George Ignatieff at 75

Family friends, colleagues and members of Science for Peace celebrated George Ignatieff’s seventy-fifth birthday on December 16, 1988 in the Combinations room of Trinity College.

Dr George Eastman, bursar at Trinity led the proceedings which included his remarks, the reply by Ignatieff, the ceremony of the birthday cake, happy birthday sung with Anatol Rapoport at the piano, the unveiling of his portrait in the foyer of the George Ignatieff theatre, the reading of congratulatory messages from the Lieutenant Governor, the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, and the Premier of Ontario. The mayor of Toronto had a plaque prepared and the Soviet Institute for Studies of US and Canada sent a telegram. The arrangements were made by Catherine Armstrong with the help of George Barnet.

DE Eastman, in describing their days together running Trinity, said that George Ignatieff would make many drafts of each speech he gave, but these became just notes for the speech that he would give. The 75th birthday speech was no exception. The following are the remarks that he prepared:

There is a Russian proverb for every occasion — even for 75th anniversaries! “Live a century, learn a century”, it said. I feel particularly gratified that I should be celebrating this anniversary with my family and friends in this university setting. For it is here —fifty-four years ago — that I began to appreciate the value of learning as the most enduring of pleasures that life has to offer.

I began the process of learning consciously and precipitately in 1918 when as a child of 5 my family lost everything in the revolution in Russia. However I became favourably predisposed to universities, perhaps, when my father was rescued from a firing squad by a student from Moscow University.

I came to this university in 1932 as a young refugee, admitted into Canada as a labourer by the CPR Colonization Branch. I had been assigned to a railroad construction survey as an axeman in BC. And then the Great Depression struck and I found myself in Toronto without a job. My elder brother Nick, later Warden of Hart House, took me to see Arthur Fennell, the then Registrar of the University.

I asked him how I should go about becoming an engineer. After looking patiently through my school transcripts, and asking some leading questions, Fennell persuaded me that my talents should lead me in the direction of literacy rather than numeracy. He also took the trouble to arrange an interview with the principal of Jarvis Collegiate. This help from a busy U of T Registrar started me on a career of learning, which in four years culminated with my winning a Rhodes Scholarship in 1936.

When I speak of learning, I have in mind not just the remembrance of knowledge or experience of things past, but learning for the sake of preparing oncoming generations for the future. That is the main purpose of Universities — preparing new generations for the future, by training them to the disciplines of how to learn — how to think, distinguishing between good and bad ideas, and acting responsibly.

I have also been convinced that those concerned with preparing students for the future, have a special responsibility for ensuring that students HAVE a future; hence my continued interest, shared by others in this room, in “peacemongering.”

I learnt, too, that luck, rather than merit or good management, has a good deal to do with success. I have been extremely lucky with having a wife like Alison, remarkable children, a supportive family, as well as outstanding teachers and close friendships. I have had luck, too, in jobs that passed the by, as well as jobs in which I was given an opportunity of providing satisfying service. Some call it luck— some fate; some faith. I agree with Shakespeare when he says in Hamlet “There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”

Learn as long as you live, is my conclusion: there is no end to what you can learn even as Chancellor watching those hot June days, the varied reactions of students at Convocations when receiving their degrees. I am still learning, and still peacemongering.

With the start provided by the University and Trinity College, I have enjoyed three careers — diplomat, university administrator and self-employed “peacemonger”. In all these occupations, I found something I learnt from a number of teachers on this campus, like Provost Cosgrave, Harold Innis, Fulton Anderson, John Lowe and Mabel Cartwright. Each of them was a distinct eccentric personality as well as an outstanding teacher. Despite differences of view, sex and outlook, they taught me, among other things, that one can, and must, work together with others with a certain tolerance, if one is to share the benefits of this wonderful world.

As we approach a new year I have never felt more hopeful about the prospects of my hobby, peacemongering. The policies emanating from Moscow and particularly the statement of President Gorbachev at the UN on December 7th, gives new hope for a return to sanity in international relations and new challenges of international cooperation. The solidarity and compassion demonstrated by the world community over the earthquake disaster in Armenia also gives me hope.

As Reinhold Neibuhr said: “nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime, therefore we must be saved by hope.”

And that goes for the Universities Breakthrough Campaign, as well as for international relations. I offer a cheque as a modest contribution to this essential project which stands to benefit Trinity and other colleges, as much as the University.

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