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10 things you might not know about Canada’s new Governor-General

In Canada on October 1, 2010 at 13:21

10 things you might not know about Canada’s new Governor-General

David Johnston is set to take the reins at Rideau Hall on Friday.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

David Johnston is set to take the reins at Rideau Hall on Friday.

Ashley Csanady, National Post · Friday, Oct. 1, 2010

The man Prime Minister Stephen Harper says represents the “best of Canada” is well known in academic circles but new to most Canadians. Here are 10 things you might not know about Rideau Hall’s next resident.

IN LOVE STORY

Mr. Johnston made a name for himself as a hockey player at Harvard, and was even immortalized in print for it. When Erich Segal wrote the famous 1970 screenplay and novel Love Story, his hockey-captain character Davey Johnston is a rather thinly veiled nod to his schoolmate and jogging partner. In the second chapter, Mr. Segal describes a hockey game against Dartmouth. “By the middle of the second period, we were beating Dartmouth 0-0. That is, Davey Johston and I were about to perforate their nets,” Mr. Segal wrote. In the film credits, there’s no character by the name of Davey Johnston, but the book reference stuck. Many students at the University of Waterloo refer to their president as “Davey.”

NOT JUST A PRESIDENT

Mr. Johnston is also on the board of directors of four companies and five not-for-profit organizations. He will have to resign from all in order to sit as governor-general. He sits on the board of CGI group, Fairfax Financial, ARISE technologies and Masco Corporation. The five not-for-profits are MasterCard Foundation, Toronto Regional Research Aliance, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Ontario Centres of Excellence.

LIFE-LONG ACADEMIC

When he was appointed president of the University of Waterloo, David Johnston said, “My wife, Sharon, and I have spent all our adult life in universities.” He wasn’t exaggerating. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in government and international relations in 1963, he studied law at Cambridge and then Queen’s University, graduating from both with honours. He started teaching at Queen’s the year he graduated, 1966, where he stayed two years before leaving for the University of Toronto. He remained there for six years, until 1974. He then served as dean and professor of the faculty of law at the University of Western Ontario for five years. For 15 years he was principal, until 1994, vice-chancellor and professor of law at McGill University. The bilingual Mr. Johnston is a respected expert on cyber and securities law as well as an experienced government policy analyst. He has written 19 books, four book chapters, nearly 40 academic articles, conference papers or book reviews and holds 13 honorary degrees.

JUST A SMALL-TOWN BOY

Born June 28, 1941, in Sudbury, Ont., Mr. Johnston, despite being the first white English-speaking male to hold the position since Ray Hnatyshyn left the office in 1995, is no establishment man. His father ran a hardware store and his mother stayed at home. He went to high school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. where he met and fell in love with wife, Sharon.

STORYTELLER

Whether it’s a senate meeting, an introduction of a visiting dignitary or a convocation speech, you can always count on him to open with an anecdote. Even in the middle of a meeting, he might break up a heated debate with a story about his grandchildren or a game of hockey. “He used it often as a way to break the tension, especially if things got heated at the senate or the board of governors, as a way to build consensus,” said Sam Andrey, a recent UW graduate who sat on the senate and the board of governors as a student representative.

‘GRANDPA BOOK’

His seven grandchildren refer to him as “Grandpa Book” for his extensive reading habits. The nickname has even followed him to work. “His nickname at school was Grandpa Book,” said Mr. Andrey, explaining that Mr. Johnston loved telling stories about his grandchildren, which is how the name stuck.

GENUINELY NICE GUY

It’s really hard to find someone who has nasty things to say about Mr. Johnston. “He treats you like a peer,” said Allan Babor, former president of the Federation of Students, UW’s student union. “He wants to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.” Mr. Johnston has made cameos in students’ multimedia projects, the most notable of which is a rap video on YouTube, Streets of Waterloo 2, by engineering student-turned-rapper Baby Buddha. When Bill Gates was visiting the university, he consoled the student reporter after Mr. Gates tore down her interview questions. “I thought that last question was excellent even though he dodged it,” Mr. Johnston said.

FORMER CBC HOST

Just like his three immediate predecessors, Mr. Johnston was a CBC Televison host. He used his skills as a moderator to run the discussion shows The Editors and The World in Review.

KEEPS HIS CARDS CLOSE

No one could ever call Mr. Johnston loose-lipped. The university president is better known for his elder-statesman calm during heated debates than heated arguments. He’s described as a consensus-builder, non-partisan, difficult to read and a mediator by those who have worked with him. Conservatives and Liberals alike have requested his legal expertise on 28 government advisory panels.

ATHLETICS

The captain of the Harvard hockey team, Mr. Johnston played twice for the All-American team. At 69, he’s still an avid runner and organizes the annual fund-raiser David Johnston Run for Mental Health on the University of Waterloo campus. He’s also an equestrian. He and wife Sharon have a farm where they train dressage horses and breed Haflinger ponies.

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