October 19, 2012
Former Ontario lieutenant governor Lincoln Alexander dead at 90
By Jonathan Jenkins and Antonella Artuso, Queen’s Park Bureau
TORONTO — Ontario has lost a pioneer in racial equality in Lincoln Alexander, the first black man in the country to become a member of parliament and later a lieutenant-governor.
Lt.-Gov. David Onley announced Alexander’s death Friday morning. He was 90.
“I was born in 1922, at a time when blacks weren’t recognized and when people thought blacks were born to be servers and porters,” Alexander told Sun Media in 2007.
“Anyone can become a great part of the Canadian way of life and make a difference economically, politically and socially.
“Don’t get sucked in by saying you can’t because there’s always a future in this great country of ours if you work hard and stay in school,” he said. “There’s no job you can’t have if you want it bad enough and have confidence in yourself.”
Alexander’s family came to Canada from Jamaica before he was born, and he went to school in Toronto at Earl Grey Junior High and Riverdale Collegiate. He moved later to Harlem and then to Hamilton, Ont., the city he was most closely associated with. Residents of the city even voted him the greatest Hamiltonian of all time in 2006.
An expressway is named for him there, even though he never learned to drive, Onley noted.
“He was such a vital figure right to the end,” Onley said. “When he entered a room, he dominated it by the force of his personality.”
He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a corporal in the Second World War and graduated from Osgoode Law School in 1953.
John Diefenbaker himself recruited him to run for Parliament and after losing in 1965 at his first crack, Alexander spent four terms in Ottawa as the member from Hamilton West starting in 1968, and was Joe Clark’s labour minister in 1979.
On the advice of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, he was appointed the 24th lieutenant-governor of Ontario in 1985.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the province has lost a remarkable Ontarian and great Canadian, and extended the province’s thoughts and prayers to his wife Marni, son Keith and his family.
“Lincoln was a towering man, and his stature matched his influence. Not just on all those fortunate enough to work with him, but all those who knew him. Indeed, he left an extraordinary legacy, both in his private life and as a public servant,” McGuinty said in a statement.
“I am most grateful for all he did to improve the lives of young people and his dedication to strengthening education. Ontarians and indeed, all Canadians, will miss his passion, determination and hard work.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement Alexander will be remembered for both his political achievements and the sacrifice he made as member of the armed forces. “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,” Harper said.
Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath -- a Hamiltonian herself -- recalled door-knocking during the byelection campaign that sent her to Queen’s Park and encountering Alexander.
“He told me ‘Don’t be talking to me, girl -- I think you’re going to win this thing,’” she recalled. “He gave me words of encouragement that I will never forget.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak called Alexander a trailblazer who broke down barriers and set a high standard for public service.
“Even after Alexander departed from his seat in the House of Commons, he was always there for Hamilton and Ontario. He would be called upon again to put his talent and genuine interests to work as our province’s Lieutenant Governor,” Hudak said. “His was a mandate focused on championing the betterment of young Ontarians and quality education.”