A Matriarch of Canadian Editing: Lee d’Anjou

The path to becoming an editor is rarely straightforward, and Lenore (Lee) d’Anjou’s start was no exception. Widely considered a matriarch of the Canadian editing community, in her early days d’Anjou flipped between a career as an editor and a career in theatre; in the end, however, pragmatic considerations ruled the day. “I picked editing because we needed the money,” she says.

Early in her career, d’Anjou lived in New York and had several of what we would today call communications jobs (newsletters, press releases, etc.) for labour organizations in the United States (US), including the Illinois Nurses Association and the American Guild of Variety Artists (the union for performers who don’t fall under Equity, such as circus artists and burlesque performers). 

After a stint in Montreal, where her husband had a job with the US government for Expo 67, d’Anjou returned to New York, by now the mother of three young children. “We needed money,” she says. “Our apartment was just across the street from Columbia University, so I went to the employment office. The staff there sent me to the office of Barbara Ward (Lady Jackson), a British economist with particular interest in the problems of developing countries.”

During one typing task, d’Anjou’s inner editor surfaced when she found an error in how a cardinal’s name and title were presented on a list.  “When I reported the problem to the office manager, she scolded me for not simply copying the list exactly as I’d been asked to do. At that precise moment, Lady J walked in and said firmly, ‘The young lady is correct.’ So I stayed on, one project after another for the better part of five years.”

In 1974, the whole family returned to Montreal and two years later moved to Toronto. In both cities, she says, she found editing work by talking to the publishers of items she was reading, by looking on bulletin boards and through word-of-mouth endorsements from existing clients.

A quick internet search of d’Anjou’s name reveals her integral role as an editor of several important volumes, including The Widening Gap: Development in the 1970’s (with Barbara Ward and J.D. Runnalls in 1971), Treasures of Canada (with Valerie Stevens, John de Visser, Alan E. Samuel and Peter Maher in 1981), and many reports published by the C.D. Howe Institute, a long-time client.

When she started out as an editor, d’Anjou’s “toolkit” was simple and low-tech: “Lots of reference books. And just reading books.” (At this point in the Active Voice interview with d’Anjou, her eldest daughter, Alice, chimed in: “Growing up, we had an encyclopedia set and several dictionaries in the dining room. If we had a question, we were told, ‘Look it up.’”)

In 1979, d’Anjou was part of a small group of like-minded editors who met in Toronto to discuss the creation of a professional editing organization in Canada. From this small group, the Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada (FEAC)—later Editors’ Association of Canada—was born. As is to be expected with any group of experts committed to excellence in their profession, the group was not without its conflicts. The minutes from FEAC’s formal founding meeting on June 18, 1979, include the following record: “FAILED: that we take the apostrophe out of the name.”

From d’Anjou’s perspective, the core benefits of a professional editorial community are opportunities to connect with, support and learn from fellow editors. “We can cheer each other on, teach each other and support each other,” she says. “We can talk to each other in an organized fashion. If we don’t have an organization, we’re just wandering around alone.” She recommends that would-be editors connect with other editors and take advantage of the many opportunities that Editors Canada offers.

Her views are echoed by other Editors Canada members, including current president Gael Spivak. “Talking with other editors is such an important aspect of professional development,” said Spivak in a February 2017 article for the “CMOS Shop Talk” blog (http://cmosshoptalk.com/2017/02/14/a-reluctant-editor/). “So are networking and giving back to our community of editors.”

Spivak’s emphasis on giving back to the editorial community through volunteer work is something that would resonate with d’Anjou, for whom Editors Canada named the Volunteer of the Year award in 2010. The award recognizes extraordinary volunteer service by an Editors Canada member.

“As an Editors Canada volunteer, I’ve learned a lot about working on teams, coordinating large projects, and partnering with other organizations,” Spivak writes. “Lee never told me to get involved in Editors Canada, and she never said I ought to volunteer.  But when I told her recently that I am surprised by how very involved I did get, she said, ‘Oh, I’m not.’ She claims she always knew that was going to happen.”

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