Father, grandfather, scientist, professor, artist, humanitarian, Unitarian. Born Oct. 11, 1922, in Minto, N.B. Died Feb. 2, 2012, in Guelph, Ont., of respiratory failure, aged 89.
Stuart Dixon was raised in Hamilton, the third son of an impoverished family anchored in both political activism and fundamentalist Baptist teachings. Stuart’s maternal grandfather, Robert Dommett, had unionized the miners in Swansea, Wales; he also ran a Baptist Sunday school in the area.
Stuart’s family endured much hardship. His father Fredrick had lost a leg to a train as a child. One brother had severe asthma. The other spent weeks in a coma after being struck by a coal truck. Stuart recalled his father keeping vigil all night over Bob’s or Fred’s beds – and then going straight to work.
As a teenager, Stuart loved chemistry. He attended a vocational high school and his family begged and borrowed equipment to build a laboratory in the basement. The family had no medical coverage so Stuart took oxygen canisters from school and created a makeshift tent to ease his father’s respiratory ailments.
Stuart seemed to take after his maternal grandfather. He helped his mother prepare for the Bible-study classes she attended. With his father he would deliver homemade fudge and offer spiritual support to patients at Hamilton Hospital. It seemed fitting that, at 17, Stuart entered the Toronto Bible College. When he graduated, he was told he had the gift to preach, but asked too many pot-stirring questions. After being accepted by McMaster University at 20, he read Charles Darwin, which validated his struggles with the conflict between fundamentalist religion and science.
Stuart worked in restaurants to pay for tuition and spent a summer up north on a railroad gang. He was hired to teach his co-workers to read and write, but all he had to work with was Shakespeare. The teaching was done at night, after working a full day helping the cook, or cutting trees and fighting forest fires.
At age 21, Stuart lost his father. The three eldest boys continued to support their mother and younger siblings, Beatrice and John Wesley. After graduation, while working at a factory to pay off his loans, Stuart received a surprise visitor. It was the head of zoology at the University of Toronto Agricultural College in Guelph. The department needed an instructor, and Stuart had been highly recommended by McMaster. Thus, in 1947, he began a 35-year career in Guelph.
In 1952, Stuart earned a scholarship to Cornell, where he acquired his PhD in entomology. He also met a wonderful, well-educated woman, Dorothy Hynes, whom he married in 1955. They settled in Guelph and raised three children, Stuart Jr., Christine and Laurel.
Spiritually, Stuart and Dorothy were without a home, as they yearned for a place of worship without Christian dogma. In 1961, both I and the Unitarian Fellowship of Guelph were born. Stuart was chaplain for 24 years.
Given his early years, it is hardly surprising that Stuart grew up a socialist. But even after gaining a comfortable middle-class life, his concern for the poor and his passion for social justice never wavered.
Laurel Dixon is Stuart’s daughter.