Passings: Professor Marcia Hampton Rioux

A field of flowers at sunset

Marcia Hampton Rioux (née Gautschi), OC, a Distinguished Research Professor and Professor Emerita in the School of Health Policy and Management in York University’s Faculty of Health, died peacefully in her Toronto home on Sept. 20, surrounded by love and family. A brilliant, funny, approachable and compassionate academic, she was a respected member of the York University community.

Nationally and internationally, Professor Rioux was regarded as a leading legal scholar and pioneer in the field of human rights and equity. Born on May 16, 1947, in Trail, B.C., she began her career at the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and later worked at the Law Reform Commission of Canada. She held a PhD in jurisprudence and social policy from the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to being named a Distinguished Research Professor by York University, Professor Rioux was the director at York University’s Institute for Health Research. She was the co-founder and first Chair of the School of Health Policy & Management as well as the Critical Disabilities Studies program.

Marcia Rioux

Passionate and engaged, Professor Rioux was devoted to her students and took great pride in their accomplishments. She was a driving force in the promotion of disability rights and the enhancement of opportunities for marginalized people. She played a leadership role in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and published widely in the area of disability and human rights. She was a co-founder of Disability Rights Promotion International, which now monitors rights for people with disabilities in more than 62 countries. She was a Fellow of the Institutes of Advanced Studies in the U.K. and Australia.

Professor Rioux was the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteer Award in recognition of her contributions to Ontario communities. In 2014, she was invested into the Order of Canada for her scholarship in the field of social justice and for her advancement of the rights of persons with disabilities.

She edited a number of collected volumes and more than 70 book chapters and articles on human rights. Her most recent book was published in November 2015, Disability, Rights Monitoring and Social Change: Building Power out of Evidence (Eds. M.H. Rioux, P.Pinto, G. Parekh) Canadian Scholars Press.

Professor Rioux lectured throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. She was a visiting scholar and professor at a number of international institutions, including the University of Zagreb, Croatia and LaTrobe University in Australia.

In addition to her passion for her work and her students, Professor Rioux loved jazz music and art. She had many surrogate family members as well as a rich tapestry of friends throughout the world.

Courage was a staple in her character and she was never afraid to face challenges. She survived seven different cancers. She died of congestive heart failure.

She was the daughter of the late Edouard and Phyllis (née Gray) Gautschi; loving partner of Ezra Zubrow; sister of Jane Underwood (David) of Oakville, Ont., and Anne George of west Vancouver; and aunt to Kristen Underwood (Ottawa), Kathryn Underwood (Toronto), Marcia George (Ottawa) and Mary George (Vancouver).

In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory can be directed toward the Marcia H. Rioux Award in Critical Disability Studies, Human Rights and Social Justice at York University. Information is available at

A memorial service for Professor Rioux will be held at a later date. Details will be updated on YFile.

Professor Rioux’s colleagues remember her

“Marcia is one of the first people I met when I came to York. Over the years I have learned so much from her dedicated activism on disability rights and from her mentorship. I will miss her as a dear colleague and friend.” – Marina Morrow, Chair of the School of Health Policy & Management, professor, Faculty of Health

“Marcia turned wrongs into ‘rights.’ She was a rare combination of thinker and a doer, who could attack a problem strategically. Our school and the field of Critical Disability Studies benefited enormously from her energy, passion and drive. She lived her life in the fast lane, with gusto, a constant twinkle in her eye and tremendous wit. Our on-going joke was that she could fly around the world and back but could she find where she had parked her car that day. It was always up in the air.” – Tamara Daly, professor, Faculty of Health

“Marcia was an exceptional colleague and leader. She installed a welcoming and collegial culture in the School of Health Policy & Management. That culture, shared by all, was and is of limitless value; it is a treasure that we should keep and nurture. She will always be remembered as exceptional, welcoming, and humble. We will miss you dearly, Marcia.” – Christo El Morr, associate professor, Faculty of Health

“Marcia hired me almost 20 years ago. In addition to her numerous professional accomplishments, Marcia was a women of tremendous substance – she cared deeply about others, always thinking about how to support and advance her more junior colleagues.  She was a highly principled individual who never hesitated to stand up and support the people and causes she believed in.  She was always direct and she was fierce in her commitment to better the world around her.  Her passing marks a tremendous loss for our school and for everyone who knew her.” – Liane Ginsburg, professor, Faculty of Health

“I first met Marcia Rioux at a coffee shop on Bloor St. in the summer of 2001 shortly after we had both been hired to be among the initial faculty at the newly created School of Health Policy and Management (SHPM). From the very beginning she struck me as a force of nature that one had no choice but to follow such was her wisdom and dedication to everything she got involved with. After a while, she became, as both she and my wife termed it, my ‘office wife,’ always guiding me in what to do and how to do it better. The current success of SHPM rests on her shoulders. She will be remembered not only for her academic prowess, but also for being a great friend and mentor to very many people.” – Dr. Joel Lexchin, MD, professor emeritus, Faculty of Health

“Marcia was an amazing scholar and activist who, more than anyone else, is responsible for the existence of the Critical Disability Studies (CDS) MA and PhD programs, though she would be the first to credit others who helped her along the way. She talked at times about the struggles it took to get the CDS program started in an academic culture, which perceived disabled people as being in need of ‘fixing’ rather than as equals. Marcia also credited colleagues inside and outside the academy who were supportive of her plans to make CDS the serious scholarly and activist-oriented program it has become.” – Geoffrey Reaume, associate professor, Faculty of Health