Lincoln Alexander, who was the University of Guelph’s longest-serving chancellor and before that was Canada’s first black MP, has died at the age of 90.
“Lincoln Alexander was perhaps the most admired and respected public figure in Ontario,” U of G president Alastair Summerlee said in a news release Friday about Alexander’s death earlier that day.
“He selflessly devoted his life to promoting education, equality and fairness,” Summerlee said. “He led our university with grace and dignity for more than 15 years, and remained a great supporter and friend. He was an inspiration and a role model, and one of a kind.”
Alexander was appointed U of G chancellor in 1991 and served an unprecedented five terms, conferring degrees on more than 20,000 graduates at convocation. His rapport with students was legendary, and he always spoke to every graduate, the release said.
In 2007, at the end of his final term, he was named “chancellor emeritus” to recognize his years of dedication to the university.
Alexander’s life is often described as one of exemplary firsts, the release said. The first person in his family to attend university, he became Canada’s first black MP when he was elected in 1968 to represent Hamilton West for the Progressive Conservative Party. He was also the first black chair of the Ontario Workers’ Compensation Board and in 1985 became the first visible minority appointed as Ontario’s lieutenant-governor.
He published a memoir, Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy, in the fall of 2006. “My book is aimed at people who think they can’t do something or think they’ll never make it,” Alexander said then. “I’d like to think I’m helping convince others to never give up.”
Alexander was born in Toronto on Jan. 21, 1922, and grew up in Toronto and New York City. At age 20, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political economics from McMaster University in 1949. He attended Osgoode Hall Law School and was called to the bar in 1953. He was appointed federal labour minister by then prime minister Joe Clark in 1979.
Several Ontario schools, buildings and a highway have been named after Alexander, the release said. Among his many awards, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada and was named to the Order of Ontario in 1992.
Three U of G awards carry his name: the Lincoln Alexander Outstanding Leadership Award, the Lincoln Alexander Medal of Distinguished Service and the Lincoln Alexander Chancellor’s Scholarship.
On campus, a refurbished teaching and research building called Lincoln Alexander Hall honours his commitment to the university.
“He was an amazingly giving man, and thousands of university students, faculty, staff and alumni have benefited from his devotion, kindness and generosity,” Summerlee said. “He will be remembered, greatly missed and loved always.”
Summerlee has sent condolences on behalf of the university to Alexander’s wife, Marni Beal, to his son, Keith, to his daughter-in-law, Joyce, and to his granddaughters, Erika and Marissa, the release said.