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Lincoln Alexander: A remarkable legacy

His life was a series of groundbreaking firsts, but Lincoln Alexander was forever saying “just call me Linc” to people he met. And he had time for everyone, especially the more than 20,000 graduates on whom he conferred degrees during his 16 years as chancellor of the University of Guelph.
He won great fondness and respect from those who knew him, and his rapport with U of G students was legendary. “Lincoln Alexander was perhaps the most admired and respected public figure in Ontario,” U of G president Alastair Summerlee said in a news release after Alexander’s death Friday at the age of 90. Premier Dalton McGuinty said he “left an extraordinary legacy, both in his private life and as a public servant.”
Alexander, who was born to West Indian parents in Toronto in 1922 and spent much of his adult life in Hamilton, became Canada’s first black member of Parliament in 1968 and its first black cabinet minister when he held the labour portfolio from 1979-80 under the Progressive Conservative government of Joe Clark. He spent six years as the first visible-minority person to serve as Ontario’s lieutenant-governor, from 1985-91. Then he served as the U of G’s chancellor for an unprecedented five terms from 1991 to 2007.
In recognition of his stature, he’ll be given a state funeral Friday, after days of lying in repose at the provincial legislature and then at Hamilton city hall.
While he may be gone, his name will live on at the University of Guelph. 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. And on campus, a refurbished teaching and research building called Lincoln Alexander Hall honours his commitment to the university.
Difficulties that Alexander overcame with persistence during his life and career were described in his memoir, Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy, published 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,” he said at the time. “I’d like to think I’m helping convince others to never give up.”
And that’s part of his remarkable legacy.

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