Thompson and McKellar: Goodman Lectures create a legacy from tragedy

The Joanne Goodman Lectures, which have been a notable event at Western and the broader community well beyond London for three and a half decades, began in tragedy.Joanne Goodman was a second-year history student who died in an automobile accident on the way from her home in Toronto to the university in April 1975. In their grief, her parents, Edwin and Suzanne Goodman, decided to establish a living memorial at the university and in the subject their daughter loved.

Each year, a notable historian with the reputation as a good speaker is invited to give three lectures on a major topic designed to appeal to a wide range of students, faculty and the public. The theme of the series is the history of the countries of the Atlantic triangle – Canada, United Kingdom and United States – though the lecturers are not confined to that. The speakers are also encouraged to address a more extensive audience by publishing their lectures.

In the early years of the series, Edwin invited historians from nearby universities, members of his law firm and friends to the lectures and a symposium dinner for further discussion and exchange. Although the annual event was one of mixed emotions, he continued to attend and enjoy the lectures until 2006, the last year before his death.

Suzanne, who died in 1992, came for as long as she could. Their younger daughter, Diane, also attended while she was a student at Western in the late 1970s; now a human rights lawyer working with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and presently in Nepal, she returns when she can.

Edwin’s widow, Joan Thompson, who he married after Suzanne’s death, has also been a great supporter.

The style of the lectures was established in the ones delivered in 1976 by C. P. Stacey, a University of Toronto professor emeritus, outstanding military and diplomatic historian and orator, who spoke on Mackenzie King and the Atlantic Triangle. The series was introduced by John Robarts, then chancellor, a former premier of the province, law classmate of Goodman and a good friend.

Among the large audience were several press reporters, since Stacey’s forthcoming book on King’s spiritualism and relations with women, A Very Double Life, was under a strict embargo until publication. Newspapers as far away as Singapore carried accounts of the lectures.

In 1977, the speaker was Robin Winks of Yale University, a prominent historian of Canada, the British Empire and the United States. In 1978, it was Robert Rhodes James, a British MP, a former academic and United Nations official and author of many books on British political history.

As this well-launched tour of the Atlantic triangle began, so it has continued.

Most of the Goodman lectures have been published, either in the form they were delivered, or as part of larger books, which stand as an enduring tribute to the effect and importance of the series not just at Western, but for scholars and students in the wider world of letters and learning.


The 2012 Joanne Goodman Lectures, presented by the Department of History, will be delivered by professor Ian K. Steele on Setting all the Captives Free: Captivity, Adaptation and Remembrance in Mid-18th Century North America on Oct. 2-4 at 4:30 p.m. in the McKellar Room, University Community Centre.