The Honourable Michael H. Wilson, BCom ’59: Banker, statesman, and tireless advocate for mental health and volunteerism

Rotman Commerce joins the University of Toronto in mourning the death of the Honourable Michael H. Wilson, BCom ’59, who passed away on February 10.

The Honourable Michael Wilson, pictured at the Rotman Commerce convocation on June 21, 2018.

The Honourable Michael Wilson, pictured at the Rotman Commerce convocation on June 21, 2018.

On June 21, 2018, Wilson looked out over an assembly of the soon-to-be graduates of the Rotman Commerce Class of 2018, and offered them one of the highest compliments.

“I chose this ceremony quite deliberately for my final convocation as Chancellor,” he told them. “I graduated from the University of Toronto Commerce course, as you are now doing. Mine was back in 1959. But looking out at you today, I can see myself.”

One of our program’s most accomplished alumni, Wilson made a lasting impact on Canadian society in many ways. A Companion of the Order of Canada, he made his mark on politics as a federal Member of Parliament from 1979–93, holding cabinet posts as Minister of Finance, Minister of Industry, Science, and Technology, and Minister of International Trade, and was deeply involved in the original North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations. He then served as Canada’s 22nd Ambassador to the United States from 2006–09. Well respected in business, Wilson was the Chairman of Barclay’s Capital. He also held key positions with UBS Canada, RBC Financial Group, and RBC Dominion Securities. A champion of public service, he served on the boards of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In 2015, he was named the Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Most recently, Wilson was the 33rd Chancellor of the University of Toronto, serving in that position for six years, from 2012–18. In this position, he presided over several Rotman Commerce convocations, making note at each that, as a Commerce graduate himself, the Commerce convocation held a special place in his heart.

Deanne Saunders, Managing Director of Rotman Commerce, attended many of these ceremonies and recalls Wilson’s consistent engagement in the proceedings.

“I was always impressed by his graciousness and authenticity” she noted. “Here was this formidably accomplished statesman who took to heart his role of sending our graduates off into their future with genuine encouragement.”

In his last convocation address, Wilson sidestepped mention of his myriad public accomplishments, focusing instead on his passion for community service. He implored the Rotman Commerce Class of 2018 to contribute meaningfully to their communities alongside their business successes.

Perhaps best known in recent years for his mental health advocacy following the death of his son Cameron, who suffered from severe depression, Chancellor Wilson impressed upon graduates the benefit of giving back through volunteer work.

“My volunteer work has been a profoundly important part of my life, especially in recent years,” he noted. “I sometimes wonder what a void there would be in my life without it, and I continue to benefit as a person from this. But apart from my personal growth and satisfaction, I know that our communities and our country would not be as strong without the efforts of millions of Canadians providing volunteer services in so many ways.”

For Rotman Commerce Director, Professor David Goldreich, Wilson’s message is significant.

“Michael Wilson was an inspiration to us all,” he said. “We need graduates who follow in his footsteps — who, no matter their level of success, believe in and contribute to the betterment of their communities. Chancellor Wilson was a model of that — he was committed to making Canada, and the world, a better place in all that he did.”

Michael Wilson closed his convocation speech last June on a note of gratitude.

“Let me close by simply thanking you for the privilege of speaking to you today, one final time as your Chancellor,” he said. “Thanking you for the esteem that you’ve brought to our university and each other, and thanking you for everything that you have done, and I’m sure will continue to do, for your communities, our institutions, and our country.”

We thank Michael Wilson for his contributions to the University of Toronto and Canadian society, as a graduate, business leader, statesman, and volunteer.

You can read more about Chancellor Emeritus Michael Wilson here. The full text of his remarks at the June 21, 2018 convocation are available here.