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Political scientist Roger Gibbins spent nearly 30 years teaching at the University of Calgary and served as president of the Canada West Foundation. He is remembered for his pioneering work on the politics of Western Canada.

Political scientist Roger Gibbins began his lengthy and distinguished career in Calgary in the 1970s as Alberta began its whirlwind transformation from an agricultural hinterland to an economic powerhouse.

As oil prices soared, the province was swimming in riches, attracting droves of migrants eager to tap into its fortunes. It was also clashing with the federal government over resource control at a time when other provinces were navigating their relationship with the Canadian Confederation.

As Western Canada faced something of an identity crisis, Dr. Gibbins helped advance a vision of it as a dynamic and prosperous region worthy of the country’s attention – and crucial to its success.

“You could argue that he actually explained to Albertans and Westerners who they were and what their place could be, and was, on the national stage,” said Doreen Barrie, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, who became a long-time friend of Dr. Gibbins after having him as her graduate supervisor in the 1970s and 80s.

“There were historians who had written about this region, but it was Roger Gibbins who raised the profile of Alberta and the West more generally. His work on Western alienation helped explain what makes this province tick.”

Dr. Gibbins, who spent nearly 30 years teaching at the University of Calgary and served as president of the Canada West Foundation, died of a heart attack on March 10 in Vancouver, at the age of 76. He is being remembered widely for his pioneering work on the politics of Western Canada but, above all, as a man deeply devoted to his family. He leaves his wife, Isabel Gibbins; sons, Christopher and Daniel Gibbins; brother, Michael Gibbins; and his only grandchild, Dara Gibbins.

“While he was an extremely hard-working and dedicated professor and researcher, he was never less than a devoted and engaged father,” his elder son, Christopher, said.

Dr. Gibbins was a proponent of collaboration and negotiation, both in politics and at home. On movie nights, Christopher said, this meant his family would write down ranked lists of movies they wanted to watch. He said this made for some “pretty strange” winners, such as the 1972 horror picture Frogs, where swamp creatures seek revenge on humanity.

Dr. Gibbins was born on April 17, 1947 in Prince George, B.C., to George and Frances Gibbins. In an interview, he described his mother as a “flaming social and political activist.” As a youth, he spent hours reading at the public library, eventually taking an interest in history that led to him majoring in political science at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia.

In 1969, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and was newly married to his high school sweetheart, Isabel, whom he first met in fourth grade. After graduation, the couple moved to California, where he received a master’s degree and doctorate in political science from Stanford University.

Then, with their first child on the way, Dr. Gibbins accepted a teaching position at the University of Calgary. His tenure began in 1973 and stretched until 2002, during which he taught thousands of students while researching and publishing countless articles and books on the political identity of Western Canada, on subjects such as federalism, constitutional reform and Indigenous issues. His work made him a trusted voice to federal and provincial leaders.

Western interests and aspirations were a common theme in his writing, Dr. Barrie said, and reflected frustrations felt by Albertans and Westerners that they had been unable to play a significant role in the evolution of the country and should be better woven into the national fabric. After he “witnessed the centre of gravity in the country shifting westward,” his later work focused on the role Western Canada could play on the global stage.

Loleen Berdahl, who was supervised by Dr. Gibbins in the 1990s, said her professor was ahead of time with strong interests in gender representation in politics and issues of housing and homelessness. She said he was a sought-after adviser, known for his dedication and support of students.

In 1998, Dr. Gibbins became president of the Canada West Foundation, a non-partisan think tank based in Calgary. The foundation, in a memorial post, said he inspired Canadians to think differently about policy issues, insisting that “if you show people the possibilities, they will be motivated to explore options and produce ideas that drive toward positive change.” He held the position until his retirement in 2012.

Dr. Berdahl, who later worked under Dr. Gibbins at Canada West, said he was an equally admirable boss. She remembers him celebrating every office birthday with cake and sending positive notes to employees on their achievements, no matter how big or small. Dr. Berdahl said, aside from his political insights, she also learned from him to put family first.

“He had a note at the front desk for the receptionist and it was a list of people that, if they called, he was to be interrupted no matter what,” she remembered. “On it was premiers and prime ministers, of course, and certain deputy ministers, but at the absolute top of the list was his wife and sons.”

Isabel, describing her husband as a playful and humorous person, said his interests expanded beyond politics into community theatre and travel. She remembers him planning a surprise four-day trip to San Francisco for her birthday one year but Air Canada ruined the surprise after calling about flight changes.

“I didn’t let Roger know for a couple of years,” she said. “He was so pleased to be surprising me.”

Among his many honours, Dr. Gibbins was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence. He also received the Public Policy Forum Peter Lougheed Award and the Alberta Lieutenant-Governor’s Award, in addition to honourary degrees from the University of Northern British Columbia and University of Calgary.

In retirement, Isabel said their granddaughter became the centre of her husband’s world. They moved back to British Columbia in 2012, just before she turned one, and Dara “just lit up his life.”

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