Queen’s community remembers Professor Emeritus J.A.W. Gunn
March 15, 2023
The following is a shortened version of the family obituary.
The Queen’s community is remembering John Alexander Wilson (J.A.W.) Gunn, a long-time member of the Department of Political Studies and a world-renowned scholar in 17th and 18th-century political thought, who died March 7 in Kingston in his 86th year.
Dr. Gunn earned an honours B.A. in politics and history from Queen's in 1959, before completing a master’s in political economy at the University of Toronto in 1961. He then earned his D.Phil. from Nuffield College, University of Oxford, in 1966.
He returned to Queen’s in 1960 as a lecturer in the Political and Economic Science department while still completing his graduate studies. His professors at Queen’s, John Meisel and Alec Corry, had recognized their former student’s spark of brilliance, and brought him back to Kingston. After he completed his doctoral studies, Dr. Gunn returned to Queen’s to teach at the Department of Political Studies.
As a professor, Dr. Gunn challenged his students to read deeply, think critically, and write clearly and sensibly. In his classroom, he never relied on notes: in his lectures, he spoke both spontaneously and eloquently on political ideas and ideals. His classes were designed to spark intellectual curiosity and to help his students utilize existing or develop new skills in comprehension, inquiry, and analysis. Dr. Gunn also supervised 14 doctoral students during his career.
Between 1975 and 1983, Dr. Gunn served as head of the Department of Political Studies. He was also one of three editors of the first two volumes of the letters of Benjamin Disraeli (1982). In 1983 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in recognition of his remarkable contributions to the social sciences.
In 1995 he was appointed the Sir Edward Peacock Professor of Political Studies by the Queen’s Board of Trustees, a position that honours outstanding contribution to the field of political studies. His citation noted that he was “one of the department’s most distinguished academics over the past three decades. His international reputation in political thought has brought credit both to the department and the university.” Dr. Gunn allocated a portion of the funds associated with the Peacock Chair to purchase items for the British Political Pamphlets Collection at the Queen’s University Library. He also contributed his expertise in recommending notable and rare acquisitions for the library.
He officially retired in 2002 but, for several years and due to popular demand, came back to teach undergraduate courses.
A reception in Dr. Gunn’s memory will be held on Saturday, March 25, 1-4 p.m. at James Reid Funeral Home, 1900 John Counter Blvd., Kingston.
Read the full family obituary.