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In memoriam: Former principal Ralph Campbell

Ralph Campbell served as principal of U of T Scarborough from 1972 to 1976. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

Ralph Campbell, a former principal of U of T Scarborough as well as a scholar, Second World War veteran, and agricultural economist, died on March 13 at the age of 89.

Campbell, who studied at U of T and at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, served as principal of the campus from 1972 to 1976. Colleagues recall him as someone who was very highly respected on campus and around the University of Toronto, and who was often described as a “people person.” He was also known as someone who was active in international development and worked to connect with and make improvements to peoples’ lives around the world. The staff and faculty lounge at U of T Scarborough, which opened in the Academic Resource Centre on campus in 2006, is named in his honour.

“As principal at Scarborough, Ralph inspired confidence and respect for integrity and fairness,” said Prof. Joan Foley, university ombudsperson as well as a former principal of U of T Scarborough. “He took a personal interest in everyone at the college. He never let a day go by without walking through the buildings, stopping to talk with whomever he encountered in the hall, and dropping in to speak with staff or faculty in their offices. He made all feel that they were important to the institution. His warmth and his smile will always be remembered by those who knew him.”

“Ralph was the essence of collegiality, and he will be sorely missed by many,” said humanities professor Ian McDonald. “Ralph made an outstanding effort to get to know virtually every member of the college, not just faculty and staff but also an astonishing number of students. He remembered peoples’ names, their positions and their interests, right to the end. When he came back to attend the dedication of the lounge named in his honour, he was able to pick up conversations started 30 years ago with faculty and staff whom he readily could call by name.”

Campbell was born on Nov. 14, 1918 on a family farm in Foxboro, Ontario, north of Belleville. After graduating from high school he became a full-time farmer with his parents for the next five years. He was involved in local agricultural cooperatives and boards in the area. He served as a fighter pilot in the Second World War in the Royal Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar after several life-threatening incidents over European skies. His first book, We Flew by Moonlight, recounted his experience as a bomber pilot when he had to ditch his plane in the English Channel at night, and later, when his plane was shot down in flames in Germany’s Ruhr Valley.

Following the war, Campbell returned to Canada and attended university, studying at the University of Toronto from 1946 to 1949 and then at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar from 1949 to 1951. He became a lecturer in the department of agricultural economics at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph and was subsequently appointed professor and head of the department from 1952 to 1962. His second book, From Foxboro, Ontario, chronicles his life with special attention to his early years in a farm community. He served as president of the Agricultural Institute of Canada in 1960, and of the Canadian Agricultural Economic Society in 1959. Campbell is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees. He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1986. On June 8, 2008, he is scheduled to be posthumously inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Campbell became a professor and associate dean at the University of Toronto, where he served from 1964 to 1970. Subsequently, he served as an economic advisor to Jordan in 1962, and in Kenya from 1970 to 1972, where he became a “troubleshooter” to help in the establishment of a new sugar factory that provided hope and jobs for thousands in Kenya’s west, and he considered the Mumias Sugar Factory one of his greatest achievements, now producing 180,000 tons of sugar annually.

In 1972, Campbell returned to Canada to serve as principal of what was then called Scarborough College at U of T, where he led the campus until 1976. He lived on campus in the historic Miller Lash House. He spearheaded the creation of the first co-operative education program at U of T. He was subsequently appointed president at the University of Manitoba, where he served as president from 1976 to 1981, followed by the post in Kenya. In 1984, he became director of the international development office of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), making efforts to assist Canadian universities in establishing productive relations with universities in the developing world. He returned to Africa in 1981 as part of a project with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

In his senior years, Campbell continued to visit U of T Scarborough annually and maintained his connections with various faculty, staff and friends at the campus. He is survived by his wife Ruth, three children, two stepchildren, eleven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife Joy, in 1975. He will be sadly missed by family, friends and colleagues.

A funeral service will be held at Mundell Funeral Home, 79 West St., Orillia, on Sunday, March 30 at 1 p.m. A celebration of Ralph Campbell’s life will follow at Hawk Ridge Golf & Country Club, 1151 Hurlwood Lane, Orillia. In lieu of flowers, people are asked to make a donation to a university of their choice.

The University of Toronto flag will be flown at half-staff on Friday, March 27 in honour of Campbell. The U of T Scarborough community is planning to organize a celebration of Ralph Campbell’s life to be held on campus. Watch for details on the web site at


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