David and Margaret Leighton

Old photo of David Leighton and Margaret Leighton on their wedding day.

Courtesy of the Leighton family

Dr. David and Margaret Leighton’s adventurous lives took them to some of the world’s finest centres of learning and culture – Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford, Lausanne, the Banff Centre, and Western University – yet it was Queen’s and Kingston that held their hearts. 

It’s where they found each other.

In his peripatetic career, David Leighton became one of Canada’s foremost business leaders, steering corporations to success, just as he did with cultural icons such as the National Arts Centre and the Banff Centre, where the couple nurtured thriving arts communities. But the Leightons never forgot it all started at Queen’s.

“Queen’s was such a big part of their lives,” says daughter Katy Leighton.

Even when David was teaching at Western University’s business school (now the Ivey Business School), where he was recruited in its formative years, he and “Peg” would wear their Queen’s colours to football games, beacons of blue, gold, and red in a sea of Western purple.

“They lived in London and Dad taught at Western, but Queen’s was very deep in their souls,” Katy says. “Queen’s people understand that.”

David Leighton was born in Regina in 1928 but moved with his family to Calgary and then to Ottawa, where his father was a newspaperman. Margaret “Peg” House grew up in St. Catharines, Ont., and chose Queen’s because, as she once told the Queen’s Journal, “What other school is there?”

They both arrived on campus in 1946 and graduated together in 1950, David with an Honours BA in politics and economics and Peg with a BA in physical education.

David was editor of the Queen’s Journal; Peg, president of the Levana Society, which represented female students until 1969, when it merged with the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society.

They met one evening at a student union meeting.

“They didn’t really agree on what it was they were discussing,” Katy says. “But it couldn’t have been anything too serious because they ended up walking home together.”

Whatever they talked about during that winter walk, the disagreement was soon forgotten. By the end of the evening they had found a piece of cardboard and used it for a makeshift toboggan ride down an icy hill. The two were soon inseparable. Within a year of graduation, where they both received their Queen’s Colour Awards, they were married – by the Queen’s padre, of course.

David spent a few months working in Toronto before his boss suggested he go to Harvard. Peg took a job teaching physical education at Wheelock College, an all-female school now merged with Boston University. She supported the couple as David studied.

David earned an MBA with high distinction and his doctorate from the Harvard School of Business. The couple had their first child, Doug, driving back north so he would be born in Canada where their families were. They had four more children: Bruce, Katy, Jenny, and Andrew.

David joined Western in 1956, then in 1961 the family picked up stakes and moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where David taught the one-year executive management MBA at the esteemed International Institute for Management Development. They returned to London and Western for four years before going back to Switzerland for another year, this time with five children under 10.

In 1970, they moved again, this time to Banff, where David had been recruited to be president of the Banff Centre for the Arts, now the Banff Centre. A violinist, David had served on the board of the London Symphony while at Western and possessed a rare combination of business acumen and a love and understanding of the arts and arts management.

“That was a huge move,” Katy says. “It really was crazy. But their lifelong philosophy was ‘You never turn down an opportunity.’

“In the 1970s, the arts scene was a really wild place. There were a lot of rebellious and diverse students and faculty members. And Dad just somehow managed to slide into it all and keep everyone in harmony.”

David and Peg played host to artists, always opening their home to students and staff who had nowhere else to go on holidays. Peg became the matriarch of the campus, always participating in classes (she became an accomplished weaver) and organizing events. They attended every concert and opening and were integral to the institution, which blossomed into a renowned centre for the arts.

“The arts that really matter are the ones that start you thinking and seeing things in a different light, appreciating something you hadn’t appreciated before,” David once said. 

While the artists pushed the boundaries in Banff, David stayed true to his business background.

“He was very open to having everybody do their thing, but he was ultimately a very conservative person,” Katy says. “You’d never see him without his white button-down-collar shirt, navy blue cashmere V-neck sweater, and his grey pants. He basically wore that until the day he died,” she says. “But he somehow connected to the artists and earned the admiration of everyone who worked at the Banff Centre.”

The couple took advantage of their mountain town, with Peg becoming an avid hiker and skier.

In 1999, David accepted a new challenge, becoming chairman of the financially struggling National Arts Centre in Ottawa. He recruited respected lawyer and businessman Peter Herrndorf as his CEO and turned the capital’s cultural centre around. Along the way, David also collected two honorary doctorates from Queen’s and the University of Windsor and was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada.

In retirement, David and Peg settled in London, but later moved to Canmore, Alta., to be with family. Both passed away in 2022, within three months of each other, each at age 94.

In the photo chosen by the couple’s children for Peg’s death announcement, she is smiling broadly and proudly wearing her Queen’s tam. Though the full photograph wasn’t used in the obituary, David is standing there beside her, also in his Queen’s colours.

“The Queen’s connection was so beautiful,” Katy says. “I’m sure there are lovely love stories from Queen’s, but theirs just seemed to me to be very special.” 

Prefer the offline issue?

The Queen's Alumni Review is the quarterly magazine for Queen's University alumni. Compelling stories and photos make it a must-read for all who love Queen's.

Download Fall 2023