In Memoriam: Graeme Gibson

In Memoriam: Graeme Gibson

“If you live in a community, I think you have responsibilities. You don’t get the benefits without responsibility.”

Graeme Gibson, a Canadian author, conservationist, birder, member of the Order of Canada, and member of Massey College’s Quadrangle Society, died this week at age 85.

“Graeme Gibson was a wonderful member of our community and we will miss him,” said Principal Nathalie Des Rosiers. “He was a great contributor to Massey. Our most sincere condolences to our dear friend Margaret Atwood and family.”

Together with his partner Margaret Atwood (a Massey Senior Fellow), Gibson was a longtime champion of writers’ rights—they were co-founders of the Writers’ Trust of Canada and the Writers’ Union of Canada, and pillars of PEN Canada.

“One’s responsibility as a writer is going to be very similar to one’s responsibility as a citizen,” Gibson once noted (see the PEN Canada tribute). “If you live in a community, I think you have responsibilities. You don’t get the benefits without responsibility… Freedom of expression is earned—it’s all earned.”

John Fraser, executive chair of the National NewsMedia Council of Canada, who led Massey College from 1995 to 2014, recounted in the National Post that Gibson was “a hard man to resist”—

“In 1995, he directly approached Massey College in the University of Toronto to see if it would partner with PEN Canada in a writer-in-exile program, which it did and which expanded into a scholar-at-risk program… He believed deeply that the advantages and privileges that most Canadians enjoyed—and certainly Canadians like himself—had to be deployed extensively to help others. His reasoning was straightforward and unassailable: ‘You have the brightest kids in the country, you have the best connected citizens supporting your college, and most of all you have rooms, how can you say no,’ he asked me. We were both on bicycles half-way between his home in Toronto’s Annex district and Massey College just south of Bloor Street. I had been installed as the fourth Master of the college just a couple of week’s earlier. When he was on a mission, Graeme Gibson didn’t waste time.”

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