James S. Thomson (1937-1949) - Obituary



SASKATOON, NOV. 23 [1972] - An important chapter in the life of the University of Saskatchewan was recalled this week with the announcement from Montreal of the death of Dr. James Sutherland Thomson.

Dr. Thomson, who died Saturday (Nov. 18) at the age of 80, was the second person to serve as president of the University. He occupied the office of president from 1937 to 1949, a period which included some of the most difficult years in the institution's history. His term spanned the final years of the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the hectic, early post-war years. It began with an effort to maintain teaching, research and service programs in the face of strained finances that required faculty and staff to manage on minimal incomes. It continued through the disruption of the war years, when many members of the University community were called to national service of one kind or another. And it covered the post-war pressures created by having to match limited resources to the suddenly large enrolments of veterans.

Dr. Thomson was born in Stirling, Scotland, and educated at the University of Glasgow, where he graduated with first class honors in philosophy and was appointed Clark Fellow. He studied theology at Trinity College, Glasgow, was ordained in 1920, and came to Canada in 1930 as professor of systematic theology and philosophy of religion at Pine Hill Divinity Hall in Halifax. Seven years later, the Board of Governors of the University of Saskatchewan chose him to succeed Walter C. Murray as president. Although he served for the next 12 years, he was granted leave in 1942-43 to become general manager of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and he arranged war-time broadcasts for such notable figures as the late Winston Churchill.

When he left the University in 1949 it was to return to his original calling and he became dean of the newly-established faculty of divinity and professor of the philosophy of religion at McGill University. From 1956 to 1958, he was moderator of the United Church of Canada and was an outspoken supporter of union with the Anglican Church.

The late Dr. Thomson was a veteran of the First World War, an honorary colonel in the Canadian Officers Training Corps, and a member of the advisory committee on university training to the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

His achievements in education and philosophy were widely recognized. A dozen institutions conferred honorary degrees on him, including Emmanuel College in Saskatoon. The Royal Society of Canada elected him a Fellow in 1942.

In 1969 he wrote the memoirs of his life in Saskatoon, entitled "Yesteryears at the University of Saskatchewan, 1937 to 1949", which the University published in celebration of its 60th year of teaching.

[Copy in Faculty Biography Files, J.S. Thomson]