Dr. Alastair MacDonald Taylor
Department of Geography and Planning
Writer, educator. Born March 12, 1915, in Vancouver, B.C. Died Oct. 15, 2005, in Victoria, B.C., after a fall, aged 90.
When he was presented to Edward, Prince of Wales, in Vancouver in 1919, four-year-old Alastair Taylor stuck out his left hand. Then, as the Prince switched hands to accommodate him, Alastair, realizing his mistake, put out his right hand, and he and the Prince engaged in a little dance before their hands finally met.
The youngest son of Scottish immigrants Bertha and James Taylor, Alastair grew up in Vancouver with his brothers, John and Sydney. His Theosophical parents gave Alastair a deep appreciation for both western and non-western philosophical traditions. They had no objections when his compassion for all creatures led him to become a vegetarian at the age of 6.
In 1930, the family moved to California, where Alastair attended Hollywood High School and then the University of Southern California, from which he graduated summa cum laude. At 22, he began writing Civilization Past & Present, with his professor Walter Wallbank (and others). The first world-history textbook in the United States, it has been published in many editions for more than six decades.
In 1942, he returned to Canada to enlist in the armed forces, but was recruited to the National Film Board in Ottawa, where he worked for John Grierson, making films for the war effort. It was at the NFB that he met Mary Clements of Winnipeg, whom he married in 1944 and with whom he raised their sons, Angus, Graeme, and Duncan. (Mary died in 2000.)
Between 1944 and 1952 Alastair worked for the United Nations in Washington and in New York. Alastair was the official spokesman of the Security Council's United Nations Commission for Indonesia, which oversaw the peace settlement between the Netherlands and its former colony.
He received his doctorate from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1955. His dissertation was the basis for his book Indonesian Independence and the United Nations. During most of the 1950s, the Taylors lived in Britain and in Manotick, outside Ottawa. In 1960, Alastair joined the faculty of Queen's University, Kingston, where he taught both political studies and geography until 1980.
He loved Brahms and Mozart, as well as Burns, Wordsworth, and Yeats, and had a facility for composing sonnets -- scores and scores of them. Politically, he was a social democrat, but counted among his personal friends Flora MacDonald, Dalton Camp, and Lester Pearson. Although not an adherent of any established religion, Alastair firmly believed that the cosmos is imbued with a purpose that transcends our life on this planet.
In retirement, Alastair lived close to his family in Victoria. He remained remarkably healthy and active, and was recently remarried, to Stefani Smith, who shared his interest in history, art, and travel. He enjoyed the company of young people and was especially proud of his grandchildren. His knowledge was encyclopedic: He could be discussing the prospects for the Toronto Blue Jays or the latest Middle East peace proposals, and switch at the drop of a hat to expound on the Babylonian legal system or the travels of the 14th-century Islamic historiographer Ibn Khaldun, whom he particularly admired.
Alastair's latest work, Time-Space-Technics, argued that we stand at a critical juncture: while industrial society has become culturally and environmentally unsustainable, we have the opportunity to replace it with new planetary values and institutions.
His death came as a shock; those who knew him will miss his boundless optimism and good humour.
- Angus Taylor (Alastair's son)