1937 – 1992
For some two decades, journalist Barbara Frum was one of the best known people in Canada. Born in Niagara Falls, New York, Frum was the oldest child of Harold Rosberg (b. Kielce, Russian Poland, 1905–d. Niagara Falls, Ontario, 1969) and Florence Hirschowitz Rosberg (b. New York City, 1913). Frum’s father, who was brought to Canada as a child by his parents in 1913, was the proprietor of Rosberg’s Department Store in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Her mother came to Canada in 1935 and married Rosberg in that year. She worked as a buyer for the Ladies Department of Rosberg’s from 1935 until 1960 and then for the next fifteen years as a teacher at LaSalle High School in Niagara Falls, New York. Barbara’s siblings are Susan (b. 1942), a real estate agent and business person, and Gerald (b. 1946), a lawyer.
A 1959 graduate of the University of Toronto (B.A., history), Frum met her future husband, Murray (b. Toronto, 1931), while they were students, and they married in 1957. Murray Frum is a dentist who became a successful real estate developer and patron of the arts. After marriage the couple settled into the middle-class life style of the day. Like many wives of up-and-coming suburbanites, Frum undertook volunteer work in the community. Her involvement with inner-city children led to increasing awareness of the shortcomings of charitable agencies. She decided to try her hand at journalism as a way of effecting change and became a freelancer for the Toronto Star specializing in social-issues stories.
In 1971 she switched to radio, as co-host of a quirky current affairs program, “As It Happens,” which in 2004 was still being aired nationally every weekday evening on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and in the United States on PBS. In 1981, Frum moved to CBC TV and the next year became the founding co-host of the network’s new flagship program, “The Journal.” In her ten years on “The Journal,” a nightly news and current affairs program, Frum interviewed over 2600 people ranging from Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney to Beatle Paul McCartney and Sandra Good, a follower of California cult figure and murderer Charles Manson. She came to be regarded as “the most respected and best-known interviewer” in Canada, a “tough” interlocutor who easily “sniffed out lies.” As a Canadian media personality, Frum achieved near iconic status. In addition to honorary degrees from Laurentian University in Ontario (1981) and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia (1989), she received the National Press Club of Canada Award for Outstanding Journalism (1975), the Canadian Press Woman of the Year award in the literature, arts, and education section (1976), and the Order of Canada (1979).
In 1974 Frum was diagnosed with leukemia, but her condition remained a private concern and she continued to work at full speed until a month before her death on March 26, 1992. Frum’s children are David (b. 1960), Linda (b. 1963) and Matthew (b. 1967). Two of them are well known for their neo-conservative views although their mother, always circumspect regarding her politics, was presumed to be a liberal. David is a pundit and a former speechwriter and adviser to President George W. Bush; Linda is a community volunteer worker who has served on the Ontario Arts Council and a journalist with strongly expressed political opinions. Both are supporters of Israel as an outpost of democracy and an ally in the war on terror. While Frum herself did not take a role in Jewish affairs, her daughter serves on the board of directors of the Canada-Israel Committee and is active in UJA/Federation of Toronto and other community endeavors.
Unlike that of many media personalities, Frum’s reputation has not diminished over time. Linda Frum published A Daughter’s Memoir in 1996, and a television biography, “The Life and Times of Barbara Frum,” was broadcast on CBC television in 2002. At the headquarters building of the CBC in Toronto, the Barbara Frum Atrium is the central public space. A branch of the Toronto Public Library located in a largely Jewish neighborhood bears her name, as does an annual public-affairs lecture at the University of Toronto. In recognition of Frum’s enthusiasm for gardening, a day lily has been named the Barbara Frum Day Lily.