Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander waves as he arrives to deliver the speech from the throne in this file photo taken April 22, 1986 in Toronto. Alexander died October 19, 2012 at the age of 90.
Credits: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
We all have to depart this mortal coil at some stage, but it’s especially poignant when someone like Linc Alexander dies, and leaves a gap that no one around today can fill.
There’ll be all sorts of glowing tributes to Linc – first black person the be elected to Canada’s Parliament (and held the Hamilton seat in four successive elections), one of Ontario’s most popular Lieutenant governors (1985-91), a gentleman without a malicious bone in his body.
One (of many) things that distinguished Linc was an apparent lack of any racial bitterness – or any awareness that colour means anything. Yes, he was aware of it, but ignored it, plowed ahead cheerfully and confidently, and as a consequence was admired and beloved. And indirectly helped every other minority who aspired to excel or be accepted.
About 10 years ago I was having lunch in the Kind Eddy dining room with Linc and the late (and much lamented) George Gross.
At one point Linc looked around the dining room, crowded with business people and those who could afford lunches that weren’t from Burger King.
“Who would have ever thought,” he mused aloud, “that someone like me would be sitting in a dining room like this, surrounded by big shots, and important people, and me in such company.”
George and I looked blankly at him, and then he added: “Come to think of, I guess I’m the biggest shot in the room at the moment,” and he burst into one of his hallmark guffaws.
He went on to deplore people who kept raising the race issue, and using it as a weapon to intimidate or get their way. He had long put the issue of colour behind him, and tended to ignore prejudices in his dealings with people.
As a result he inspired everyone, be they coloured or uncoloured.
That was Linc Alexander. He got on with everyone and refused to think badly of anyone, or that anyone was inferior to anyone else.
It shouldn’t have been easy for a black man to be elected to Parliament in 1968, at a time when race relations were intense in North America – the year Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated and Black Panthers stalked the psyche of America.
But Linc was colour blind and persuaded the Hamilton electorate to also be colour blind. His colour or West Indies heritage were irrelevant.
He joined the RCAF during the war, and post-war, graduated from McMaster University and Osgoode Hall Law School.
At the risk of plagiarizing myself, I wrote in the Financial Post around the time of his appointment as Lieutenant-Governor in 1985, that Linc “can do more for the mixture of people that is modern Ontario than any legislation can. This Canadian-born son of a railway porter has been his own man during the first 63 years of his life.
“Lincoln Alexander is the Jackie Robinson of Canadian politics. It’s a proud moment for both him and Canada.”
That judgment is as true now as it was then.
He had a good life, did Linc Alexander. Not an easy life, but a life in which he won the battles he fought, earned the respect of his country, and the affection of his fellow citizens. He made Canada a better place.