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Obituary

MATT BELLAN (published on April 18, 2009)



MATT BELLAN Tragically, on Monday, April 13, 2009 the life of someone who had spent the better part of his own life reporting on the lives...and deaths, of so many others, came to an end. Matt Bellan, who was only 58, died unexpectedly while he was doing something he loved to do every evening, which was to go for a swim in his apartment block pool. In the past few months preceding his death, Matt had finally begun to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle after having stepped down as editor of The Jewish Post News for the previous 26 years. Fittingly, on the day of his death, Matt, who had asked to be given regular reporting assignments even though he was no longer editor, had gone with notepad in hand to report on one more event in the Jewish community: a luncheon at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Born in 1950 in Winnipeg to Ziona and Joseph Bellan, Matt was the third of four children. He is survived by his older sisters: Ruth (Cooperstock), of Victoria; and Judi (Waldman), along with his younger brother, Bernie. Matt also leaves to mourn his loss his partner and friend of more than 30 years, Guy Frobisher. Matt was predeceased by his parents, both of whom died within six months of one another in 2004. Matt's legacy as a writer is one that will survive for years to come. His literary talent was one that he demonstrated early on in his life, along with a love for the arts in general. A talented pianist as a boy, Matt also studied dance for several years. His early years of education were within the Jewish school system: at the Peretz School on Aikins for three years, then four years at the Talmud Torah, followed by Edmund Partridge Junior High and West Kildonan Collegiate. It was at W.K.C.I. that Matt had his first formal exposure to newspaper editing, when he served as co-editor of the Weskay Mirror. Later, when he was co-editor of the University of Manitoba student paper, The Manitoban, Matt began to demonstrate his talent for biting satirical writing. In one particularly memorable issue, Matt created something called the chazer awards which he bestowed on four unfortunate Manitoba newsmakers at that time. Unfortunately, not everything was rosy for Matt. Just prior to his bar mitzvah, he developed juvenile diabetes. As is the case with anyone who has to deal with this malady at a young age, coming to terms with the twice-daily needle injections, along with the necessity to avoid sugar, was not easy for Matt - nor for his parents, who had to watch Matt's constant struggle with the demands that diabetes places upon someone afflicted at a young age. And, not too long after Matt was confronted with the challenge of living with diabetes, another aspect of his life that came to define him emerged: He realized that he was gay. It's never easy for any young person trying to come to terms with his or her sexual identity when that identity is considered abnormal, and Matt was no exception to that rule. Years later, and at a Jewish event no less, Matt came out publicly as gay. His coming out provided him with some peace of mind, and in many respects Matt came to be regarded as something of a role model for other members of Winnipeg's gay community, especially the members of Anakhnuh, for whom he was something of a hero. As was mentioned in the obituary written by Morley Walker in the Free Press, Matt had once told a beloved high school English teacher of his that his goal in life was to achieve immortality through creativity . While Matt eventually developed a lifestyle that accommodated his thirst for creativity through an outpouring of talented writing, those who knew him well also saw in him a deep-seated craving to attend to the needs of others. Whether it was fighting for the underdog in the pages of The Jewish Post News or physically attending to the needs of individuals who were disadvantaged, Matt identified with those who may not have been as lucky as others in life. Through the years, he received many accolades for his writing. His style was precise and clear. Having learned his craft at the Carleton School of Journalism, followed by a three-year stint at the Regina Leader-Post, Matt was a natural choice to become editor of The Jewish Post when the position was advertised in 1982. What was then a typically small weekly paper (averaging only 12 pages) gradually grew in stature and size under Matt's tutelage. Constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the paper, Matt brought in many new writers and columnists. He could be a formidable and demanding editor but, in 26 years on the job, he never failed to meet a deadline. In his latter years as editor, as the strain of the job began to affect his health more and more, it was not always easy to watch Matt labouring to proofread yet one more issue late into the night. And, no matter how many times he may have reported on the same event or meeting - at a school, a synagogue, at the Asper Campus, or some such location, Matt's dedication and professionalism led him to head out on many a winter night and sit through something that must have seemed interminably boring. Finally, when he was free from the rigours of having to produce a paper week-in, week-out, Matt could look forward to years of travelling - something he loved to do, and spending more time with family and friends. How ironic and tragic it is then, that just as he was adjusting to and enjoying his newfound freedom, his life was cut so tragically short. His contribution to the art of newspaper writing and to the Jewish community, in particular, will live on long after Matt's death. For those of us who had the honour of knowing Matt Bellan, we can honestly say that, in the end, he did achieve immortality through creativity. Farewell, Matt - your memory is ours to cherish forever. Funeral service will be held Sunday, April 19 at noon at the Chesed Shel Emes Chapel, 1023 Main Street, to be followed by interment at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery.


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