GRAEME CAMERON GIBSON August 9, 1934 - September 18, 2019 Graeme Gibson died peacefully in the University College Hospital in London, England, with friends and family beside him, as the result of a hemorrhagic stroke. He was in his 86th year. Graeme Gibson was the son of a Canadian Army Brigadier General and an Australian musician, and grew up in London, Ontario, Toronto, Ottawa, New Brunswick, Halifax, and Australia. He was a well-known novelist, essayist, authors' rights advocate, and bird conservation activist. His novels were Five Legs (1969), Communion (1971), Perpetual Motion (1983), and Gentleman Death (1995). His fictions, whether set in and around Stratford in the fifties and sixties, in rural nineteenth century Ontario, or in wartime Toronto, combine humanity and compassion with irony and the darker sides of human nature, and have been said to belong to "Southern Ontario Gothic." He also wrote for film, television, and radio. Eleven Canadian Novelists (1973) was the first book of interviews of Canadian novelists to be published; it tells us much about the earlier days of Canadian fiction writing, through the voices of Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, Mordecai Richler and Matt Cohen, among others. His two highly popular nature works, The Bedside Book of Birds, An Avian Miscellany (2005) and The Bedside Book of Beasts: A Wildlife Miscellany (2009) combine artwork from around the world and texts from many places and ages with personal anecdotes as a way of celebrating humanity's interaction with Earth's other intelligent forms of life. Graeme was the driving force behind the formation of The Writers' Union of Canada, which advocated for the fair treatment of writers, and then The Writers' Trust, in the 1970s, which now supports writers and their writing at many different levels. He then went on to act as the President of the newly-formed PEN Canada for two years in the 1980s, pulling together the most diverse Congress that institution had ever held, and working with International PEN to protect free speech and assist writers imprisoned for their writings. He then turned his attention to the natural world, chairing The Pelee Island Bird Observatory beginning in 2002, and acting as Honourary Co-President of BirdLife International's Rare Bird Club for ten years. He also organized the first bird-watching trips in Cuba, and helped naturalists and scientists there set up the Museum of Nature in Havana. He loved the Arctic and the Canadian Boreal Forest, and was at one time an ardent canoeist and hiker. He was a magnificent cook, an enthusiastic host, a singer of songs and a teller of tales. His key contributions to both Canadian society and the international world were recognized with many honours, including the Toronto Arts Award, the Harbourfront Festival Prize, an Order of Canada, a Royal Canadian Geographical Society Gold Medal, and an "environmental champion" honourary degree from Cape Breton University in 2019, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Farley Mowat Chair in Environmental Studies. Graeme had a wide circle of friends from many parts of the world and all walks of life. He was an excellent father and an adoring and adored spouse. He will be greatly missed. Graeme Gibson is survived by his children Matthew and his wife Petrina Andonova, Graeme the Younger and his wife Sumiko Onishi, Jess and her husband Alec Bemis; by grandchildren Maddy, Rowan, and Alder; by the members of his extended family Sarah Gibson, Jessica Gibson, Ruth Atwood and Ralph Siferd, and Harold and Lenore Atwood; and by his partner of forty-eight years, writer Margaret Atwood. A celebration of his life will be announced at a later date. Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, to Nature Canada, or to Dying With Dignity.
Published in The Globe and Mail from Sep. 19 to Sep. 23, 2019.