Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Academic excellence was his calling

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He was a man steeped in the lives of both of this city's universities, but whose own interests ranged far beyond.

He was an intellectual -- a physicist -- but he was also known widely for his love of sports.

He gathered many awards over the course of his life, including the Order of Canada in 1976, but friends suggested his greatest prize may have been his engaging personality.

"I have never in my life met a person with as good a memory as Henry Duckworth," said John Bulman, who was the University of Winnipeg's chancellor during Duckworth's term as president from 1971 to 1981.

Duckworth, former president of the U of W and chancellor of the University of Manitoba from 1986 to 1992, died Thursday at the age of 93, leaving Winnipeg's academic community remembering his vision as a university leader.

But they also recalled his irreverent side.

Duckworth, after all, was the man who in 1972 introduced the U of W's Great Rock Climb, a race to climb the 22-tonne granite boulder on the university's front lawn that is still held each year during Homecoming.

"I've got to tell you, it's not easy to climb that rock," current university president Lloyd Axworthy said Friday.

Duckworth, a man many people knew as 'Harry,' was born Nov. 1, 1915, in Brandon.

He enrolled at Wesley College, the precursor to the U of W in 1932, beginning a life in academia that would last more than seven decades.

Over the course of 30 years, Duckworth would receive undergraduate degrees from both Winnipeg universities, a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago, and go on to work at the National Research Council and teach at McMaster University in Hamilton.

He returned to Winnipeg in the mid-60s, first to teach at the U of M, then to be its vice-president of development and finally to become president of the U of W in 1971.

Of his many legacies, people recalled how Duckworth expanded the range of the U of W's scholarships, built up its library and other facilities and began the practice of buying tracts of land immediately around the university's core buildings.

"It's a pattern that Lloyd Axworthy has been able to follow," said Duckworth's son, himself called Harry.

His father understood how many people in the university community thought, Harry Duckworth said.

As president of the U of W, he dealt with fundraising and university budgets.

As chancellor of the U of M, he was involved with the university's role in the wider community.

Duckworth's life had other facets besides the academic. In 1992, he instituted the Duckworth Challenge, the annual competition between U of M and U of W sports teams.

"I don't think I ever saw him miss a game," Axworthy said.

Shortly after his birthday last month, Duckworth suffered a stroke, his son said. That was followed by a series of others. His health declined sharply and he passed away Thursday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2008 B2

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