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David L. Peebles (July 30, 1949–December 3, 2016)

By Avivah Wargon and Ruth Pincoe

Toronto editors and many other friends feel a great sense of loss after the death of David Peebles in December 2016. David was held in great affection and valued for his generous help, his legendary technical knowledge and skills, and his sense of humour. He is also remembered for his meticulous editing of technical material and for his service as chair of EAC’s technology committee in 1999–2000.

Editing was not David’s first career. His interest in how things work showed early on. Shortly after earning a bachelor of science degree, he began a lifelong freelance career, applying his wide range of technical skills to everything from theatre lighting and sound systems to rewiring old houses. David also loved words, as a thumbnail bio shows:

At the back of his filing cabinet David has an honours B.Sc. from the mathematics-physics-chemistry program at the University of Toronto, an unsaleable screenplay, and three awards for short stories. Before it finally dawned on him that he could combine his interests in writing and technology by working as a technical editor, David had operated a radio telescope, helped develop a medical research instrument, designed a slide projector interface for stage lighting systems, and done a wide variety of electrical installations and troubleshooting.

In 1982 David married Ruth Pincoe, an editor and indexer specializing in music and theatre; their shared and complementary interests in words, theatre, hiking, food, and drink made for a rich partnership. In 1997 an in-house colleague and friend called Ruth to offer her a textbook on wiring, saying, “I know you’ll give it to David to do a technical read.” David did much more than that: he went on to a companion book and worked on several supplements. His career as an editor had begun. He quickly became sought after by educational publishers for developmental editing of science, mathematics, and electronics texts. He understood the equations and formulas, and he enjoyed working with authors who appreciated his background knowledge.

In 2002 the judges chose two winners of the Tom Fairley Award—Susan Goldberg, for Misinformed Consent, and David, for McGraw-Hill Ryerson’s Mathematics of Data Management. In the judges’ words, David had “organized and clarified a mass of complex mathematical material to shape it into a student-friendly text that met the new curricular requirements. He displayed remarkable attention to detail while retaining a firm grasp of the whole, and a sure-footedness with every phase of production.” The award also marked the first (and so far, only) time spouses have both won the Fairley Award: Ruth won in 1994 for a Royal Conservatory series of student guides for the piano.

In 2013 David was diagnosed with inoperable bile duct cancer. Initially chemotherapy and radiation treatments brought some relief, but the disease progressed steadily. David suffered most from debilitating fatigue and a desperate frustration at his inability to work. By mid-November 2016, no further treatment was possible—but the end came sooner than anyone expected. David died peacefully in Ruth’s arms on 3 December 2016, with his two sisters at his side.

Avivah Wargon worked in house for many years as a supervising production editor; she now freelances and teaches proofreading at Ryerson. She has known Ruth and David for more than 30 years.

Ruth Pincoe has 35 years’ experience as a freelance indexer, editor, and researcher, specializing in scholarly publications on music, theatre, visual arts, literature, and history. She was the 1994 winner of the Editors’ Association of Canada Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence.

This article was copy edited by Christine Albert.


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