Home / World News / Former deputy editor and chief-of-staff at The West Australian Leo Johnston dies aged 83

Former deputy editor and chief-of-staff at The West Australian Leo Johnston dies aged 83

Ink ran strongly in the veins of dedicated newspaper man Leo Johnston, who gave more than 50 years of his life to the industry.

The former deputy editor and chief-of-staff at The West Australian died suddenly on Tuesday at the age of 83 while on holiday in the Northern Territory. His son, Damon Johnston, Victorian editor at The Australian who before that was a very successful editor at the Herald Sun, described his dad as having three great passions; “family, footy and newspapers”.

“As a newspaper man he displayed an extraordinary work ethic for more than 50 years reporting and editing at The West, on Fleet Street, The Daily News and The Sunday Times,” he said.

LEO JOHNSTON, TED BARKER, EDDIE GUNZBERG, BILL FORD, ROSS CUSACK, DON SMITH, DAVID WARREN, ROER SIMMS, TREVOR GILMOUR AND BILL WOODWARD GATHERED TO CELEBRATE DON SMITH'S OAM AWARD.
Camera IconLeo Johnston (far left) died suddenly on Tuesday. Credit: Guy Magowan/WA News

“He had a nose for news and an ethical compass unlike any other in journalism.

“Dad would say he didn’t want to fade away in a nursing home. He got his wish, but sadly it is much earlier than we had all hoped.”

Known around the newsroom by his nickname “Ace”, Johnston spent more than 20 years at The West, before leaving in the late 1980s to become deputy editor of The Sunday Times.

Former West Australian editor Paul Murray, who started as a cadet in 1970 when Mr Johnston was night chief-of-staff, said he had a significant influence on his career.

He was everything I wanted to be as a journalist.

“He was my hero,” he said.

“He was such an inspirational fellow. Dead straight, fabulous nose for a story and a really decent individual.”

Murray recalled Johnston putting his foot down in the late 1970s when gifts such as bottles of wine began flowing into the newsroom.

“He said ‘everything’s going back — we’re not going to be that sort of newspaper’,” he said.

Current West Australian Newspapers editor-in-chief Anthony De Ceglie said Johnston was a mentor to him when he was a young reporter at The Sunday Times.

“He was incredibly wise, patient and ethical,” he said.

“He was everything I wanted to be as a journalist.”

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