By Neil Armstrong
Tributes from across Canada are pouring in for Lincoln Alexander, affectionately known as “Linc”, Canada’s first black Member of Parliament and Ontario’s first black Lieutenant Governor who died on October 19 at the age of 90.
He was the University of Guelph’s longest-serving chancellor and the university described him as one of Canada’s most groundbreaking and influential leaders.
“Lincoln Alexander was perhaps the most admired and respected public figure in Ontario,” said university president Alastair Summerlee. “He selflessly devoted his life to promoting education, equality and fairness.
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 University of Guelph chancellor in 1991 and served an unprecedented five terms. “He was the first black man to be made a minister in the federal government of Canada.
He has left so many things that he accomplished. He has left a big shoe and it is going to be difficult for anybody to fill that shoe,” said Bromley Armstrong, a veteran human rights advocate.
Moy Wong-Tam, former executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, said Alexander was a man of sharp wit and someone who had a great sense of humour.
“He was someone who was straight to the point, no nonsense, he told it like it is so it was great working with him and it is a sad day because he was a remarkable man who has pioneered in many respects,” said Wong-Tam.
HOPE TO DISADVANTAGED
Armstrong said Alexander gave a lot of hope to the people who are disadvantaged right across this country. He said as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario (1985-1991), Alexander devoted a lot of time to students encouraging them to get an education.
“He was a man of the people. He gave his all until the end,” said Armstrong. Alexander was born in Toronto on Jan. 21, 1922 to Mae Rose Royale, a Jamaican who worked as a maid and Lincoln MacCauley Alexander Sr., from St. Vincent and the Grenadines who was a railway porter.
He grew up in Toronto and New York City and at the age of 20 enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society, said the legacy of Lincoln Alexander will be one of strength, perseverance, self-awareness and self application.
“He lived and defended his truths. His truths included hard work and education; dedication to family and country; and service to community.” “Lincoln Alexander’s whole life was a rebuke to those who would equate ability with skin colour.
He overcame poverty and prejudice to scale the professional and political heights. Until the day he died, he continued to advocate on a range of topics, from education to anti-racism, and-having served in the RCAF during World War II-on veterans’ issues,” David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario said.
LEGACY LIVES ON
“Lincoln’s legacy will live on through his family, through the schools and awards that bear his name and through the memories Canadians hold of his long record of distinguished public service,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, described him as a towering man whose stature matched his influence. “Indeed, he left an extraordinary legacy, both in his private life and as a public servant.
He broke down barriers. He made Ontario a better place for all of us, the next generation of public servants and citizens.” “Lincoln Alexander inspired future generations to pursue service above self.
His life’s story truly embodies all that is great about our province. With hard work, determination and drive, you can exceed excellence in Ontario,” said Ontario PC Leader, Tim Hudak.
His body lied in state at Queen’s Park and lied in repose at Hamilton City Hall earlier this week and a state funeral will be held at Hamilton Place on October 26.
Alexander is survived by his wife, Marni Beal, whom her married in 2011; his son, Keith; his daughter-in-law, Joyce; and his granddaughters, Erika and Marissa.
He is predeceased by his first wife, Yvonne, whom he was married to for 50 years. She died in 1999 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease.