On August 5th Ken Sobol died peacefully in his sleep, after a long illness and in the presence of members of his family, only a few weeks before his 50th wedding anniversary. He leaves behind his beloved wife Julie (née Macfie), his children John (Annie Hillis), Corry (Greg Clarke) and Jane (William Sanchez) and grandchildren Julian, Elliot, Louis, Sophie, Ximena and Lara. He is also survived by his sister Debbie (Fred Hatch).
Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Ken graduated from Oberlin College in 1959, along with his wife-to-be Julie. After marrying they moved to New York City and immersed themselves in the Bohemian scene they found there. Ken received an M.A. from Columbia while in New York, but his real passion was writing. In 1959, an over-the-transom piece he wrote on impulse was published in the fledgling alternative newspaper The Village Voice. Ken would become a regular contributor to the Voice over the next 15 years, writing on local politics, television and civil rights.
In 1974, having written an Emmy Award-winning children’s television program (Inside/Out), Ken moved his family to Toronto where he would become a key figure in the creative heyday of OECA (now TVO). Among the many shows he created and wrote were Magic Shadows with Elwy Yost, and two of TVO’s most celebrated children’s programs — Readalong and Telefrancais. Later Ken and puppeteer Noreen Young, who had fashioned the colourful puppets for these two series, would team up to create Under the Umbrella Tree, which ran for many years on CBC. In the mid-70s Ken also co-created and co-hosted Media Circus, an extraordinarily adventurous TV program about TV; Northrop Frye and Marshall MacLuhan were among the guests.
Over the years Ken wrote many animated shows, including some of Nelvana’s early successes (A Cosmic Christmas, The Devil and Daniel Mouse), and more recently – having received author Astrid Lindgren’s personal blessing – the Pippi Longstocking TV series. Other animated series he wrote included Batman, Superman, George of the Jungle, Highlander, Karlsson on the Roof, Curious George, G.I. Joe, The Hardy Boys and The Wizard of Id, to name but a few.
Ken’s books include Babe Ruth and the American Dream (Random House, 1972) and several books for children. Eventually he began working in collaboration with Julie; together the pair wrote many articles for Canadian Geographic magazine, as well as two books: Looking For Lake Erie (Penguin, 1996), and Lake Erie – A Pictorial History, (Boston Mills, 2004).
Ken was a wonderful husband, father and writer. Outspoken and blunt, sometimes irascible, his friends also knew him to be humble and generous; he possessed a profound sense of justice and a clever sense of humour. He was proud to have become a Canadian citizen, and passionately loved his adopted country of Canada.
His other interests included neolithic monuments (he and Julie visited Stonehenge, Carnac and Avebury among other sites), world history, poetry, antique maps, folk art, birds, sports (he was a big Raptors fan) and jazz. He was interested in all forms of creativity and had an encyclopedic knowledge of many contemporary and historic idioms.
Ken was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, a little-understood but common degenerative disease, three years ago. He was cared for lovingly at home by Julie until being admitted to Toronto Western Hospital in June and then to Kensington Health Centre where he received exceptional care. The family wishes particularly to thank Miriam and Marta for their hands-on kindness.
A celebration of his life will be held at the Steven Bulger Gallery at 1026 Queen Street West in Toronto at 1 p.m., August 22nd.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be sent to St. Christopher House.