush out almost a dozen short stories as four of us crowded together into an office meant for one in a steamy Catherine Street building overlooking the Queensway.

“Shut off that infernal racket,” he would shout above the music (he especially loathed when we would blast Tom Waits’ more contemporary work). “I can’t hear myself think!”

OBJ publisher Michael Curran said Leo’s interests outside of work made him memorable – including his tireless and finally successful effort to get his fantasy novel Bane of All Things published in 2021 after a crowdsourcing campaign.

“He had all these interests – historical battles, science fiction, really diverse stuff,” Curran said. “In everyday conversation, he would have these quips; I think people called them Leo-isms. They cracked people up and really endeared Leo to his colleagues.”

Leo would go on to other jobs. He was the managing editor of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce’s magazine, The Voice, before landing with Francis Moran at inmedia. The boutique public relations and marketing firm was the perfect landing spot for the career journalist, albeit with some small adjustments.

“A few newsroom practices had to be softened a bit,” said Moran. “‘They’re clients, Leo, not sources,’ I told him one day after hearing his – let’s say assertive – interview with a client. However, his understanding of what journalists look for in a story fitted perfectly with our philosophy.”

Friends and family are invited to Blair and Son in Perth for visitation on Monday, May 27, from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. A service will be held on Tuesday, May 28, at 1:30 p.m. in the chapel. A reception will follow.

Leo Valiquette Memorial Bursary

Anyone wishing to donate to the bursary can click on this link. You can also send cheques addressed to Algonquin College, ATTN: Advancement and Strategy, 1385 Woodroffe Ave. (Room C211). Please ensure your cheque is made out to Algonquin College with Leo Valiquette memorial bursary in the subject line.

Steve Ladurantaye is the former managing editor of the Ottawa Business Journal. He’s now the senior vice-president of content for Zonda. He attended Algonquin College with Leo from 1997-1999.

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