Adlington: From dishwasher to president

Former Western president A.K. Adlington speaking to Conovation in 1985

Alan Noon // Western NewsFormer Western Acting President Alan Kenneth (A.K.) Adlington, pictured addressing Convocation in 1985, died Saturday, Sept. 30. He was 92. Adlington, BA’50 (Economics), LLD’86, was an economist and senior administrator at Western for more than a decade before his appointment as Acting President in 1984 following President George Connell’s departure for the University of Toronto.

Former Western Acting President Alan Kenneth (A.K.) Adlington, whose two-decade career at the university included a 10-month tenure as its top administrator, died Saturday, Sept. 30. He was 92.

Adlington, BA’50 (Economics), LLD’86, was an economist and senior administrator at Western for more than a decade before his appointment as Acting President in 1984 following President George Connell’s departure for the University of Toronto. While serving in the university’s top post, Adlington also maintained his role as Vice-President (Administration).

He was followed to the presidency by George Pedersen in 1985.

During his short tenure, Adlington was charged with maintaining the thrust of long-term projects such as the Robarts Research Institute, Community Health Unit and the National Centre for Management Research and Development at Ivey Business School. He graduated from Western with a Bachelor Degree in Economics after serving in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. After his term as Acting President, he was appointed Ontario Deputy Minister of Colleges and Universities.

Former Western president A.K. Adlington headshot


“I’ve done everything at Western from washing dishes and peeling the spuds to being President,” Adlington told Western News in June 1986.

Adlington emigrated from England in 1930. Coming from rural southwestern Ontario – “where everyone was poor” – Adlington always considered himself lucky to attend university.

His first visit to the Western campus was in 1946 – seeking the Registrar’s office “to negotiate my admission” – and it remained etched in his mind. The campus then consisted of only a few buildings, with much of the grounds still leased out to the Hunt Club as a golf course.

“I’ll always remember my first impression of Western. I got off the bus at the Richmond Street entrance and walked up that drive which had no buildings on it in those days and looked at University College on The Hill,” he said. “To me, that is a picture of what a university or college should look like. I was standing there filled with awe and thinking, ‘Surely, they’ll never let me into a place like this.’”

The campus then was still largely an open green area with only a handful of buildings to complement the Arts College. Cronyn Observatory “seemed to be off in the middle of nowhere in a field” and Brescia University College stood alone in the centre of prime farmland.

“It was a very small campus which was straining at the seams to handle the influx of veterans as students,” he said.

Adlington was one of those veterans. He often spoke of struggling to support his family while attending Western in the late-1940s under the Department of Veterans Affairs program for returning military personnel. Veterans Affairs paid his tuition, but the family survived on a small living allowance (half of which went to rent). “I had to keep several part-time jobs going to keep groceries on the table,” he explained.

One of those jobs was in the Food Services kitchen in Fingal Hall, a student centre in the 1940s.

Adlington majored in Economics and Political Science which were taught by only five faculty members – four of them were in a single office in the Arts College.

He discovered an interest in political economy after first dabbling with the neophyte Journalism program. He was attracted to the “lifestyle and the job content” of a journalist, but “wasn’t turned on by the lectures that (he) attended.” He found those in Economics “more stimulating.”

After graduation, he left London to work in personnel and finance at Electrohome in Kitchener, Ont., where he remained until 1955. From 1955-1970, he was the University of Waterloo’s first chief financial and administrative officer. He served under many titles there, finally as Vice-President (Operations).

In 1970, Adlington rejoined Western as its Vice-President (Administration and Finance).

Once back on campus, he discovered a university undergoing a major expansion that began in the late 1950s and 1960s. The D.B. Weldon Library was under construction; the Social Science Centre was in its conceptual stages; the University Community Centre was just being considered.

One of Adlington’s first major tasks was “helping develop a landscaping plan to try to soften the rather harsh design of the buildings.” As a senior administrator, he was also involved in planning Thompson Arena, Platt’s Lane Estates housing development, the Music Building and Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel.

During his time as Acting President, from September 1984 to July 1985, he steered the university through a “pretty hectic” period involving animal rights activism in 1985. His proudest achievement, however, was reshaping the administration to complement the new form of government brought to Western under President D.C. Williams when the university restructured its Board of Governors and Senate governance with revisions to the UWO Act.

Adlington attempted to “sustain the spirit and sense of achievement that George Connell had done so much to escalate.”

Adlington continued, “But my most personally satisfying memory from my term as President was the opportunity to get another perspective on the university and to meet so many people who hold a high regard for Western.”

He is survived by his loving wife of 75 years, Mary; children, Ken (Michele), Marg Camirand (Albert) and Ian (Cindy Gentle); five grandchildren, Kelly (Alan), Aaron (Branka), Sarah, Chris and Laura (Taubin); and seven great grandchildren, Brennan, Noah, Ellen, Grace, William, Delilah and Kate. The youngest of 12 children, he is survived by his brother David.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Alan and Mary Adlington Scholarship Fund at Western; attention Anthony Newton, Western University, Westminster Hall, Suite 110, 1151 Richmond St., London, ON N6A 3K7. (Cheques made payable to Western University), by calling 519-661-4200, or online. Alternately donations may be made to the VON Middlesex Elgin.