A Tribute to W. Andy MacKay ('53)

W. Andrew MacKay 

Prof. William Charles
from Hearsay Magazine
Volume 35, Winter 2013/14


William Andrew (Andy) MacKay was born in Halifax in 1929. He came to our university as a first-year arts student in 1947. He earned his BA, LL.B. and LL.M. at Dalhousie. He also received an LL.M. from Harvard University and three honorary doctorates from Memorial, St. Francis Xavier and Dalhousie. Andy MacKay began as a professor in 1957 and later, in 1964, became Dean of the Law School. In 1969 he was made Vice-President of Dalhousie University and later still, President. He then went on to serve as a judge of the Federal Court. In July 2013 at MacKay's memorial service, Professor Bill Charles ('58), a longtime colleague of MacKay's, gave a touching eulogy. The following is Charles' tribute to a friend and a venerable Dalhousian.

I first met Andy MacKay some 55 years ago when he walked into our third-year class to teach mortgages. In 1960 I joined Andy on the faculty of the Law School and we served as colleagues from 1960 to 1969, and we continued to serve as colleagues at the university until 1986. We have been lifelong friends. I have been asked to recount for you the academic and professional accomplishments of Andy MacKay. I do so honoured and touched to have been asked but, like all of you, with great sadness.


Andy’s love affair with Dalhousie in a professional and academic capacity began in 1957 when he joined the law faculty as a junior faculty member, fresh from three years in External Affairs in Ottawa where he served as a foreign service officer.

During his early years, as low man on the faculty roster, Andy was assigned to teach a variety of courses that other faculty members did not want to teach. Andy saw this was an opportunity to better appreciate the breadth and interconnectedness of the law.
Andy also took part in the planning for the anticipated new and bigger law school. In his first five years Andy impressed Dean Read sufficiently with his abilities that he appointed Andy as acting Dean on those occasions when Read had to be absent from the School.
Andy performed this job in exemplary fashion. As a result, Read would later say that he had no concerns whatever while Andy was in charge.


Although he was dean for only five years, these years were a critical time in the life and development of the school. The transition to a new and much larger building [from the old law school located in the upper campus to the Weldon Building] presented significant logistical and administrative problems, as did the much larger student body.

As Canadian historian and Dalhousie professor Peter Waite observed, gone was the intimacy of the old school and the small school tradition of first-year students taking its tone and ethos from the more mature third-years. In addition, faculty and students requested a more optional course curriculum—a change that, if adopted, might have brought about a serious confrontation with provincial bar societies. Students also proposed the establishment of a new legal aid clinic. Andy dealt with these problems and requests for change with equanimity, patience and wisdom.

John Willis assessed Andy’s contribution as Dean in his book The History of Dalhousie Law School:

His lasting contribution is that he carried out, with a minimum of disturbance, what could have been a chaotic change from the little law school to the big law school.

Willis also observed that Andy’s cautious approach to problems gave everyone time to think and to reach a consensus. Of course there were those who did not appreciate the slow pace of developments and wanted more immediate action. What they considered as inaction and what they did not appreciate was what Willis described as the

"many and inconspicuous hours spent working out the tiresome details that were vital to the success of all he undertook."

His cautious approach to problems and decision-making was explicable according to Al Sinclair, who served as one of Andy's vice presidents, in this way:

Andy was always very patient and careful. He was able to look at problems from more than one aspect and he would not make a difficult decision without seeing the best solution. If there wasn’t one, he waited until he could see it. In this way, Andy avoided mistakes that he might later regret.

While still serving as dean of the Law School, Andy also worked to improve human rights in Nova Scotia. He was appointed the first chair of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, a position he held from 1967 to 1986. As chair, Andy was encouraged by the work of the commission in public schools educating students about minority rights.
His concern for human rights and difficulties faced by visible minorities continued into his term as vice president of Dalhousie with President Henry Hicks. Andy supported with persistence an initiative brought to the university Senate to establish a transition-year program. This program was to bring disadvantaged students from visible minorities up to the academic standards of university entrance. Andy pushed the program along in spite of poor funding and other difficulties.


When Andy received the call in 1969 to serve as interim V.P. Academic of Dalhousie, he thought it was a temporary appointment and that he would be back at the Law School within a year or two. This was not to be, and he never returned as dean. He did, however, maintain close contact with the Law School as he continued to teach a course and, as vice president, to monitor and approve the School's budget.

In 1972 President Hicks accepted a Senate of Canada appointment which meant he would devote only 60 per cent of his time to running the university. As Peter Waite so aptly describes the president’s situation, "When Parliament was in session, Senator Hicks would blow into town Thursday night, become President Hicks from Friday to Tuesday, make decisions and have MacKay implement them.”

As President Hicks stated in Hearsay Magazine (1976): "Andy MacKay has always been a university person in the best sense of that term...The quality of the university depends on having at least a few people like Andy MacKay among its members."

When Andy was appointed president, Peter Waite opined that "if the Dalhousie presidency was the reward for 11 years of faithful, intelligent and unremitting service, then MacKay well deserved it.”

Shortly before he was made president and while still functioning as V.P. academic, fate stepped in and brought Andy back to the Law School.


In November 1978, CUPE Local 1392 called a strike. The local represented Dalhousie cleaners, caretakers, drivers and porters. In order to maintain a minimum level of cleanliness at the School, management, consisting of me and Prof. Ron Macdonald ('52) became cleaners.

But the cleaning was too much for the two of us and so a work crew from the upper campus consisting of V.P. MacKay, V.P. MacLean, V.P. Finance Don McNeill, and Arnold Tingley was created to help. Work was done on weekends, usually Sunday morning at 6:00 am lasting until 9:00 am. Duties included cleaning and sweeping floors, vacuuming carpets, emptying trash baskets and, most enjoyable of all, cleaning toilet bowls and urinals.
We did the best we could but we were not professionals. It was, however, quite a bonding experience if one were needed. The strike lasted 48 days.
I still have visions of three or four of the group down on hands and knees cleaning and flushing toilets. Discussion was not of an elevated quality. No important education concepts were discussed and there was deliberate avoidance of any discussions of the strike.

Instead, discussions tended to be more down to earth and centered around the most effective cleaners and best practices. By the end of the almost two months, I believe we had almost reached professional grade. This was public service at its best: and Andy was in the thick of it.


In 1980, Andy was appointed president of Dalhousie. As president, Andy’s serious, careful, competent style contrasted sharply with that of his brash, exuberant, swashbuckling predecessor Henry Hicks.
Finances and collective bargaining with the newly formed unions took up much of his time. With the help of an enthusiastic fund raising committee, $35 million was raised which did much to relieve the worrisome financial state of the university. Dalhousie’s leaky boat became seaworthy.

So the man who had quarterbacked Dal’s football team to glory continued to quarterback the Law School and then the university.

After his retirement, Andy chaired the Nova Scotia Task Force on AIDS and again engaged in a province-wide educational project. He became the provincial ombudsman before being appointed to the Federal Court.


Andy served as a full-time member from 1988 until his retirement in 2004. As a judge of the Federal Court, Andy presided over two particular cases that attracted media attention. One case involved a suspected terrorist who resisted deportation on the grounds that he would be subject to torture if he were returned home.

The other case was described as a Star Wars dispute. The plaintiff alleged that the popular Star Wars franchise had copied the Ewoks from his 1978 literary work entitled Space Pets. The plaintiff alleged that Ewoks—the cute, furry and rather irritating teddy-bear-like creature featured in George Lucas’ film the Return of the Jedi—were his own invention. This was a $129 million copyright infringement case.

Placed side by side, these cases serve as an example of the breadth and diversity of the jurisdiction of Federal Courts. It also emphasizes the flexibility required of its judges to hear disputes involving so many legal principles. With regard to the Ewoks, I can just picture Andy trying to keep a straight face while serious legal counsel argued about ownership of these creatures. I am sure there was more than a twinkle in his eye.

In 2004, at the age of 75, after retiring as a full-time judge, Andy was asked to stay on as a deputy judge. He served for several more years in that capacity. In addition to his judging duties, Andy served as a mentor to new judges. He once told an interviewer that he was a Jack of many trades and master of none. A more accurate appraisal surely is that he was king of many trades and master of all.

Many of Andy’s personal qualities have represented his dedication to public service in the best Weldon tradition. Andy was not a self-promoter, he preferred to elevate and encourage others. He did many things—good works that were never mentioned by him or anyone else, usually in the lonely hours of the night. His humble demeanour sparked admiration and loyalty in others.

Andy was recently honoured with the Dalhousie University Alumnae Association Life Achievement Award. In accepting the award, he remarked: "I think of it as a great honour, not one that reflects on me particularly, but on the university, because I think the university had a significant impact on my evolution in being a thinking and, I hope, thoughtful Canadian trying to do something in this world."
And you did, Andrew—and you did! •