Leonard “Lee” Canning was an old-school journalist who enjoyed the daily deadline drama that came as city editor when presiding over the newsroom at the Minneapolis Star, the afternoon newspaper that would merge with the morning Tribune in 1982.
Five minutes before deadline on many mornings, he’d walk down the aisle in the Star’s newsroom, yelling at reporters, “Any late ones?” a reference to late-breaking news stories that needed to be finished to get in the paper, recalls Jim Klobuchar, a retired columnist at the Star.
“Someone would always yell from a far corner of the newsroom, ‘Go to hell!’ ” Klobuchar said with a chuckle.
Canning, who rose to become managing editor, executive editor and senior vice president of the Star and Tribune Co. and later the publisher of Minnesota Suburban Newspapers, died of natural causes Aug. 7 in Naples, Fla., four years after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He was 87.
“He was always stressing to the reporters to make it simple, make it clear to the common man and have correct English,” said his widow, Marge. They were married 64 years.
Born in Chestnut Hill, Pa., Canning graduated from Marquette High School in Milwaukee and St. Mary’s University in Winona where he met Marge, who was attending nearby College of St. Theresa. He studied journalism at the University of Iowa and served in the Air Force from 1954 to 1958.
He began his journalism career as a sports reporter at the Suburban Newspapers. He was hired as a copy editor at the Star in 1958 and was later promoted to city editor.
Although the two newspapers were owned by the same family, the newsroom staffs were in daily competition. “He was aggressive, but he was a good manager,” said Jim Shoop, a former reporter and assistant city editor at the Star. “He was always pressuring us to beat the Tribune.”
Canning “was the city room Genghis Khan,” Klobuchar wrote affectionately in 1981. “Some editors ruled by charisma and others by logic. Canning ruled by vocal cords.”
Judith Willis was 21 when she went to work as a Star reporter in 1962. She said when people declined to talk to her on the phone, she didn’t press them. He told her, “You’re a good person but I don’t think you’re going to make it. You are too shy. I am going to move your desk next to mine and I’m going to give you all these calls and listen while you make them.” Willis said, “After six months, he thought I was doing great. He certainly toughened me up.”
Barbara Flanagan, a retired Star columnist, did a stint as women’s editor and watched Canning in action. “He was hilarious,” she said. “He would climb up on the desk and tell us what we were going to do. He would be shouting so we could all hear him.”
David Nimmer, former Star managing editor, said he was very young when the Star hired him, but Canning took him seriously.
“He allowed us to do some really gritty consumer reporting, and reporting about the power structures in Minneapolis and St. Paul … He was a thoughtful, substantive guy. Most of all, he cared about the news. He loved the feel of it. He loved the whole process and you’d have to be damn near dead not to pick up on his energy.”
Marge Canning was a vice president of Park Nicollet Medical Center, and it rubbed off on her husband. He became president of Medica’s board, she said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Mike of Carmel, Calif., and Mark of Seoul, South Korea; and six daughters, Helen Canning of Hopkins, Patricia Crane of St. Louis Park, Colleen Canning of Woodbury, Susan Kenniston of Portland, Ore., Margaret Russell of Burlington, Vt., and Maureen Clipperton of Rogers.
A memorial mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at St. William Catholic Church, 601 Seagate Dr., Naples, Fla. A second mass will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 1 at St. Patrick Church, 6820 St. Patricks Lane, Edina.