BLIZZARD: Joan Sutton Straus, Sun's first lifestyle editor, dead at 89 | Toronto Sun

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Joan Sutton Straus, the Toronto Sun’s award-winning first lifestyle editor and a journalist who joined the paper the day it was born, has died. She was 89.

She was witty, flirty and a colourful icon of style at a time when Toronto was often a grey and staid city. She interviewed presidents and prime ministers. Her columns on love set the city gossiping.

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Sutton Straus’s pithy columns on sex and relationships earned her a reputation as a love columnist, but in fact she was an insightful interviewer, who brought her own unique flair to sit-downs with the good and the great.

She interviewed former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Ivana Trump and Egyptian first lady Jehan Sadat. She wrote about the Ronald Reagan campaign and interviewed his wife, Nancy, three times.

Born in Mimico, Sutton Straus worked her way into the world of journalism, starting at the now defunct Toronto Telegram.

Then Toronto Sun columnist Joan Sutton Straus interviews former prime minister John Diefenbaker in 1977.
Then Toronto Sun columnist Joan Sutton Straus interviews former prime minister John Diefenbaker in 1977. Toronto Sun Files

Her annual sexy men’s list was a must read. In a pre-politically correct world, a columnist for another newspaper had made up her list of sexy men, all of them movie stars.

Straus always said she thought that was a bit of a cop-out.

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“If you’re going to do something like that, let’s be more courageous and pick 10 of our own,” she said.

True to form, she picked 10 local men – including then-Premier Bill Davis. While it was slated to run in the Life section, founding publisher Doug Creighton saw the column in the composing room and bumped it up to Page 1.

“One wife sent me flowers and said ‘thanks, I’ve had the best night in years,’” Sutton Straus told me.

Joan Sutton Straus poses in a stylish chapeau, circa 1954.
Joan Sutton Straus poses in a stylish chapeau, circa 1954. Photo by Joan Sutton Straus / Handout /Toronto Sun

Back in the day when phones had a hook, hers started to ring off it.

“People were angry because I’d put them on the list. They were angry because they thought it was ‘undignified,’ but if they didn’t get on the next year the were angry because they had been left off,” she said.

It became a hugely controversial and highly popular annual feature.

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“The Sun was a reality show before there were reality shows,” she told me.

“There was Paul Rimstead getting drunk. There was me pouring out love stuff and there was Peter Worthington riding an elephant. And that was part of the personality of the newspaper.” She lamented much of that was lost when the paper was sold to Maclean Hunter in 1982.

George Anthony, a fellow writer, was her friend for more than 50 years. They were coworkers at the Telegram and then were Day Oners at the newly formed Toronto Sun.

Both played a huge part in creating the Sun ethos as columnists.

In a recent interview, Anthony described Sutton Straus as a loyal friend and a trailblazer, praising her independence and her “irreverent sense of humour.”

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He said how pleased both he and she were “to be invited” to join the brand-new Toronto Sun back in 1972.

“It was made clear to us, in a professional and cordial fashion, that we’re the work horses, and Paul Rimstead and the sports section would be the stars. And we supported that 100% and thought It was logical.”

But, said Anthony, “Three or four months in, people were stopping us on the street. People, the readers, chose their own stars. The readers made us — they lifted us.

“We were still the work horses, but suddenly we were ‘George Anthony’ and ‘Joan Sutton’.”

It was an experience Sutton Straus described just days ago as “the happiest professional time of my life.”

“Her columns just took off,” said Anthony. “The more she wrote from the heart — people just couldn’t get enough of it.

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“She was known as a women’s writer but she had a huge following of male readers.

“We worked very hard and loved every minute. It was a lot of hard work but we also had such a good time … and there was that chemistry at the Sun, that strange, wonderful thing.”

Sutton Straus may have been known as the love columnist, but she also understood the newspaper business. She also knew how to attract female readers to the fledgling paper. Young women picked up the paper to read her view on fashion, style and relationships. Their bosses sneaked it off their secretaries’ desks to read the sports section.

Sutton Straus was appointed the province’s Agent General to the U.S. in 1990 and was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 2021. She married her second husband, prominent American businessman Oscar Straus in 1982. They were close friends with Creighton and his wife Marilyn.

— with files from Liz Braun.

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