Remembering Peter H. Russell (1932-2024)

January 15, 2024 by Department of Political Science

It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Peter H. Russell, a distinguished Canadian political scientist, passionate educator, and esteemed member of the University of Toronto community as well as a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

Peter left this world on January 10, 2024, leaving behind a legacy of unparalleled contributions in the fields of political science, judicial politics, and Canadian Constitutional Law. He has left an enduring impact on the institutions he served. He died peacefully surrounded by his family.

Born on November 16, 1932, in Toronto, Peter embarked on a lifelong journey of intellectual exploration that would become the hallmark of his distinguished career. He was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he immersed himself in the study of philosophy, politics, and economics, laying the foundation for a lifetime of scholarly achievement. Peter also distinguished himself through athletic accomplishments: he captained the Oxford hockey team and served as coxswain on the Oriel College rowing crew.

In addition to many other prestigious career awards, Peter was recognized by the American Political Science Association with the Mildred A. Schwartz Award, a testament to his significant impact in the field. Peter dedicated nearly four decades of his life to the University of Toronto, where he served as a professor of political science and was honoured with the special designation of University Professor in 1994. His tenure, spanning from 1958 to 1996, saw the nurturing of countless minds and the shaping of political discourse in Canada. Peter’s passion for his field was matched only by his dedication to his students, leaving an indelible mark on generations of aspiring political scientists. Peter’s illustrious career extended beyond the classroom. He served as the Principal of Innis College at the University of Toronto from 1972 to 1977, and he was the founding principal of Senior College at University of Toronto. He served as president of the Canadian Political Science Association in 1990-91 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. His extensive involvement in various commissions and task forces included his role as Research Director on the McDonald Commission on Certain Activities of the RCMP, and the Federal Task Force on Comprehensive Land Claims. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, Peter was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada, highlighting his profound influence on the nation’s political landscape.

A prolific author, Peter’s scholarly works, including Two Cheers for Minority GovernmentConstitutional Odyssey, Recognizing Aboriginal Title and Canada’s Odyssey, have left an indelible mark on the study of Canadian politics and constitutional law. Peter was a leading scholar of Canadian constitutional law and governance, but he also served as a consultant to many global democratic institutions. He taught for two years at Makerere University in Uganda from 1969 to 1971 and served as a consultant to the Ugandan Attorney General. His 2005 book on Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo was a seminal contribution to the history of Australian Aboriginal Sovereignty in a global context.

Peter was no less active and accomplished in his personal life. He spent his childhood summers in Georgian Bay where he became an avid fisherman and developed a life-long love of the bay. Georgian Bay is also where he met his future bride, Sue Jarvis. Peter and Sue spent the following 65 summers on Minnicog Island raising four children, and teaching them the essentials of life on the bay: swimming, fishing, boating, cutting trails through the woods, and playing cards. He will be remembered as a daunting opponent and the founder of the Minnicog Cribbage Tournament.

Peter is survived by his loving wife of 65 years, Sue; as well as his children, Catherine Russell (Marco Leyton), Mary (Mark) Endress, Barbara (David) Russell, Alex Russell (Kim Creelman); his 5 grandchildren, Claire (Jon), Samuel (Danielle), Griffin, Lily, and Rachel, and great-grandchildren Teddy and Quinn Maecker. His memory will forever be cherished by family, friends, colleagues, and the academic community that benefited from his wisdom and guidance.

A memorial service to celebrate Peter’s life will be held on January 20th at St. Thomas’ Church (383 Huron Street, Toronto) at 1 p.m., followed by a reception at the University of Toronto Faculty Club (41 Willcocks St., Toronto) at 2:30 p.m. Colleagues, friends, students, and members of the academic community are all invited to join in remembrance and celebration of Peter’s remarkable life.

In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that donations be made to the University of Toronto’s Senior College Peter Russell Scholarship in Lifecourse, Aging and Retirement.

May Peter rest in eternal peace, his legacy enduring through the minds of the countless individuals he inspired and the positive changes he brought to the realms of academia and public service.