Former University of King’s College President Dr. John Godfrey is one of 103 new appointments to the Order of Canada. Presented by the Governor General, the Order honours people whose service shapes our society and unites our communities.
Godfrey enjoyed a long and varied career in education, journalism and politics. His path started in Toronto where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Toronto in 1965. Then, it was a Master of Philosophy at Oxford in London in 1967, followed by a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford in 1975. He returned to North America soon after and became a popular teacher at Dalhousie before taking the mantle at King’s.
In the fall of 1977, Godfrey became the youngest president in King’s history at 34 years of age. Tidings magazine introduced Godfrey as someone who “is hell-bent-bent on a singular course—toward the last century.”
He was a stalwart for traditions, establishing several new ones during his 10-year presidency at King’s. He was a strong believer in establishing a living-learning community in which he modelled at King’s after the Oxford-Cambridge experience, calling it the “total integration of all aspects of education, the education of the whole person,” which is the primacy of undergraduate teaching:
“And that is why we, as teachers, must have more, not less to do with our undergraduates, why we must not live lives segregated from theirs, why we must eat with them, talk with them, play tennis with them, have them to our parties. University is the time when young people should be admitted as full participating members of the adult world, and it is high time both we and they got used to the idea. This is one of the great lessons of Oxford: treat undergraduates as adults, partners in a common intellectual adventure, and proceed accordingly from there.
Once this fundamental, revolutionary premise has been accepted, then a true, integrated intellectual community is possible, and true, total learning may take place.”— John Godfrey
He guided King’s Foundation Year Program in its infancy, calling it “a common intellectual agenda for the college,” and established the first degree-granting school of journalism in Atlantic Canada. Throughout his tenure, Godfrey was able to attract interest in King’s in many different ways. His love for, and emphasis on, the classics still echo through the halls of King’s today.
When he left King’s in 1987, the Oxford grad became the editor of the Financial Post. In 1991, Godfrey began a short stint at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research before entering politics two years later.
Godfrey was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Toronto riding of Don Valley West in the 1993 federal election. From 1996 to 2004 he served as the Parliamentary Secretary under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. In 2004, Godfrey was appointed to the role of Minister of State for Infrastructure and Communities. All told, he served his constituents for 15 years before leaving politics in 2008 and becoming the headmaster of the prestigious Toronto French School until 2014.
A second article about Godfrey in Tidings magazine published after his departure from King’s, focused on his assuming this new portfolio with the Canadian government but also included a touch of foreshadow. The 2004 article read Godfrey “believes in the Order of Canada motto: Desiderantes meliorem patriam” or “They desire a better country.”
His former colleagues are perhaps unsurprised Godfrey has been named to that same Order of Canada. When leaving King’s in 1987, one of the guest speakers at Godfrey’s farewell dinner said, “His pursuit of high purposes, his sense of commitment and his view of academic excellence have helped create a university where people want to send their children.” Godfrey’s painting today hangs in Prince Hall and his legacy remains an important part of this university.