In Celebration of

James William MacNeill

April 22, 1928 -  March 5, 2016

James ‘Jim’ William MacNeill, O.C., D.Sc., LL.D.

Environmental Pioneer, International Public Servant, author, mentor, friend, husband, father and grandfather extraordinaire, Jim MacNeill, died peacefully, surrounded by family, on March 5, 2016, after a brief battle with pneumonia.

Jim was born April 22nd, 1928 in Mazenod Saskatchewan to William Leslie MacNeill and Helga Ingeborg Nohlgren. He was an ecological refugee at the age of 3, escaping the dustbowl for the parklands of Sturgis. Jim courageously met numerous life-changing challenges throughout his long life. He took each roadblock and used it to propel himself to greater heights without a whiff of self-pity. Jim had an indomitable spirit. Always curious, never idle, he loved ideas, travel, theatre, debate, great food, fine wine and the company of good friends & family. His eyes twinkled, his laugh was contagious and he had the best eyebrows on the planet.

From the University of Saskatchewan Jim received Bachelor of Science degrees for both Physics and Mathematics in 1949 and a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering in 1958. In 1951 he earned a Graduate Diploma in Economics and Political Science from the University of Stockholm, Sweden.

Jim began his public service career in Saskatchewan in 1952 as a research economist for T. C. Douglas. After distinguishing himself in his home province he moved, in 1964, to Ottawa where he began 13 years of exemplary work in the Canadian civil service as one of the famous “Saskatchewan Mafia”. In 1969 Jim was appointed “Special Advisor” by Prime Minister Trudeau. Over the next two years, he developed the Government's basic position on the environment and the constitution while writing his first book, Environmental Management. In 1975 the Prime Minister asked Jim to take on the role of Canadian Commissioner General and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary with responsibility for Canada's national and international preparations for the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat) held in Vancouver in May 1976.

In 1977, after a well deserved sabbatical, Jim moved to the International arena serving seven years as Director of Environment for the OECD in Paris. In 1984, Jim was named Secretary General of the World Commission on Environment and Development. He was the chief architect and principal author of the Commission's world-acclaimed report Our Common Future which established the concept of sustainable development. In the late 90’s Jim chaired the World Bank’s Independent Inspection Panel to which people adversely affected by Bank-financed projects could appeal for an investigation of their complaints over the heads of their government and Bank Management.

Over the years Jim served as advisor to many organizations including The Institute for Research on Public Policy, The International Development Research Center, The United Nations Development Programme, Ontario Hydro, The Volvo Foundation’s Environment Prize, and The International Institute for Sustainable Development. He played a key role in the development of The Earth Charter. Jim was the recipient of many Awards and Honourary Doctorates. His appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada was the highlight of a lifetime. Jim has left this world a far better place through his countless contributions. We have lost a giant.

Jim is survived by his wife, Phyllis (née Ferguson); his daughters, Catherine (Michael) and Robin (Jamie); and the “lights of his life”, his grandchildren, Zack (Sarah), Clark, Farley, Aiden, Will and Audrey Lynne. Jim was predeceased by his son Ward.

Special thanks to the team at the Ottawa General Hospital’s ICU for their wonderful care.

Friends are invited to Beechwood Cemetery, 280 Beechwood Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario (866-990-9530), on Monday, April 25, 2016, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. A Celebration of Life will begin at 2 p.m. with reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a charity that supports Jim’s mission to make our home, this earth, safer for those who are yet to come. Please raise a glass to Jim each year on Earth Day – so fittingly his birthday as well.


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Ann Dale (Colleague and Mentor)

Entered March 12, 2016 from Ottawa, Ontario

Jim was one of my mentors during our tenure at the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). His leadership and contributions to Canada are unparalleled, and we have lost one of our 'heroes' for the environment. He never hesitated to speak truth to power. Some people when they are on Earth occupy only the space of a tree, but when they leave, they leave the space of a forest.

Gita Sen (Friend)

Entered March 12, 2016 from Bangalore, India

I'm happy and grateful to have met and gotten to know and learn from Jim over the past 20 years. He was always so much fun to be with, full of stories, infectious laughter, and incisive thinking. Jim could smell pomposity and BS from a mile away, and could cut through the crap as fast as anyone I know. I deeply appreciated his true commitment to environmental and social justice. Very proud to have been able to call him my friend.

Cathy Crook (Niece)

Entered March 12, 2016 from Winnipeg, MB

I just saw the beautiful photo gallery of Uncle Jim's life. It was spectacular. I was always awestruck when Uncle Jim came to visit. He seemed larger than life to me. He was such a great man and was always interested in everyone around him. I have so many fond memories that still make me laugh when I think about them. I am glad his eyebrows were mentioned because they truly had a life of their own. I always wished that we could have visited more often. I will miss him.

Evelyn Charlston (A High School friend that wandered south to the USA, but cherished your long term friendship.)

Entered March 12, 2016 from Centralia WA. USA

Will miss your occasional letters and Christmas cards.
Just an High School friend that wandered off to the USA.
Evelyn Hale Charlston Centralia WA. USA

Lindsay Brown (Met Jim while writing the history of Habitat '76)

Entered March 12, 2016 from Vancouver

I feel so lucky to have known Jim even if it was for little more than year. I met him while writing an illustrated history of Habitat '76, the groundbreaking UN conference that he was so instrumental in organizing. Jim was a brilliant interviewee (he spoke in publishable paragraphs), remarkably generous with his help, and a patient explainer and re-explainer of anything I asked him. As others have said above, he didn't mince words and I found that directness a relief in a sea of caution and bafflegab. I am so sad to have lost him, especially before he had a chance to read the book he helped me with, but I am really happy that whole sections of the book are in Jim's words. Condolences to Jim's family. What a loss.


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