In Memoriam: Archibald Young

Jane Toswell

Archibald M. Young (1936-2021)

Archie Young served as UWOFA president in 1993-1994. He was one of a half dozen members of the Department of English to serve in that capacity, but he brought to the post a particular interest in university governance. He established an ad hoc Committee on University Governance to investigate the governance structure of Western, including the Senate and Board of Governors. The committee, mostly consisting of senior and very well-respected members of UWOFA including several past presidents, took its mandate very seriously, even attending (pretty unexpectedly) a Board of Governors meeting to see that body in action, and interviewing many members of faculty and administration at Western. Its report was published as an exended paid insert in Western News; the ensuing issue of that venerable publication included a refutation of the report by the then-Provost, Tom Collins (also holding an appointment in the Department of English). The next year the senior administration convened its own governance committee, and the UWO Act was amended not long thereafter to increase the number of faculty votes on Senate. Other changes to governance practice also took place, at carefully calibrated moments over the next few years. Archie’s vision, his plan to cast a spotlight on issues of governance at Western, worked brilliantly. The next year, the newly-constituted Policy and Governance Committee of UWOFA also began its work, which continues today. Archie’s legacy as UWOFA president was significant.

Archie was also a dedicated and thoughtful teacher of Renaissance literature, focusing on poetry and theology (especially his beloved Thomas More, Augustine, and Desiderius Erasmus, if he could work them in). He was extremely generous with his time with students who were perspicacious enough to come to see him or to ask questions after his classes. He was a longstanding member of The Medieval Seminar, and a staunch attender of all its events and conferences. In the department and the faculty, he was an intelligent and courageous colleague, on several occasions proposing new initiatives or more transparent decision-making on important questions. He spoke slowly and deliberately, and in extended and complex sentences. The result was that sometimes people missed the charm and the puckish sense of humour. Those privileged to hear his story of the bat that invaded his and Mary’s bedroom (complete with descriptions of the flowered shower cap he donned for the extended engagement) will never forget his self-deprecating joy in life.  

Dinner parties with Mary and Archie were astonishing culinary events. Cheeses would be special-ordered from the Eastern Townships, or cakes bought in Toronto. Archie made a superb and sympathetic host. His taste was impeccable, so that when the Arts Rooms in University College were renovated, he was the only logical person to pick out furniture and to source the best Oriental carpets. At the same time, he was the very best guest in other venues: helpful, engaged and curious. In those moments when no one had a question for an awkward speaker, Archie could be absolutely counted upon to think of something. He had that same kindness for students, both the ones he taught for thirty-four years at Western (1968-2002), and the many he met on his trips thereafter to China to teach whatever seemed most appropriate in a given summer and to learn from his students, visiting their homes and enjoying their company. This was a life well lived.