DIDSBURY – Renowned journalist and author Frank Dabbs is being remembered as a man dedicated to informing the public and building community relationships over five decades of service. He died overnight on April 25 or in the early morning of April 26 in Didsbury at the age of 72.
In a career that started in the mid-1970s, Dabbs wrote for many publications, including The Albertan, Mountain View Gazette, Sundre Round Up, Olds Albertan, Innisfail Province, Carstairs Courier, Didsbury Review, Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Calgary Albertan, Alberta Venture, Calgary Magazine, Oilweek, Owen Sound Sun Times, Meaford Independent, Sun Media/QMI, and the United Church Observer.
As well as newspapers and magazines, Dabbs also worked as a radio reporter, TV program host, was the author of four books, and the editor of other publications.
Two of his books -- Ralph Klein: A Maverick Life, published in 1995, and Preston Manning: Roots of Reform, published in 1997 -- are considered to be among the definitive biographies of those renowned politicians.
Dabbs also contributed to Manning’s book Think Big.
In an Albertan interview, Manning said he had “a lot of respect” for Dabbs and his long career.
“I knew him quite well,” Manning said. “He had a long career writing on Western Canadian history. He made quite a contribution. It’s sad that Frank is gone, but you can say that his words and insights will live on through his writings.”
Murray Elliott is the publisher of The Albertan and group publisher of other Great West newspapers.
“Frank was certainly a well respected journalist,” said Elliott. “He was well read, worked tirelessly and always did all the necessary research for his stories and columns.”
Alice Murray worked with Dabbs on Sundre Petroleum Operators’ Group (SPOG) projects for many years. She called him a ‘pioneer in the field’ of community-industry relations and engagement.
“Our community and communities all across Alberta who never even met him owe him a debt of gratitude for his work with creating the model for new development consultation for high controversial projects,” said Murray, formerly with Shell Caroline. “SPOG would never have achieved the amazing leaps forward in collaboration without him.
“His methods were copied and emulated by synergy groups across the province. They just didn't create projects that were more palatable to communities, they created projects that were better, economically and environmentally.”
Journalist Patricia Merrick worked with Dabbs during her time as a Mountain View Publishing editor and reporter. She called him a valued mentor.
“Once he got to know me he always talked so highly of me to sources. He was such a great guy,” said Merrick.
Town of Didsbury Mayor Rhonda Hunter called him a valuable community member.
“We were all sorry to hear about his passing,” said Hunter.
Didsbury town councillor Dorothy Moore knew Dabbs for many years.
“He was a real asset to the community,” she said. “Generally he was a friend to everybody. Everybody I’ve talked to counted him as a friend.”
Kathleen Windsor, owner of Windsor Graphics in Didsbury, called Dabbs “a great writer and a great community builder.”
Kerry Diotte was a fellow reporter with Dabbs at Alberta Report magazine in 1984.
“He was very passionate about making sure that his stories were edited properly and had enough length and all of that,” said Diotte. “I remember he would get into quite animated arguments with the editors. There would be heated words and it would usually end with him slamming the phone down and then he would immediately reach into his desk drawer and put on a blood pressure machine. He would pump it up and look at his blood pressure and grab for his pill bottles. That’s how excited he would get.”
Dabbs was highly respected for his work at the magazine, he said.
I also knew and worked with Frank for many years. I remember him as a good friend, mentor and dedicated journalist who had a love for his craft and for his community and county.
Dabbs also worked in corporate communications, including with the Liberal Party of Canada, TransCanada Pipelines, and National Public Relations.
In 2012 Dabbs created Words and Ideas Creative Ltd., producing radio and television scripts on petroleum and Western Canadian history. He was also the poetic author of The Blackened Page.
In 2013 Frank wrote the obituary for his wife Florence Murphy-Dabbs in the Globe and Mail. In the piece he said, in part, that “If love was the cure for cancer, Florence Murphy-Dabbs would be in her English-style country garden in the rural Ontario village of Annan, amid the hummingbirds, honey bees and flowers.”
A man of colourful and honest words, Frank Dabbs will be remembered and missed.