Humiliated, I slowly climbed the steps of the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum). It was the late 1980s and this was my first invitation to a big fundraising dinner.

Waiting on the steps was my client, who flashed a mischievous grin as I exited the taxi.

Instantly that grin was abated by the swat of his wife’s purse. It took her only a nanosecond to decipher that I had been the victim of his latest prank. I’m unsure of its official title, but it somehow rhymes with tell the twenty-four year old agency guy it’s cool to wear his emerald green suit and burgundy wing tips, to an event you consciously know is black tie.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Thankfully our table was well in the back and out of the sight of the head table guests and the keynote speaker. Not only was I the only person wearing a suit that looked like it walked off the set of the prime time TV show, Miami Vice, I was also the only person in the room who was close to the same colour as “Tubbs”.
That is outside of the keynote speaker, Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander. I was thrilled. Alexander was Canada’s first ever black federal MP and first ever black Lieutenant Governor. He was an inspiration to a young black kid trying to navigate his way through life and I was pumped to hear him speak.

But now my sartorial embarrassment turned to anger. I seethed that I looked like a clown. Here I was listening to one of our country’s greatest Black Canadian pioneers and I looked like I came from a Malcolm X look-alike contest.

Alexander’s accomplishments ranged from being an accomplished fighter pilot in World War II, to graduating from law school and later becoming the first Black partner in a Canadian law firm, winning four federal elections in a row, serving briefly in Cabinet, being Lt. Governor. He then followed his career in politics by becoming the longest serving Chancellor of the University of Guelph.

At the end of his stirring presentation, Linc began to make his way through the sea of penguin suited dignitaries and for some unknown reason was drifting my way. I froze.

I didn’t want to speak for fear of sounding dumb. I didn’t want to blink in case he passed me by. I didn’t want to swallow in case I belched.

Eternity came and went before he made his way to me. He had the most welcoming eyes, a grandfatherly smile and a soothing voice I will never forget. He placed his hand on my shoulder and rasped quietly into my ear, “Nice suit, brother.”

On October 19th, at 90 years of age, Lincoln Alexander died in his sleep. His funeral was only the second full state funeral ever held in Ontario. He passed away quietly, which is how he lived his life. He was a quiet champion. A quiet advocate. A quiet pioneer who achieved so much, but probably doesn’t get his due in Canadian history.

When I read his obituary my face made a half smile. Instantly the memory of him saving my pathetic ego from a crummy experience came to mind. To call it a kind gesture is to over-trivialize it. To call it anything more is hyperbole. But I remember it in HD like it was yesterday.

Reading about his passing and accomplishments made me wonder as to just how many thousands The Honourable Lincoln Alexander must have helped out over his ninety years. How many others had he inspired with a simple gesture? How many others felt the encouragement that a simple pat on the shoulder can provide?

One pat on the shoulder does not make a man great. But thousands of similar acts do make a great man.

3 thoughts on “Lincoln Alexander: My Brother

  1. I was in grade 10 when he spoke to our school and I remember coming home and talking to my parents about him because he impressed me so much. He was a brilliant speaker but he also seemed so distinguished and down to earth.
    I was very disheartened to hear of his passing.
    I love your memory of him Mark – a great example of the type of man he was! 🙂

  2. Sweet story – actually got all teared-up. Feels like a lot of really great people have passed away lately, or maybe I’m just really getting old(er)….here’s hoping we ensure their legacies live on 🙂

  3. As always, my friend, you have a true gift of being able to tell a story simply and in a way that resonates with all of your readers. Your ability to evoke emotions as I read your stories is what always amazes me. Keep it up Mark…these are always the highlight of my week.

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