Lincoln Alexander Gets his Own Day: Jan. 21

November 29, 2013 - Campus Bulletin

A newly proclaimed provincial day will honour the University of Guelph’s longest-serving chancellor, the late Lincoln Alexander.

A bill declaring Jan. 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day passed on Thursday, receiving support from all three political parties. It was sponsored by Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott .

Arnott came up with the idea after attending an event at U of G in September. “I thought of Lincoln Alexander’s immense contribution there,” he is reported as saying. “The more I delved into it, the more worthwhile I thought it would be to have a day designated to his memory. He lived a life of public service and changed our province and our country for the better.”

President Alastair Summerlee wrote a letter of support for Bill 125, as did Marni Beal-Alexander, Alexander’s wife, and Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society.

“This pays tribute to an amazingly giving man who devoted his life to making a difference and to being an advocate for education,” Summerlee said.

“’Linc’ was one of Canada’s most groundbreaking and influential leaders. 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.”

Although not an official provincial holiday, Lincoln Alexander Day allows teachers and students to study his life, contributions and challenges, Arnott said. It’s also a good lead-in to Black History Month in February.

Alexander died in Oct. 2012 at the age of 90.

He was appointed U of G chancellor in 1991 and served an unprecedented five terms. 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. Among them, he was the first person in his family to attend university; Canada’s first black MP; the first black chair of the Workers’ Compensation Board; and the first visible minority appointed as Ontario’s lieutenant-governor.

He was born in Toronto 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 first elected MP for Hamilton West in 1968.

An advocate of education, he wrote a 2006 memoir, Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy.

Several Ontario schools, buildings and a highway have been named after him. Alexander was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada and to the Order of Ontario in 1992. In 2006, he was named the “Greatest Hamiltonian of All Time.”

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.

“Lincoln Alexander Day will allow all of us to pay tribute to the values of perhaps the most admired and respected public figure in Ontario,” Summerlee said.

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