Passings: Robert Everett, a smile and a heart like no other

The following tribute to Robert Everett, a cherished long-serving York staff member and teacher, was submitted to YFile by his Secretariat colleague Cheryl Underhill. Dr. Everett died on Monday, May 10 in Toronto, Ontario.

We are because he was. Robert (Bob) Everett’s gift to York was collegial governance. Bob’s gift to us was his humanity.

Robert Everett

Robert (Bob) Everett speaking at an event for long-serving employees

Bob Everett came to York University first as a graduate student, earning MA and PhD degrees in Political Science. Beginning in 1985, he taught courses on media and politics, environmental journalism and federal dynamics at York. University Professor Emeritus Fred Fletcher, Bob’s collaborator in both research and teaching, praised his excellence as a teacher, which earned him Faculty teaching awards. Bob contributed to scholarship and public policy in dozens of published works – including reports for a House of Commons standing committee, the Canadian Radio & Television Commission (CRTC) and a royal commission – and through lectures, presentations and media appearances. He was a regular contributor to the Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs for more than 20 years, publishing lengthy summaries of Canadian “Parliament and Politics” each year.

Joining the University Secretariat in 1989, Bob had a distinguished 30-year career in governance at York. Governance is a complex milieu. Bob embodied and provided the subtle leadership so necessary in this arena, equipping a long roster of Senate Chairs to flourish in the role so critical to the University. He became a pillar of governance and historical knowledge and a trusted sage at York University. Past Chairs of Senate recount his “quiet wisdom and steady presence” at their side, his “humility, eloquence, wise counsel and wit” who “served with grace and gravitas”. Be it a Senate or Senate committee Chair, all speak in unison to the tremendous privilege it was to have worked with him, unsure they would have been able to do so had it not been for Bob.

Bob’s influence reached far beyond the committee room and Senate Chamber. Through mentoring of governance colleagues within the Secretariat and Faculty Council offices, delivery of countless professional workshops, establishment of protocols and preparation of resource material still relied upon today, he gifted the University a legacy of invaluable good governance practices. He modeled unwavering commitment to fostering the collegial in collegial governance, embodying so clearly the call of York’s first President Murray Ross for this University to “give special emphasis to the humanizing …, freeing … from those pressures which mechanize the mind, which make for routine thinking, which divorce thinking and feeling, which permit custom to dominate intelligence, which frees awareness of the human spirit and its possibilities.”

A particular love of Bob’s was working with students in governance. How he relished being a guide and supporter of the student senators, to feed their interest, enable their participation and exercise their voice at the table on matters of importance to York students. That many of these students kept in touch with Bob long after their term on Senate finished or post-graduation speaks to the indelible impact he had on them. The Robert Everett Exceptional Leadership in Student Governance Award was established in 2018 by President Rhonda Lenton in recognition of his extraordinary contributions supporting students engaged in governance.

Bob was resolute in his belief that colleagues at York and all universities who support governing bodies be seen and respected as governance professionals. He nurtured dedication, service excellence and an exacting standard, all with a deft hand, gentle support and, of course, humour. On behalf of York, Bob would participate in governance conferences of the Council of Ontario University Secretaries (a COU affiliated body initiated by now retired University Secretary Harriet Lewis) and the Canadian University Boards Association to share his depth of knowledge and listen with interest and compassion to the experiences of fellow governance colleagues. The expertise that York’s University Secretariat had developed was often called upon as a resource. Finding the opportunities for governance professionals to gather so meaningful, Robert instituted a semi-formal group he coined the “GTA Governance Guild,” which for several years brought together governance colleagues from York, the University of Toronto, Ryerson and the Ontario Tech University to share experiences, learn from one another and develop best practices to be implemented at our respective institutions.

In this undated image, Bob Everett showed off his trademark sense of humour as he 'marshalled' Canada Geese following a convocation

In this undated image, Bob Everett showed off his trademark sense of humour as he 'marshalled' Canada Geese following a convocation

On the occasion of his retirement, many York community members gathered for a reception to recognize his exceptional work in collegial governance, and to thank him for making York a better place. Among the messages shared with Bob on that day were the fitting words of a respected faculty member and former Dean, Livy Visano: “York University, faculty, students, staff and administration have gained so much from your unwavering commitment to collegiality and responsible governance. We stand tall in no small measure because of your authentic leadership, courage and conviction in pulling us all together regardless of the challenges. You navigated some of the choppy waters on behalf of the collective with ease and always with an eye to reconciliation and harmony –  no small feat!”

Bob Everett has remained the sine qua non of governance at York University. He made a difference. And on the occasion of his retirement - on the enthusiastic recommendation of 14 prior Chairs of Senate and then University Secretary & General Counsel Maureen Armstrong - the Senate Chamber was re-named the Dr. Robert Everett Senate Chamber in honour of his unprecedented contribution to York University and its governance. The announcement was met with resounding applause. Bob was truly humbled.
We join those at York and beyond who knew Bob better as their dear Bradstock Boogie brother to celebrate his legacy and treasure his memory. Free in spirit now as ever, he is forever “free to rock!”

Rest in peace dear friend.

Friends and colleagues wishing to acknowledge Bob’s contributions to York may donate to the Dr. Robert Everett, Dunsmore-Everett Family Bursary at https://giving.yorku.ca/Dunsmore-Everett.

A funeral service is being held for Bob on Monday, May 17 at 2 p.m. Friends and colleagues may view the service via a livestream feed. Click on “Join Livestream” at the bottom of the obituary page on the Kane-Jerrett Funeral Home website at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/toronto-on/robert-everett-10187926.

For more York University news, photos and videos, visit the YFile homepage