Passings: Roy McMurtry

A field of flowers at sunset

Roy McMurtry, who served as York University’s 12th chancellor, and was a former Ontario chief justice and attorney general, has passed away at the age of 91.

McMurtry was appointed as York’s 12th chancellor in May of 2008, following his retirement from an extensive, successful law career.

Roy McMurtry
Roy McMurtry
Photo credit: Court of Appeal for Ontario

After graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1958, McMurtry worked as a trial lawyer for 17 years. He then went on to be elected to the Ontario legislature and later was appointed attorney general in 1975. In 1979 he founded the Osgoode Society to promote and recognize the writing of Canadian legal history. He left office in 1985 to become Canada’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom. In 1996, he was appointed chief justice of Ontario after serving as the chief of the Superior Court of Justice until his retirement in 2007.

Throughout McMurtry’s career, he was a champion of human rights, pushing against discrimination, and fighting for those who were under-represented in society. He has been credited for playing a key role in implementing bilingualism in courts of justice, in the patriation of Canada’s Constitution, in ending apartheid in South Africa and in legalizing same-sex marriage in Ontario.

Among the many awards McMurtry won during his career were Osgoode Hall Law School’s Alumni Award of Excellence, the President of the Bar Association’s Award of Merit and an honorary degree form York University.

In 2008, the same year he was inducted into the Order of Ontario, McMurtry was named York’s 12th chancellor.

As chancellor, McMurtry served as the honorary head of York, conferring degrees, acting as an ambassador for the University and working to advance its interests. As a member of the President’s Task Force on Community Engagement, he also played a key role in the creation of a draft Statement and Principles on Community Engagement as well as the task force’s final report and recommendations, issued in February 2010.

At the time of McMurtry’s unanimous appointment to a second term as York’s chancellor, then York president and vice-chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri noted: “He is well-respected and extremely passionate about the entire York community, particularly our students. From the outset, his goal has been to encourage and promote the education of students and help them to become meaningfully engaged with their communities. Through his unwavering commitment, he has certainly accomplished that.”

By the end of his time at York, McMurtry had addressed over 100 convocations and conferred over 70,000 degrees upon graduating students.

When he stepped down, the University honoured his years of service with a special tribute: the Roy McMurtry Green in front of Osgoode Hall’s Ignat Kaneff Building, which also recognizes him with a plaque.

Roy McMurtry Green
Roy McMurtry Green

“York University has become a part of my DNA, so I am very grateful to receive this honour,” McMurtry said at the dedication ceremony. “It was a privilege to be a part of York’s journey and to bear witness to its unique diversity and strong determination to connect with the broader community. Serving as university chancellor was an unforgettable experience that I will always treasure. We should all be proud of what York has accomplished and will continue to accomplish.”

At the unveiling of the plaque and green, Shoukri shared words that resonate even now, following McMurtry’s passing. “The Roy McMurtry Green solidifies the chancellor’s legacy as a lifelong advocate for social justice and community engagement – a spirit that he brought with him to York,” Shoukri said. “His reputation as a champion of York University will endure as an inspiration for generations of students.”