THE RIGHT HONOURABLE ADRIENNE CLARKSON, PC, CC, CMM, COM, CD
Universally acknowledged to have transformed the post of Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson was born in Hong Kong in 1939 and came to Canada as a refugee with her parents William and Ethel Poy in 1942. They settled in Ottawa, where she attended public schools until graduating from Lisgar College Institute in 1956. She obtained an honours B.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto’s Trinity College and later completed an M.A. Madame Clarkson has also had a life-long interest in the French language. She did post-graduate work at the Sorbonne in France and is fluently bilingual.
A leading figure in Canada’s cultural life, Madame Clarkson has had a rich and distinguished career in broadcasting, journalism, the arts and public service. She worked as host, writer and producer of several influential programs on CBC Television, including Take Thirty, Adrienne at Large, and The Fifth Estate from 1965 to 1987. An eminent writer, she has authored five books and contributed numerous articles to major newspapers, magazines and anthologies across Canada. She served as the first Agent-General for Ontario in Paris from 1982 to 1987, promoting Ontario’s business and cultural interests in France, Italy and Spain. She was President of McClelland and Stewart from 1987 to 1988. In 1988, she became the Executive Producer, Host and Writer for the programs Adrienne Clarkson’s Summer Festival and Adrienne Clarkson Presents. These duties kept her busy for the next 11 years. During this period, she also directed several films including Artemisia (1992), the story of one of Western Art’s greatest women painters, Artemisia Gentileschi and The Lust of His Eye: the life of James Wilson Morrice (1996), arguably one of Canada’s greatest internationally known artists of the early 20th Century.
She also served as Chairwoman to the Board of Trustees for the Museum of Civilization in Hull, Québec and as President of the Executive Board of the International Music Centre (IMZ), the international audio-visual association of music, dance, and cultural programmers based in Vienna, Austria. In 1991, she chaired the jury for the Banff Television Festival at Banff, Alberta. Her work has been recognized with dozens of awards in Canada, the United States and Europe including 26 honourary doctorates. She was also appointed as a Senior Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, and as an Honourary Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Trinity College, and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. She was also honoured abroad with the Grand Cross of the Order of Pleiades from France (2001) and the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation (2006), the only Canadian to be so honoured. She has been active on cultural juries since leaving office in 2005 including chairing the first two Man Asian Literary Prizes established in Hong Kong in 2007. She also juried the Giller Prize for Fiction in 2006 and served on the jury of the Gold Medal for Architecture given by the Royal Architectural Institute.
Adrienne Clarkson was sworn in as Canada’s 26th Governor General on 7 October 1999. Her tenure as Governor General was remarkable for the considerable attention she brought to the courage and commitment of Canada’s Armed Forces. She visited and inspired troops in Kosovo, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan and moved and educated Canadians with her tributes to the Unknown Soldier and Canada’s war veterans. Particularly memorable was her role in comforting the nation and the families of the four soldiers killed in the tragic “friendly fire” incident in April 2002. She demonstrated her commitment to the families of Canadian soldiers by traveling to Germany to visit with the wounded and attending memorial ceremonies for soldiers killed in action. In the process, she increased our vigilance to Canada’s commitment to international peace and security.
Her passionate interest in Canada’s North and in the circumpolar nations as a whole led to a hugely successful state visit to the Russian Federation, Finland and Iceland in 2003. She then established the Governor General’s medal for the North just before leaving Rideau Hall and serves as chair of the jury choosing the annual winner who has contributed outstandingly to our understanding and development of the North.
On March 17, 2007 she became Colonel-in-Chief of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), the first Canadian to be Colonel-in-Chief of a Canadian regiment. The PPCLI is garrisoned in Edmonton, Alberta and has been serving in Afghanistan. She visited the 2nd Battalion there in Kandahar in August 2008.
Adrienne Clarkson actively promoted tolerance, acceptance, belonging and public responsibility in her work as Governor General and as a broadcaster, writer, diplomat and cultural champion. National Post Columnist John Fraser remarked that Adrienne Clarkson “has the ability, unique among public officials, of making Canadians feel good about themselves and their country.” This talent was recognized by the Blood Tribe of Alberta who adopted her as an honourary chief. Madame Clarkson is proud to retain her new title “Grandmother of Many Nations.” Her official titles include membership in the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada (PC), Companion of the Order of Canada (CC), Commander of the Order of Military Merit (CMM), Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (COM) and the Canadian Forces Decoration (CD).
Since leaving the office of Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson has founded the Institute for Canadian citizenship (ICC) and chairs it with her husband, John Ralston Saul The Institute’s purpose is to help acculturate new Canadian citizens into mainstream Canadian life through initiatives such as community citizenship ceremonies with roundtable discussions, cultural vouchers to introduce new citizens to cultural activities and museums, and a programme to increase awareness and use of our wilderness parks. Her social activism continues with her serving as patron of Pathways to Education in Regent’s Park and as Honourary Patron to Bridgepoint Heath Centre, an innovative and unique center for treatment of chronic illness, aging and urban aboriginal health.
There are two public schools named after her: Adrienne Clarkson Elementary School in Barrhaven, Ottawa and Adrienne Clarkson School in Richmond Hill, Ontario. The Clarkson Laureateship for Public Service is awarded to two post-graduate fellows at Massey College at the University of Toronto. The Clarkson Cup for Women’s Hockey was inaugurated in March 2009, a gift which she has made to encourage the growth of women playing hockey.
Madame Clarkson is married to John Ralston Saul, the son of Colonel William John Saul, a veteran of World War II, who participated in the D-Day invasion and later served as an officer in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Her bestselling memoir, Heart Matters, was received with acclaim when it was published in the fall of 2006. In March 2009 her biography of Dr. Norman Bethune appeared in the Extraordinary Canadians Series published by Penguin Canada.