John David Thomas: teacher, historian, coach, yea-sayer and York alumnus

John Lennox, English professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, wrote about his life-long friend and fellow York alumnus John David Thomas (PhD ‘91), who died March 14 of cancer, aged 55, in The Globe and Mail’s Lives Lived feature May 10. His mother is York Professor Emerita Clara Thomas.

John, wrote Lennox, was a gifted mimic who was quick to see and delight in the quirkiness of life, and he was endlessly entertained by the world around him. John was a historian by training and vocation with a BA from Queen’s, an MA from Duke, and a PhD from York. He loved teaching at Acadia University and Upper Canada College, and was deeply attached to the discipline of history, particularly Canadian history.

His year-long fight against cancer was exhausting and John was characteristically unflinching in meeting it head-on. Last September, when things looked hopeful, he returned to teaching and coaching in a reduced capacity. When the terminal diagnosis was given at the end of November, John took a month for himself, completed his marking, and in that time prepared valedictory letters for his friends and for the UCC football players he had coached. He told his students that they had been gentlemen to him.

Powerful in their affirmation, the letters offered comfort and consolation: "My spirit, dear friend, remains strong, and I know yours will too." John wanted us to remember the happy times. His final comment came back to teaching: "This is the future; this is why we do our work."

Philanthropist alumnus receives Harry Jerome Award

For one Mississauga winner of the Harry Jerome Award, opportunity came disguised as adversity, wrote the Mississauga News May 9. Along the way, though, philanthropist and York alumnus Emmanuel C. Mbulu (BA ’77, BA ‘80) had to show plenty of perseverance.

Mbulu received his award during a ceremony at the Toronto Congress Centre on April 28, wrote the News. The Harry Jerome Award is handed out annually by the Black Business Professional Association (BBPA) to recognize the achievements of African-Canadians. Nigerian-born Mbulu, who was honoured in the business category, is president and CEO of Tone-A-Matic International Inc., a company that sells health and fitness products.

Mbulu was 12 years old when his father was murdered, wrote the News. As the eldest child, he assumed responsibility for his family and was forced to grow up fast. At 20, Mbulu came to Canada on a student visa, vowing to turn his life around, but it wasn’t easy. As a student, he worked many jobs, first as a dishwasher, then a cab driver before tackling other professions.

"I didn’t know anybody, I had never been anywhere before, I was cold and lonely. It was hard, but I set goals for myself by overcoming all odds," Mbulu said. "I vowed then that if I ever became successful, I would establish scholarships for students who couldn’t afford [school]." Mbulu kept that promise. Even though he runs a successful business, he hasn’t forgotten his struggles. He has since helped establish scholarships at York University and in Nigeria.

MacDermid applauds Vaughan plan to increase voter turnout

Vaughan councillors want more residents to vote in the next municipal election, wrote the Vaughan Citizen May 10. While the vote isn’t until 2010, the city has created two panels within a task force charged to study ways to boost voter turnout. Municipal elections largely experience the lowest voter turnout of all three levels of government.

Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, applauded the initiative but said, while Internet voting may improve voter turnout, it has its limits. "It doesn’t attract those people who wouldn’t ordinarily be voting," MacDermid said. But he supports the city’s initiative, saying "I’m glad to see that Vaughan is showing a real commitment."

  • Despite making up more than half of Canada’s population, women account for only one-fifth of our MPs – that’s fewer than in Ethiopia, Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote Craig and Marc Kielburger in a feature story for the Toronto Star May 10 about Rwandan Senator Aloisea Inyumba. In a country that prides itself on social justice, this is a disappointing reality."Party hierarchies are still overwhelmingly male," says Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts. "There is still a difficult hurdle for female candidates in the way parties are run. It’s a failure to represent people."

Doors Open: green edition includes York’s Keele campus

Doors Open has gone green, wrote the North York Mirror May 9. On May 26 and 27, Doors Open Toronto returns and this year more environmentally friendly buildings have come on board. Doors Open offers Torontonians an opportunity to explore 150 buildings of architectural, historic, social or cultural significance. Admission is free and hours vary. "Visitors will learn first-hand what goes into designing, constructing and operating a green building at over 20 venues citywide," said Rita Davies, executive director, Toronto culture, who oversees the Doors Open Toronto event. Buildings on this year’s tour include: York University‘s Computer Science & Engineering Building and Pond Road Student Residence.

Victoria director is coming to York

Victoria, BC’s Out of the Box Productions co-artistic director Gwen Dobie has been offered a tenure-track position with York University’s theatre department in the Faculty of Fine Arts, so get out there and enjoy the company’s current production Prior Engagement before the talented Dobie is gone, wrote Victoria, BC’s Monday Magazine May 9.

Lions’ Gauer is bowl bound

York Lions’ offensive tackle David Gauer has been selected to play in the East West Bowl this Saturday at Laval University in Quebec City, wrote the Mississauga News May 9. The game will showcase the top Canadian university players eligible for next year’s Canadian Football League draft. Gauer initially played National Collegiate Athletic Association football in the US for Michigan’s Saginaw Valley State, before attending York, where he was named the Lions’ comeback player of the year in 2006.

There’s something about Harry

After Harry Bendayan’s death from leukemia in 2002 at age 48, his wife Mila Bendayan (BSc ’71) had no doubt that his Yorkville clothing store Marc Laurent would live on, wrote the Toronto Star May 10 in a story about the company. Not that she had always been committed to retail. She had studied chemistry at York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, married and stayed home to look after the kids, a daughter Ilana, now 26 and finishing her MBA, and a son David, 25, now on the buying team at Marc Laurent. In 1994, Mila got into the business. By then she had realized, "If I ever wanted to see my husband, I had to go to the store."

York instructor joins group for Owen Sound gig

On Friday and Saturday, the Uptowne Piano and Jazz Bar Presents "Mo Vista," a five-piece jazz band featuring Steve Kennedy on saxophone, Phil Manning on Hammond organ, Sam Boutzouvis on guitar, Dennis Lambert on drums, and Mike Tilka on the bass. Special guest Carole Warren will join the band for a few numbers, wrote the Owen Sound Sun Times May 10. Lambert teaches music in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.