Obituary of Ronald Atkey
RONALD GEORGE ATKEY, P.C., Q.C.
Lawyer, legal scholar, cabinet minister, advocate for immigrant’s rights, national security expert, author, musician, supporter of the arts, loving father and grandfather – Ronald George Atkey, P.C., Q.C. passed away unexpectedly but peacefully at home in Toronto on May 9, 2017.
He will be dearly missed by his children Erin Tait (Bruce), Matthew Atkey (Sarah), and Jennifer Price (Jonathan) and by his wife Marie Rounding. He was a wonderful “Pops” to grandchildren Phineas and Wyatt Tait, as well as Olivia and McArthur Price. He is also survived by cousins Ann Atkey, Allison Atkey, John Hughes and Nancy Hughes. Ron was predeceased by his son Jonathan Atkey, sister Jane Atkey, her partner Jane Staub, and cousin James Atkey.
Ron was born February 15, 1942 in Saint John, New Brunswick and was raised by his parents Osborne Lorne George Atkey and Mary Agnes Hills in Petrolia, Ontario. He and his sister Jane fondly remembered lively family discussions about politics and other current events around the dinner table, which most certainly shaped Ron’s political inclinations and his own love of debating. He attended Trinity College School followed by Western University where he earned his law degree as Gold Medalist in 1965 before receiving an LL.M. degree from Yale University in 1966.
He authored Canadian Constitutional Law in a Modern Perspective and was a law professor at Western, Osgoode Hall and the University of Toronto for several years before first winning political office in 1972 as the Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament for the riding of St. Paul’s in Toronto. After another successful campaign in 1979, he became Minister of Employment and Immigration in Prime Minister Joe Clark’s cabinet. In that position, he played a pivotal role in the decision to allow 50,000 Vietnamese refugees to immigrate to Canada during the 1979 Southeast Asian refugee crisis and was a supporter of the sponsorship programs that made it possible. Those events and decisions continue to have an impact on this country today. Not only have thousands made a new life and established families and businesses here, but the work that was done to make a home for those in need established a precedent and framework for Canada’s current approach to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Ron joined Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in 1974, becoming partner in 1976 and practicing law with the firm for more than 30 years. After leaving Parliament he rejoined his law practice and was appointed as the first Chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the external review body which reports to Parliament on the activities of CSIS, a position he held from 1984 to 1989. He maintained an interest in national security matters for the rest of his life. He acted as independent adviser to the Arar Commission in 2004, and in recent years he lectured on national security law at a number of universities and conferences, and was a frequent commentator on national security matters in the news media. His interest in national security law was complemented by his strong support for civil liberties, and he was a board member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for many years.
Both within and outside of his legal practice he was a significant supporter of the arts, particularly in the music and film industries. He entertained friends and family with his piano playing as often as he could. He made significant contributions as a board member and trustee of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and its foundation. For many years, he has been a supporter and adviser to emerging musical groups in Toronto encompassing genres ranging from classical to jazz. Ron has been a director of the Canadian Film Centre, and was a current board member of Entertainment One.
Ron had one speed in life: busy. He enjoyed entertaining and spending time with his family and many different circles of friends. Even in his later years, he refused to let failing joints slow him down to spend many weekends biking and skiing in Collingwood, and at the Craigleith Ski Club. He was also known to play a few rounds of golf at the Toronto Hunt Club, which has been the site of many significant family celebrations. He had fond memories of summers in Muskoka where he demonstrated his windsurfing and sailing prowess (or lack thereof), and in his younger days he was an avid runner. He even took a short sabbatical to write a spy novel entitled The Chancellor’s Foot, published by Little Brown in 1995. Throughout his life, Ron seized every opportunity to live, to travel and to experience all that the world had to offer.
The family will receive friends at the HUMPHREY FUNERAL HOME A.W. MILES – NEWBIGGING CHAPEL, 1403 Bayview Avenue (south of Davisville Avenue) from 2–4 p.m. and 6–8 p.m. on Thursday, May 18, 2017. A memorial service will be held on Friday, May 19th at 11 o’clock in METROPOLITAN UNITED CHURCH, 56 Queen Street East. Private family interment will follow at a later date in the Atkey family plot at Bayview Cemetery in Wiarton, Ontario. If desired, in lieu of flowers, the family would ask you to send donations in the memory of Ron Atkey to Lifeline Syria, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra or a charity of your choice. Condolences and memories may be forwarded through www.humphreymilesnewbigging.com.