Waterloo is abuzz with the news that David Johnston, president of the University of Waterloo, has been selected as the next Governor-General of Canada. Those who know David well - and the number who do so is legendary - applaud the decision heartily. But not everyone has the measure of the person who will become the Queen's representative in Canada.
David's résumé - law professor, dean of law, principal of McGill, president of Waterloo - provides only the barest outline of his contributions to Canada. He has served with distinction on numerous boards, commissions and task forces, ranging in recent years from the high profile (setting the terms for the inquiry into the relationship between former prime minister Brian Mulroney and businessman Karlheinz Schreiber) to the less well-known (an Ontario task force on adoption and reproductive rights). He assumed one major commission a year, believing it to be his duty to serve his province and his country when asked to do so.
David is a man driven by several passions, ones he wears proudly on his sleeve. He adores his country, and one can only imagine that this latest appointment represents a capstone achievement for a career of patriotism. He loves his family equally, and his speeches and his values are riddled with lessons learned from and through his wife, Sharon, his five children and his beloved grandchildren, who refer to him as Grandpa Book.
He believes in positive and aggressive change. A tireless worker - his energy astounds and intimidates, and one hopes the staff at Rideau Hall are ready for him - he wishes to push forward, to use yesterday's success as a springboard for tomorrow's accomplishment. He sets his sights high, then pulls others along the path toward real achievement. He wants more for Canada and for the world, and he devotes his life to achieving great things.
David's greatest gift is that he lifts others to his level. He aspires and cajoles. He rolls up his sleeves when necessary and offers grand thoughts when that is required. He is comfortable with royalty - and that will help in his new career - and is proud of his friendships with his Mennonite neighbours next to the Johnston farm outside of Waterloo. David can bring billionaires onside, and can inspire students and faculty to tackle new challenges.
Canada needs people such as David Johnston in key leadership positions. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has chosen extremely well, for David is clearly a Governor-General for the 21st century. His commitment to Canada is unmatched, but he has impressive enthusiasm for international engagement. He understands that this age is not one for standing still but rather for embracing the future. He revels in the bicultural nature of Confederation and celebrates the multicultural energy and breadth of this country.
As a young man, David was captain of the Harvard hockey team and, to this day, plays hockey with passion (and skill) of a man half his age. One of his favourite players remains Montreal Canadiens captain Yvan (The Roadrunner) Cournoyer, so nicknamed for his astonishing speed. So, Canada, hold on to your hat. The Yvan Cournoyer of governors-general is coming to Rideau Hall.
David Johnston, picking up on the admirable lead of Michäelle Jean and the men and women who preceded her, will represent Canada extremely well. He will do so with grace and passion and with a commitment to this country that is heartwarming to behold. And he will bring to the Governor-General's office a vision of a Canada of unrealized potential, of a decent and compassionate people, of an educated and talented population.
David represents the very best of what Canada is and what Canada has become. He served the University of Waterloo and Waterloo Region with enormous distinction and impact. We are happy to share him with the rest of the country.
Ken Coates is dean of arts at the University of Waterloo.