The City of Hamilton’s most revered citizen was given a rousing farewell last Friday during Ontario’s first state funeral in 30 years.
Nearly 1,500 attended a two-hour service that celebrated Lincoln Alexander’s diverse life and myriad political and community accomplishments. The first Black Member of Parliament who died two weeks ago at age 90 was a Hamilton resident for nearly seven decades.
Toronto Argonauts vice-chairman Michael “Pinball” Clemons recalled his first meeting with Alexander at a Variety Village luncheon just weeks after he joined the football club in 1989.
“That unforgiveable thunderous voice reverberating between base and baritone, his diction was defined, his vocabulary vast and his oratory was seemingly omnipotent,” Florida-born Clemons recounted in his tribute. “He didn’t just look the part. He was leadership personified, a leader of leaders. Never in my life have I personally witnessed anything or anyone – even growing up in a Southern Baptist Church – so articulate, so inspiring and so overpowering.
“I wondered just for a moment what it would have been like to be in the presence of my childhood hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr…Lincoln was a trailblazer of the highest order that was quick to remind us that while he was proud to be Black, he was first a Canadian.”
Former Ontario Premier, David Peterson, said Alexander’s preferred first name – Linc – described exactly what he did.
“He linked people to people, community to community and culture to culture in a way that was unique to him,” said Peterson. “He loved people and they loved him back…He could find the fun, he could find the humour and he could find the humanity in any situation and it was constantly a joy to be with him.”
Alexander was the longest serving chancellor of the University of Guelph where he held the position for an unprecedented five terms, a record among Canadian universities. In 2007, he was named chancellor emeritus in recognition of his lengthy and distinguished service to the university.
“He holds a very special place in our university community,” said University President, Dr. Alastair Summerlee. “He was a supporter, role model, inspiration and friend. He was a man with an enormous heart and he will be sadly missed. He had an astonishing ability to make time stand still when he was talking to you. Part of the secret, of course, was his genuine nature. At such a moment, you – and no one else – (were) the most important person, even in the midst of an enormous event like convocation. He spent time with every graduate student…With his personal touch, he inspired more than 20,000 students as they received their degrees.”
Summerlee said Alexander’s love, dignity and determination to treat every single human being as the most important person in the world will always be remembered.
“Know that you have left behind a legacy of change and a legacy of tolerance that can never, never be undone and each of us here and those many people whose lives you have touched pledge to carry in our hearts your courage,” said Summerlee.
The university celebrated Alexander’s life last Monday night with a jazz band performance, tributes and readings from his autobiography, Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy.
The first Black to run for parliament in 1965, Alexander was the Hamilton West Conservative Member of Parliament for 12 years. He also served as Minister of Labour in Joe Clark’s minority government in 1979.
First Unitarian Church of Hamilton Minister, Rev. Allison Barrett, said Alexander was temperamentally suited for politics which she noted could be both a noble calling and blood sport.
“He was by necessity a fighter, by training an advocate but by person I believe a man who really wanted to make heaven here on earth and found that public service was the way to do it,” said Rev. Barrett. “He held his values front and centre in all he did…The meaning and messages of Linc’s life are many, too many to share in one hour or one day. We will continue to tell our stories of the way he inspired us, touched us and made a difference in the world he graced for 90 years.”
Award-winning vocalist, Jackie Richardson, paid tribute to Alexander with the songs, “Here’s to Life” and “Hymn to Freedom”, while a 10-minute video highlight of Canada’s first Black vice-regal’s distinguished life was shown during the service.
The late premier, John Robarts, was the last Ontarian to be accorded a state funeral in October 1982.