In the summer of 1952, Richard Lord returned home to Montreal from Michigan State University, where he had been playing hockey on a scholarship, and discovered that his youngest sister, Gwen, had begun work at a local dress factory.
At the time, few black people from lower Westmount, the neighbourhood where the siblings were raised, attended university. And though Gwen Lord was only 16 – two years too young to study nursing, which she aspired to do – Mr. Lord was dismayed that she was not pursuing her education.
The following afternoon, Mr. Lord walked through the door carrying course cards from Sir George Williams College. He had enrolled his sister in first-year science classes.
“After that, everyone – my nieces, my nephews, everyone – they’ve all gone to college,” Ms. Lord said.
And, as she later learned, when others in the area saw that she was attending university, they encouraged their kids to do the same. “But it all started with Richard,” Ms. Lord said of her brother, who died in Montreal on March 9 at the age of 84, following a prolonged illness.
Throughout his life, Mr. Lord defied expectations. He was one of the first black people to play varsity hockey in the United States, and his career spanned the private sector and the political sphere.
After completing a degree in chemical engineering in 1953, he worked for organizations including Dominion Tar and Chemical Co. Ltd., the City of Montreal and the Immigration Appeal Board of Canada.
He married twice, the second time in 1995 to Carol Spence.
In 1965, he ran to represent the federal Liberal Party in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce riding. He lost the race, but went on to become something of a folk hero in the city. It was almost impossible for him to make even a short trip by foot – he did not own a car – without running into friends and acquaintances.
He was an impeccably dressed “Mr. Montreal, walking down the streets,” Ms. Lord said. “You could always see him on Sainte-Catherine Street or Sherbrooke Street, [with a] big smile on his face: ‘Everything okay?’ ”
Richard Leslie Michael Lord was born on Aug. 11, 1929, in Montreal’s working-class Saint-Henri district. He was the fourth of six children – brother Robert and twins Frederick and Reginald came before him, sisters Louise and Gwen after – born to James Levi Theophilus Lord, a Barbadian immigrant to Canada, and Susan Kathleen Lord (née Daley), who hailed from Montserrat.
Mr. Lord was “very attached to his origins,” said Warren Allmand, a long-time friend and former federal Liberal Party cabinet minister. At the debating society both belonged to, “He used to raise that quite often, about Barbadians coming to Canada, and their contribution.”
Like many black Montrealers at the time, James Lord worked as a porter for Canadian Pacific Railway. More than two decades after his father’s death, in 1976, Mr. Lord lobbied successfully for a plaque commemorating all the porters’ contributions to the city to be placed in Windsor Station, a downtown railway hub.
Mr. Lord’s parents instilled in him and his siblings an unwavering work ethic. By the time he reached adolescence, he was delivering newspapers and groceries and shovelling snow to earn money. But he had also discovered a passion for sport, including hockey. He saw, though, that kids in his neighbourhood – some of whom had dropped out of school – did not enjoy the same access to the game as those who lived in wealthier parts of Westmount.
With that in mind, while he was in his early teens, he founded the Tornadoes Boys Club, an organization that fielded both hockey and baseball teams. In addition to coaching the boys, Mr. Lord served as a mentor to them.
“He taught us right from wrong,” said Edward Kalil, who played under Mr. Lord. “If anybody tried to do something silly, he would say, ‘No, no – you don’t do that.’ So everybody got the message from him.”
Hockey also allowed Mr. Lord to attend university. After graduating from Westmount High School, he was accepted to Michigan State University, where he studied chemical engineering with the support of a sports scholarship.
Mr. Lord’s teammates were mostly welcoming, but his time on ice was marred by discrimination. In some cases, that meant he was spat on during games; when the team travelled to Denver, he was not allowed to stay in the same hotel as his peers.
After completing his studies and making his way home to Montreal, he struggled to find a job. Each morning, though, he would dress for work and head to an office that belonged to a friend. He would then spend the day sending out his curriculum vitae.
“You’d think he’d get up and say, ‘Oh, to hell with it,’ ” Ms. Lord says. “But no – he never, never, never gave up.”
Finally, in 1954, he landed his first position, as a chemist with Dominion Tar and Chemical Ltd. After a year, he went on to serve as an engineer with the City of Montreal’s public works department, which led to him taking on an engineering role at Expo 67.
The job allowed Mr. Lord to build a vast network of contacts. At the same time, his political life, including a stint as the English-speaking vice-president of the Quebec Liberal Party, widened his professional reach. And though he lost his bid to represent the federal Liberals in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce riding to Mr. Allmand – who served in Parliament from 1965 to 1997 – he remained involved with the party in the years that followed.
“People like Pierre Elliott Trudeau and all these guys – because [Richard] was a Liberal in Montreal, I’d go to his house parties, and they were there,” Ms. Lord said.
In the late 1960s, Mr. Lord became a research consultant and community liaison officer with the Special Senate Committee on Poverty; later, he was appointed to the Immigration Appeal Board of Canada.
“That’s where his eyes had been opened up to the assistance that people might need in presenting their cases” to live in Canada, Ms. Spence said.
He went on to establish companies including Canafric Development Corp. – a firm that promoted Canadian engineering in Africa – and Richard Lord International Immigration Consultants Inc. In 1994, he was named an adjudicator on the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, a position he held until 1996.
At home, Mr. Lord was a private person. Each Sunday, he read The New York Times, and he maintained an abiding interest in history, particularly the Second World War, the social impacts of which he had witnessed first-hand.
After he retired, Mr. Lord remained active at St. George’s Anglican Church – where he was a member throughout his life – and the many organizations he was part of; among them were Montreal’s Maison Cross Roads, the Canadian Bible Society of Montreal, the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Westmount High School Alumni Association. He attended his alma mater’s graduation and Remembrance Day ceremonies each year.
He also continued his lengthy involvement with the Twenty Club, a Montreal debating society that meets twice a month. As family and friends noted, he refused to let his worsening condition stop him.
“The last meeting he was at was in January, but he was very feeble,” Mr. Allmand said. “He came to that meeting, but he needed somebody to help him get there and get home, and he wasn’t very strong. But he was there.”
No one, it seems, who knew Mr. Lord was at all surprised by his resolve to remain part of the community where he had spent his entire life.
“He almost felt as if it was his duty to continue giving whatever he could for the benefit of the whole,” Ms. Spence said.
“He felt that he had to serve.”
In addition to his sister Gwen, Mr. Lord leaves his brother Frederick, as well as his widow, Ms. Spence, and nieces and nephews.
Follow us on Twitter: