Dr. Donald W. Thomson
Goodbye to Dr. Donald W. Thomson, LL.B, LL.D, F.R.G.S.
by Gillian Foss
On January 9, 2001, the Honorary National President of the Canadian Authors Association passed away peacefully in the Civic Hospital in Ottawa. He was just shy of his 95th birthday. He had been CAA's most actively involved member to hold that position. When failing health kept him from attending National meetings he always sent good wishes and encouragement, knowing he was there in spirit.
He joined CAA in 1930. In 1932 he was elected President of the Edmonton Branch and after his move to take up a job in the House of Commons, he became President of the Ottawa Branch. He served as National President from 1960-62. In 1964 Don was part of a committee examining the possibility for authors to receive payment for the public use of their books, for example, in public libraries. This work was the foundation on which the current Public Lending Rights Commission was created. Throughout his life he was an outspoken advocate of writers' rights.
The three-volume work he wrote on the surveying of Canada, Men and Meridians is still the official reference source on the subject and one of his greatest literary achievements. Among his other writings were many speeches, scholarly articles and book reviews. With his first wife Terry, he wrote three volumes of poetry in addition to having many individual poems published in national anthologies and newspapers. In recognition for his contribution to Canadian letters his alma mater, the University of Alberta, bestowed on him the Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (LL.D).
He was a recipient of the CAA's Allan Sangster Award for distinguished service to the Association and appointed an Honorary Life Member. He and Terry were closely involved (Terry was engaged as Executive Secretary in 1946) with the Canadian Writers' Foundation that continues to provide assistance to distinguished Canadian writers who suffer financial distress in their later years. Although now separate from the Canadian Authors Association, CAA and its branches support the Foundation with annual donations.
On the personal side, Don never lost his sense of humour or the ridiculous. When introducing himself his opening gambit was always, "I'm Don Thomson. One of the dry Thomsons." When the unsuspecting newcomer looked puzzled, his response was "No ‘p'!" He always had a joke or a pun ready to keep the party lively. He was our link to CAA's past and kept the ongoing Association from reinventing too many wheels. On many occasions he remarked that CAA was his second home — where he felt he belonged among like-minded friends. His Church and CAA were the two safe havens in his life.
On more than one occasion he had saved a meeting at almost no notice when the Guest Speaker was unavoidably detained. Those present were left to wonder if the original speaker could have provided them with as an informative a talk as the one he gave off the cuff. When the CAA was in financial distress his response was to create the 2000 Club whose membership fee was a donation of $2,000 to help the CAA's bottom line. He became its first member. Several other Association Members were able to take up his challenge.
In the early 1980s the Ottawa Branch created a local award named after him, The Dr. Don W. Thomson Award, to be given if and when deemed appropriate to a Branch member who had shown a similar dedication to CAA on the local and national levels. The recipient receives a small individual plaque while a boss bearing the winner's name is added to the master plaque housed, and permanently on show, in the Ottawa Room of the Capital's central public library. It is an honour indeed to be added to that trophy.
His second wife, Wanda, will be remembered by many from past Canadian Authors Association annual conferences. He was cared for in her capable hands with selfless dedication until only a few weeks before he died. Wanda, we salute you too!
Don's humour, wisdom and dedication will remain an inspiration to all those who knew him. His spirit will surely continue to watch over us as the CAA forges ahead into the 21st century.
The following three of Don's poems were read at Parkdale United Church on the occasion of his memorial celebration on what would have been his 95th birthday.
Today I tasted life –
a morsel fine indeed
not a gay circus marching by
with banners in the lead.
I felt a stirring in my heart –
a memory come to perch
with fluttering wings and melody
ending my joyless search.
A loyal friend came calling by
to chase a growing chill –
his constancy a blessing
that strengthened my weak will.
The day was coming to a close,
a book came to my hands
to give me in its pages wise
all that my mind demands.
Let's build a bridge
There is no barrier so rigid
That resolution cannot bridge it.
A firm resolve remains the key –
It makes a highway to the sea.
It takes no wit to build a wall,
Some prejudice will do it all.
But bridges do appeal to me
Because they lead to unity.
The heart a picture window is,
The mind provides a change of view;
It conjures up a desert sky
Or meadows moist with shining dew.
A random word, a Spanish sound
Tug back the drapes that hold concealed
The dance and flash of tropic light
Upon a flower'd southern field.
The scarlet bougainvillia vine,
The bronze and blue of distant hills
In memory's vista please the eye
And fill the day with daffodils.
One moment I condemn the gloom
Of norther skies, the cold faint light,
Then suddenly the sun floods in
The spirit leaps, my day is bright.
All poems copyright © Don W. Thomson.
Updated: December 5, 2006