In Memory of Lynn Trainor

The following has been adapted from some of the remarks prepared by John Valleau for Lynn Trainor’s memorial.

It is a rare privilege if one gets to know, two or three times during one’s life, a truly fine person. Lynn Trainor was such a person; I consider myself blessed to have been his friend.

For you knew that whatever Lynn said or did, it was based rock-solid on his compassion and his honesty. One could trust his instincts completely: it was enormously reassuring.

For me as for many of you, Lynn was not only a friend but a mentor. I think especially of his characteristic relaxed and encouraging manner of entering into discussion, however contentious the subject—I wish I had learned that lesson better! He was never intimidating, always gentle and warm, even slightly self-effacing—it meant everyone was put at ease and found it natural to be involved.

Presently, mind you, it would emerge that Lynn had in fact a thoroughly worked-out position, firmly based in his principles and priorities, and, as often as not, also an already-formulated action plan in which he was seeking to involve you. For, in spite of his gentle manner, and in spite of his being, by trade, a theoretician, Lynn was one of the most action-oriented people you could meet.

Still, the gentleness was absolutely genuine too.

That may make Lynn sound very sober and intense. Actually, as many of you know, any encounter with Lynn was full of his sense of fun—one was not allowed to take oneself over-seriously. He even specialised in forever kidding his friends—puncturing every pretension before it had any chance to inflate! He knew, better than most, that life is too important to be engaged without laughter.

I knew Lynn best through our joint activities in Science for Peace, and I’ll turn in a moment to a few words about his role in our organisation. But meanwhile it would falsify the picture not to draw attention to some of the many other facets of his rich life: his interests and contributions covered an extraordinary range.

The bedrock of all this was the centrality of his love for Anne, his children and his wider family.

One needs also to recall Lynn’s long and distinguished career as an academic. He taught and did research in several universities, and of course latterly, for many years, in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto. His research was in theoretical physics, in which he published many distinguished papers on diverse subjects; especially noteworthy was his pioneer role in opening up the field of theoretical biophysics.

Leaving aside these central matters, one also remembers:

Lynn Trainor the hands-on farmer, presumably seeking, on his farm near Rice Lake, to regain his Saskatchewan roots.

Lynn Trainor the Chairman of the North York Board of Education, his activities there enough by themselves to make his life memorable, as he fought to make the public schools provide the diversity and challenges needed alike by gifted kids and by the needy children of the Jane-Finch corridor.

Lynn Trainor, political pundit. He was a supporter of the NDP for many years, though not uncritically. He often took me to task for being naive in my suppositions about leadership hopefuls like Bob Rae and Stephen Lewis, urging a certain skepticism as to the depth of their commitments to genuine democratic socialist principles. I have to admit that time largely justified many of his remarks.

Lynn Trainor, medical skeptic. Lynn suffered anguish over the health troubles of his daughter Pat, and the failure of conventional medicine in that regard. It led him to an iconaclastic interest in examining the claims of unconventional techniques such as homeopathic remedies, subjects beyond the pale for many less open-minded scientists. This led in turn to a longterm dedication to helping, financially and in other ways, a physician friend who was forced into dispute, and eventually legal contest, by the conservative medical establishment in Ontario.

Lynn Trainor, urban activist. I think here of our early involvement in Praxis, a UofT-based leftwing organisation aimed especially at helping the poor of Toronto to organise. What I now remember best is the story of the fire. Praxis had as office a house on Huron Street, where we held meetings and kept all our files and records. One night that house mysteriously caught fire; some neighbour noticed and called the firemen, who came and put out the fire. Only afterwards was it discovered that all the Praxis files had vanished from the filing cabinets. Evidently the firemen had been unduly prompt! And indeed the RCMP, as they admit, had (and still have) those files. Lynn and the rest of us must have been pretty subversive, it seems.

And there is so much more —- this hasn’t even mentioned Lynn’s longtime membership in Pugwash, nor his dedicated support of the Montessori schools,nor his work in continuing education, and so on and on: the list of his involvements is truly dazzling.

Meanwhile, Lynn played a leading role in Science for Peace, giving us years of dedication and enthusiasm. From the start: SfP was founded in 1981, and Lynn was one of the original members and a leader from the early years. And, until recently when his health began to fail and he and Anne sought some retreat elsewhere, he continued to play an inspiring role.

I believe his role was especially key in 1987-89, when SfP went through very serious internal troubles that threatened its very existence. This had to do with very discordant interpretations of the responsibilities of its leaders, expressed especially by a bitter dispute between George Ignatieff and John Dove, both outstanding people and respected workers for peace. As President and Secretary, they were two of the then three-member Executive Committee; I was the third, but not really non-partisan. It was then that Lynn showed his true colours: he might prudently have lain low, but instead he jumped into the fire by agreeing to join this fraught Executive as a 4^th^ member—a brave step! His quiet but firm good sense helped calm the waters a bit, and may well have saved SfP from self-destruction at the time.

His central role continued. The Executive was moved to Vancouver, as an attempt to put an end to the discord. But that wasn’t entirely satisfactory, because most of the activity was in or around Toronto—it was here that coordination and initiative was required. For this purpose a more-or-less self-appointed local committee was set up: the “Ad Hoc Committee”; Lynn played a prominent role. The Committee met frequently, always in the cafeteria of the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry (which was deemed appropriate); probably the reason we met there was actually that they always had date squares, of which Lynn was inordinately fond.

The Ad Hoc Committee was actually very effective, and ushered in one of the most fruitful periods for SfP: the international Arctic Conference got planned, a key SfP Retreat was organised to re-examine our work, publication ventures took shape, and so on. Lynn was in the thick of this, and simultaneously was co-leader of two SfP research projects. He was an important factor in the revival of an organisation that had been seriously threatened.

As the “troubles” eased, Lynn and I launched a new project, meant to broaden the SfP focus beyond its original focus on the nuclear threat and reducing the risk of war. We very modestly named it “The Superordinate Project”! — can’t you just see the grin on Lynn’s face?

The Project accepted the reality and gravity of the environmental crisis and also the harm that would follow from the still-nascent move towards ‘corporate globalisation’. The SoP plan was to assemble a group of “thinkers” from diverse fields for ongoing discussion, the attempt being to formulate a vision of an acceptable and sustainable future, and to see how to reach it. For that one needs input from many fields—economics, political science, engineering, philosophy, etc. This group met more-or-less monthly, for about 2 years. At each meeting some member of the group would offer a discussion paper for intense scrutiny by the group. The experience was intellectually fascinating, in fact my most exciting experience within SfP. The focus gradually came to be on analysing the idea of geographically-defined self-sustaining societies (maybe one nation, like Canada or India, maybe a region of several), and trying to imagine what economic and social arrangements would be required to make it function—the contrast with “globalisation” is patent.

Lynn was in his element: provoking and joining in far-ranging discussion, and, of course, pushing for concrete outcomes. He was frustrated, too, because it proved difficult to get the members to stop talking long enough to produce useful publications. (Only one significant SoP paper reached the public, in fact in more than one language: “Nature’s Veto” (authored by Abe Rotstein, Peter Harries-Jones, Peter Timmerman). The need for intense effort along the lines Lynn was promoting still exists: a vision of a possible future both sustainable and just still needs to be made concrete, and the path to it still needs signposts: Lynn’s creativity was before its time, here as elsewhere.

These remarks have referred to only a few of Lynn’s enthusiasms, and there is not time now to lay out the amazing contributions he made with respect to many of them.

In every case, one learned enormously from what Lynn had to say.

In every case, he was ahead of his time.

In every case, interacting with Lynn was a rewarding and heart-warming experience.

In every case, it was just great fun doing things in his company.

We have been blessed and altered by his life. He lives on in each of us, and in the ongoing efforts of Science for Peace to make the world a better and more peaceful place.

Lynn’s family has suggested that those who wish might, in his honour, make a donation to Science for Peace. This could be mailed to

University College,
15 King’s College Circle,
University of Toronto,
Toronto, Ont., M5S 3H7

You should say the donation is in memory of Lynn, and let the office know should you not want the family to be informed that you have made such a donation.

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)