For more than a decade, if there was a log jam in contract negotiations between management and workers, Wally Fox-Decent was the person you called to settle the dispute.
Fox-Decent, who helped bring labour peace to more than 120 public and private-sector disputes as a mediator and arbitrator, died Sept. 5 at age 82.
Former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon said he respected Fox-Decent's ability to bring different sides together so much he appointed him to chair the Meech Lake constitutional task force and later brought him back to head the all-party constitutional task force on the Charlottetown Accord.
"He was renowned as a labour arbitrator and the person who could bring disparate sides to the table," Filmon said Tuesday. "But he also was a political science professor... He was well-respected.
"He did a great service to the province."
Fox-Decent also helped settle several contentious labour disputes: mediating an end to a 12-day strike by emergency room doctors in 1993, arbitrating an end to a lockout of Manitoba Sugar workers in 1994, and mediating an end to the eight-month strike by Westfair workers at Superstore in 1996.
"In labour-management mediation, you might as well not start if the parties don't agree you're the right person to do the job," Fox-Decent said in a 2007 profile in the Free Press.
Fox-Decent also chaired a task force which looked into the province's Indigenous child-welfare system in 1993, and he reviewed MLA salaries and pensions in 1994. He was also one of the longest-serving board members of the Crocus Fund and chairman of its investment sub-committee.
He did all this while either working full-time as a University of Manitoba professor of political science (1962-95), chief executive officer and chairman of the Worker's Compensation Board (1992-2005), or during his 42-year career in the Naval Reserve (starting in 1954), which culminated with him becoming the first Canadian to chair the NATO Chief of Reserves Committee.
Cmdr. Colin Stewart of HMCS Chippawa said Fox-Decent was the reviewing officer on his basic training graduation parade in 1987.
"He was the senior reservist in Canada at that point," Stewart said. "Since then, over my 32 years in the Naval Reserve, I've met many people who trained or served with him and they all say he was a true gentleman and a good leader... and he was a great, great speaker."
Fox-Decent was awarded both the Orders of Manitoba and Canada, as well as being given the Commander of the Order of Military Merit, the Canadian Forces Decoration, and the Queen Elizabeth II Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals.
Born Norman Waldron Fox-Decent to parents Eric and Frances in 1937, he grew up in Winnipeg's West End and attended General Wolfe and Daniel McIntyre schools.
Fox-Decent went to United College (now the University of Winnipeg), where he received his BA in political science. He earned his masters degree at the University of Manitoba, where he eventually became a professor of political science. He taught at the U of M for 33 years, and was twice honoured with the university-wide teaching award.
"Generations of students still talk about how they loved taking his course," said Peter St. John, who taught international relations at the university. "When you have that magic, it is terrific."
Fox-Decent and his wife Joan married in 1962. They moved to Montreal in 2009. Joan died in 2014. Fox-Decent is survived by two sons and three grandchildren.
Filmon said what always impressed him about Fox-Decent was how he rose through the ranks at HMCS Chippawa.
Fox-Decent became its commanding officer and reached the rank of rear admiral, and then chief of reserves and cadets in 1987. "He worked his way all the way up to being admiral, which I always thought was incredible for a Prairie boy to be an admiral."
Fox-Decent's funeral service is being held Friday in Montreal.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at 4:55 PM CDT: Writethru.
9:30 PM: Fixes age.