NEWS
02/15/2017 15:37 EST | Updated 02/16/2018 00:12 EST

Bill Kelly, former host of CBC's Land & Sea, dies at 71

Newfoundland and Labrador journalist — and longtime host of CBC's Land & Sea — Bill Kelly died Wednesday. He was 71.

For Kelly, reporting and hosting Land & Sea was about reaching as many people as he could with the stories he shared.

"I always believed that there was no point in doing anything, in terms of television, if you couldn't engage the audience," he said in a 2012 episode of his former show, which caught viewers up with what he had been doing since leaving the CBC in the mid-1990s.

Entertaining people to inform them

"My philosophy was that you had to entertain to inform," he added.

"So you picked good subjects, you had good people, and then you used whatever faculties you had, your imagination, and any story ideas that you could conjure up in your mind, and you put together the most entertaining, informative show that you possibly could."

'I always believed there was no point in doing anything, in terms of television, if you couldn't engage the audience.'- Bill Kelly

Kelly, who hosted the show for eight seasons in the '80s and '90s — and fought to save it from cancellation in 1990 — fought heart disease for the latter half of his life, after having his first heart attack in 1980, when he was just 35.

After quadruple-bypass surgery — which doctors said would extend his life by just 10 years — he made his own funeral arrangements so his wife, Flo, wouldn't have to.

He told Land & Sea that for months after his surgery he was terrified by every new ache and pain, anticipating the end.

'You've gotta live'

But then one night, he had a revelation.

"I said, 'Screw this.' You've gotta live. You may as well be dead if you're going around like you're dead. I decided right then and there that I was carrying on."

Former colleague and current Land & Sea host Pauline Thornhill was hired by Kelly in the mid-Eighties. She remembered him as a fighter, never more so than when federal cuts to the CBC in 1990 axed all regional current affairs program, including Land & Sea, which he was hosting.

"I was reeling. I was dumbfounded," he said in 2012. "I couldn't believe what I'd heard, and I was angry."

Then the phone started ringing, with viewers calling in disbelief.

Land & Sea reinstated

"There was such disappointment in their voices, and they were so supportive. They were asking, 'What can we do?'"

Kelly harnessed them, organizing rallies and petitions calling for the show to be reinstated — which it was, and made into a national network program.

"Victory is very sweet," he said.

Kelly is survived by his wife, Flo, and their three children: John, Deanne and Paul.