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Lincoln Alexander Memoir Recounts a Remarkable Life

November 22, 2006

Source: University of Guelph

University of Guelph Chancellor Lincoln Alexander has added to his lifetime list of extraordinary achievements by becoming an author two months shy of his 85th birthday. The former Ontario lieutenant-governor’s memoir, Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy, was published this month by Dundurn Press.

All members of the University and Guelph communities are invited to help Alexander celebrate the book’s publication Nov. 29 from 4 to 6 p.m. in Peter Clark Hall. Book launches were also held in Toronto and Hamilton earlier this month.

"It’s a hell of a book, which I never thought it would be," said Alexander, who’s been U of G’s chancellor since 1991.

The book’s title was something Alexander’s mother often said to him during his childhood. "Those words, her words, have been at the core of what I’ve accomplished in my life," he said. "She was right, of course. My education has always been my empowerment."

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 member of Parliament, the first black chair of the Workers’ Compensation Board; the first visible minority to hold the post of lieutenant-governor; and the first person to serve five terms as U of G’s chancellor.

Alexander said he was "encouraged and prodded" for years to write an autobiography but kept finding excuses not to do it because the task was so daunting and because he’s not one to brag about his accomplishments.

"One of the people who kept encouraging me was president Alastair Summerlee. The difference with Alastair was that he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer."

Summerlee said he considered it his duty to convince Alexander to put pen to paper.
"I believed that, by telling his story, he would be giving a great gift to U of G and to Canada, for Lincoln’s life is truly the embodiment of what this country and the University aspires to be. He has overcome obstacles, has been a fearless advocate and has selflessly devoted himself to promoting education, equality and fairness."

Alexander worked with Guelph writer Herb Shoveller on Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy. It chronicles the remarkable series of events that led to Alexander becoming one of Canada’s most groundbreaking and influential leaders. It traces his early years in Toronto as the child of West Indian working-class parents — his mother was a maid, and his father was a railway porter — to the present day.

Alexander was born in Toronto Jan. 21, 1922, and grew up in Toronto and New York City. Back in Canada at age 20, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Following the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political economics from McMaster University in 1949. He went on to Osgoode Hall Law School and was called to the bar in 1953. He was first elected MP for Hamilton West in 1968.

During his years in Ottawa, Alexander also served as an observer to the United Nations in 1976 and 1978 and was appointed labour minister by then prime minister Joe Clark in 1979.

As U of G’s chancellor, Alexander has conferred degrees on more than 20,000 graduates at convocation. His rapport with students is legendary, and he takes the time to say a few words to every graduate.

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.

Among his many awards, Alexander was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada and to the Order of Ontario in 1992 and in June, he was named the "Greatest Hamiltonian of all Time." He said he’s always felt indebted to his hometown and to Canada because they’ve enabled him "to be myself."

"I’d like to think that this book repays that debt somewhat. It’s aimed at people who think they can’t do something or think they’ll never make it, and I’d like to think I’m helping convince others to never give up."

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824- 4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.



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