TORONTO, Ont. – Lincoln Alexander, the first black man in Canada to become a member of parliament and later, a lieutenant-governor, has died at the age of 90.
Lt.-Gov. David announced the death Friday morning on Twitter, offering his condolences to Alexander’s wife Marni and his family.
It is with great sadness that I announce the death of the Hon. Lincoln Alexander, 24th Lieutenant Governor of #Ontario.
— David C. Onley, OOnt (@LGDavidOnley) October 19, 2012
Alexander, affectionately known as “Linc” was a “living legend” in his hometown of Hamilton and a man whose life and career were “a series of groundbreaking firsts,” Onley said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
The Canadian and Ontario flags were taken down then raised to half-mast outside the provincial legislature.
Born in Toronto in 1922 to West Indian immigrants, Alexander served as Ontario’s lieutenant governor from 1985 to 1991.
He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a wireless operator in the Second World War from 1942 until 1945 and graduated from Osgoode Law School in 1953.
In 1965, he ran as a Conservative in the federal riding of Hamilton West, but lost. After losing at his first try, Alexander spent four terms in Ottawa as the member from Hamilton West. He became the first black member of Parliament in Canada in 1968. He was Joe Clark’s labour minister in 1979.
Alexander left the House of Commons in 1980 to serve as chairman of the Ontario Workman’s Compensation Board. In 1985, he was appointed Ontario’s 24th lieutenant governor and held the post until 1991.
In 1992, Alexander was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada and to the Order of Ontario.
After leaving office, Alexander went on to serve as chancellor of the University of Guelph, serving five terms as chancellor at the University of Guelph.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called him “a truly great Canadian.”
“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,” he said in a statement.
— Stephen Harper (@pmharper) October 19, 2012
Premier Dalton McGuinty said Alexander left an “extraordinary legacy” in both his private life and his work as a public servant.
“Lincoln was a towering man, and his stature matched his influence,” he said in a statement. “Not just on all those fortunate enough to work with him, but all those who knew him.
— Dalton McGuinty (@Dalton_McGuinty) October 19, 2012
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said the country has lost “one of Canada’s finest.”
“Mr. Alexander’s contributions to create world-class education, bring youth issues forward and help break barriers will have a lasting impact on all Canadians,” he said in a statement.
— Mayor Rob Ford (@TOMayorFord) October 19, 2012
PC Leader Tim Hudak called him a “trailblazer of Canadian politics.”
“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.”
Saddened to hear of passing of Hon. Lincoln Alexander, fmr Lt Governor, PC MP & Minister, inspirational leader, Hamilton’s greatest citizen
— Tim Hudak (@timhudak) October 19, 2012
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Lincoln was a “true pioneer.”
“Like so many Hamiltonians, Ontarians, and Canadians I will miss Lincoln Alexander,” she said.
Lincoln Alexander was always a true Hamiltonian. If there was a cause dear to him, he would be there. A great man who will be dearly missed.
— Andrea Horwath (@andreahorwath) October 19, 2012
Guelph University president Alastair Summerlee said Alexander was “perhaps the most admired and respected public figure in Ontario.”
During his unprecedented five-year term as the University of Guelph chancellor, he conferred degrees on more than 20,000 graduates.
Alexander made headlines last year when he married Marni Beal, a woman nearly 30 years his junior. His first wife died in 1999 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
He spoke openly of their love story, admitting he was hesitant to propose.
“If you go to Toronto, the place is full of interracial couples. Race doesn’t mean a damn thing anymore,” he told the media in April 2011.
“[But] an old codger like me marrying a girl 30 years his junior? I was afraid to ask her.”
Alexander’s death wasn’t unexpected, Onley said. He suffered an aortic embolism last winter after he returned from vacation and underwent emergency surgery.
He is survived by his wife, son, Keith, and two granddaughters, Erika and Marissa.
He will receive a provincial state funeral.