Today’s funeral service in Toronto for John A. MacNaughton marks the end of a life that greatly enriched Canada and deeply inspired many people.
John rose above the moil to see the greater possibilities. Whenever he spoke in public, his audience enjoyed his humour, learned something new, and felt uplifted. Whenever John acted in private, others were supported, special needs were addressed, and his example of selfless love gave strength. For whatever task fell to him, John MacNaughton prepared thoroughly, thought deeply, then advanced resolutely.
John was born in the small Ontario town of Exeter on March 6, 1945, two days after I’d been born in the small Ontario town of Bracebridge. In the mid-1950s, our fathers were both elected to the Ontario legislature. By the time John and I met, we were both living on the same street in Toronto, and each of us was working in First Canadian Place. We shared an optimistic view of Canada, knew that our country would be what we as citizens sought to make it, and worked as hard as we could in the public life’s many roles.
John caught the spirit of Canada in our country’s jubilant centennial year, working as a host at the Ontario Pavillion in Montreal at Expo ’67. He went on to work three decades in the investment world, rising to be president and chief executive officer of Burns Fry from 1989 to 1994, then its successor firm, Nesbitt Burns until 1999. He then became founding president and CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, pioneering a new standard of principles for board governance, and continued this leadership until 2005. Then he served as chairman of the Business Development Bank of Canada. He also chaired the Investment Dealers Association of Canada.
Community service for John extended to many other areas, too. His roles included chairmanship of the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation; vice-chairman of the University Health Network; chairman of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs; vice-chairman of the Canadian International Council; member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service; and president of The Empire Club of Canada, our country’s longest-running speakers’ forum.
Once earned, John’s support was constant, his advice wise.
The outlook we shared could be called “optimistic realism.”
After living for 41 years with courage and grace in the shadow of cancer, John’s life is ended, but his good works and wise ways ripple out endlessly through his cherished family, his vast circle of friends and colleagues, and his beloved country Canada. To be a friend of John’s was a unique joy. For the rest of my own days, I shall remain inspired by John’s clear thinking and courageous living.
That inspiration is felt by many for whom John MacNaughton set the standard of integrity and patriotism.
From Vancouver, Gary Brookes writes: “For any of us who worked with him under his leadership at Burns Fry and later Nesbitt Burns, it was a dynamic and exciting time. I was grateful knowing that the advice he gave came with his sense of integrity and committment to both firm and community. John truly embodied the spirit of being a great Canadian.”