DFC, BA, MA, PhD, FRGS, FR.Hist.S., Professor Emeritus
5 January 1923 – 26 March 2012
William Rodney, airman, scholar and gentleman, died at home on 26 March 2012. Born in Drumheller, Alberta, he joined the RCAF at the age of 17, trained at the Commonwealth Air Training Base Patricia Bay, and earned his pilot’s wings. He flew Halifaxes in operations over Germany and Occupied Europe as a Flight Lieutenant with RAF Squadron 78, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar for “gallantry during active operations against the enemy”. After World War II, he attended the University of Alberta, meeting his wife Helen (McGregor) of Edmonton, and graduating with First Class Honours in History. During the summers, he worked as a Ranger in Waterton Lakes National Park, where he came to know the story of “Kootenai” Brown, whose definitive biography he was later to write and for which he received the American Association for State and Local History Award of Merit and Distinction. Bill and Helen married in 1950, when he took up a Beaver Club Trust Fellowship at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he completed a BA and MA in history and played ice-hockey for Cambridge University. After several years working in Ottawa for the federal government, he returned to Great Britain with his family and completed a PhD in History at the London School of Economics, under the supervision of Leonard Shapiro. He published Soldiers of the International, a History of the Communist Party of Canada 1919 – 1929, based on his doctoral research. In 1962 he moved to Victoria to take up a teaching position at Royal Roads Military College, where he stayed for the remainder of his career, ultimately becoming Dean of Arts. His former students remember “the Rod” with affection and admiration. During his years at Royal Roads, he took an active part in College and academic life, regularly publishing scholarly articles. Among many research grants and awards, he received a NATO fellowship to travel to French West Africa and report on conditions there. He was a Fellow, Royal Historical Society; Fellow, Royal Geographical Society; Life Member, Cdn Hist. Assn.; Mem., Cdn. Institute of Intl. Affairs; Johnian Society and Dir., Cambridge Canadian Trust. A firm belief in the need to return to primary sources drove him to travel frequently for research. In preparing Joe Boyle, King of the Klondike, for which he was awarded the University of British Columbia Medal for Popular Biography, he spent considerable periods in Roumania and in Turkey, in order to consult original documents, including the personal diaries of Queen Marie of Roumania. After the early death of his beloved wife Helen, and his own retirement, he travelled widely – to Japan, China, Burma, Australia, Turkey, Abu Dhabi, many European countries and Great Britain – and was active in the community at home in Victoria. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Gonzales Hill Preservation Society and Gonzales Hill Regional Park. He was also an active member of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Chapter (now CIC) and of the Vancouver Island Aircrew Association. He leaves his grieving children, Helen Catherine (Michel Drouin) and John William McGregor (Glen Dixon), and his granddaughter Emma, the apple of his eye. He is remembered with great affection by his sister-in-law Evelyn Rodney of Vancouver, his sister- and brother-in-law Gwen and George Molnar of Edmonton, many nieces and nephews, and friends across the world. He was a fine pilot, a rigorous scholar, a good friend, father and grandfather, an erudite, honest and honorable man. He did his duty.
The funeral will take place on Thursday 5 April at 11:00 a.m., at the Interfaith Chapel, University of Victoria, followed by a reception. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Canadian Cancer Society. Condolences may be sent to the family below.
H. Kristian Maris
Dear Helen and Greg (that is how I know John’s name)
I did not hear from your father last Christmas, but I did receive the British Columbia Magazine that he sent me every Christmas, so I did not realise that Bill had died. Only after my email to him was returned to me I wanted to find the reason for it and I Googled his name and found this obituary. I am so very sad that he has gone, but I am also very upset that I did not write to you sooner. Bill and Helen were great friends to my husband John and when our daughter was born we decided to ask them to be her godparents. Every year I gave Bill a report on how she was doing. Helen was also a great loss. I thought a great deal of them. We visited Bill in Victoria when we came to Canada, but Helen was no longer with us at that time. Bill was a great host and he showed us the University and his home. We had a great time with him. I am so sorry I shall not be getting his annual missives at Christmas.
Please accept my condolences and my best wishes to you and yours,
My heart goes out to you. “I suggest that you pay attention because you won’t see his like again” – MC announcing one of the last performances of Joe Venuti.
I was a student of Dr. Rodney’s at Royal Roads from 1971-73. Having just sadly learned of his passing, I wish to remember him now not only for his brilliant mind, but for his compassionate heart.
During the early 70s Royal Roads was a very tough institution. In those days close to half the candidates at Roads dropped out or failed. Polishing boots, buckles, and belts till well past midnight coupled with the vigorous physical fitness program left us very tired during classes, and I slept quite often during lectures, including history. This was particularly disconcerting because I was not just another engineering student but rather one of Royal Roads very first Arts Class, of which 13 of us completed the year and became known, mostly among ourselves, as the “old thirteen.”
Being in Arts, I should have been more attentive in history, but I was not. Yet Dr. Rodney did not seem at all worried about my “in class sleep habits.” He seemed content to instill in me whatever knowledge I could receive that day. And if I was asleep, then he would try again the next day. I never had to worry about Doc Rod, for his compassion eclipsed any other consideration, be it related to being derelect in assignments etc.
But it was not only for that reason that we liked him so much. The depth of his sincerity in trying to instill in us a love of knowledge was phenomenal. And his patience in so doing was equally so. And his kind and patient manner reaped great success. Many of Doc Rod’s students went on to complete MA’s, and I was fortunate to publish one of my research endeavors in the Journal of Diplomatic History. I must thank him now for the role he played in that, for in the beginning he instilled in me a deep respect for knowledge and enchanted me with the flow of history, all the while compassionately ignoring my many defects.
Many will remember his brilliance, as will I. (I still have an autrographed copy of his award winning book, “Kootenai Brown.”) But in my heart I wish to remember him most for his compassion and kindness. And so I now send my heart’s gratitude to Doctor Rodney, and my condolences to his family for their loss.
Thank you Dr. Rodney.
God Bless and keep you, as I now He will, for He cherishes compassionate souls.
Rob (“Our man Robbie”) Pauk
RMC Class of ’75
Royal Roads Class of ’73 (“the Old 13”).
Angela Kolaric (Cooke)
Dear Helen and Greg,
I was very sorry to hear the sad news about your father. What an accomplished man he was, someone who really lived life to the full.
Like Chris, I remember our years at Royal Roads fondly and would love to be in touch again.
With much sympathy,
Helen and Greg,
I was talking with Geoff on the phone this evening and he told me of your Dad’s passing. I am so sorry to hear about it. Your Dad had an amazing life.
I have often wondered what you both have been up to and often remember the great times we had at Royal Roads You were such a wonderful family and great friends.
To the family of “The Rod”,
I experienced Dr. William Rodney’s 1st year history class – “Europe since Napoleon” – in 1982-83 and it was he who showed me that history could be interesting, relevant, and fun. I think he treated me with tolerance, ignoring my tendency to read other books during class because I’d read the textbook the first week and so could respond with reasonable veracity to any questions he tossed my way.
Dr. Rodney would walk into the classroom, scrawl an undecipherable hieroglyphic on the board, sometimes accompanied by an utterance – “Metternich!” – and speak apparently off the cuff for the remainder of the period. I thought he was wonderful. Somewhere during that year I learned of his DFC and Bar, which taught me that history was not necessarily a field reserved for fusty academics, and thus something I could study as life went on.
I graduated from RRMC with a BSC but in subsequent years I did manage to earn an MA in War Studies, for which he is in part responsible, and I continue to dabble in matters historical. Being taught by him was for me a formative experience for which I remain deeply grateful.
Please accept my condolences.
My condolences to family and friends of Dr. Rodney. I took history at Royal Roads from 74-76 and enjoyed it enough to take a History major at RMC rather than stick with my original plan to do Business Admin at CMR.
I was a student at RRMC and remember Dr Rod very well. He was a great man. So sad to hear of his passing.
John and Diane Mothersill
Helen and John,
Diane and I were very sorry to learn of Bill’s death upon our return to Victoria. He had a very distinguished and extensive career. I was privileged to work with him for a number of years whilst I was Principal of Royal Roads Military College.
Dear Helen Kate, Greg, and family,
I’m so sorry for your loss. I have fond memories of our family visiting yours in Victoria and Uncle Bill taking us swimming and to Fort Rodd Hill. I also enjoyed interesting discussions with him on his visits to Toronto. I know my parents treasure the memories of their friendship with your folks. Our thoughts are with all of you.
Helen, Greg and Emma,
In addition to your father’s many, many accomplishments in his professional and “civilian” life, to cut to the heart of the matter I am truly sorry for the loss of your father and grandfather. It has been a while since I saw your Dad (Emma was just around 2) but I remember his twinkle, how sparkling and fun conversation with him was and especially how he proudly told me how completely Emma had him wrapped around her little finger.
bob and betsy harvey
We remember wonderful events with Bill and Helen when we lived on Sylvan Lane and prize recollections of their friendship with us. Our thoughts are with you all. We both remember his connection with Royal Roads and Betsy’s Parents, the CC Cooks.
Helen, I am sorry to read the news of your father’s passing. I met William last year at the annual seminar of the Western Front Association (Pacific Coast Branch). I enjoyed our conversation and photographed him with Atholl Sutherland-Brown. The photo can be viewed here:
I extend my condolences to you, John, Emma and all those who grieve his passing.
Bob and Margaret Ferguson
Dear Greg (as we knew you) —
You may well not remember us but we did meet you once or twice in Victoria well after Helen’s death when we were visiting Bill. Unfortunately, Helen Catherine and Emma, we never had the opportunity to meet you far as we can remember, but your Father and Grandfather (respectively) always spoke of the both of you with great pride when we were visiting him.
Who are we? My wife Margaret (Warren) was a friend of Helen (McGregor’s) at elementary and/or high school, and they attended the same sunday school together at Holy Trinity Church (where we were marrried by Rev. Nainby in December, 1948). Helen and Margaret were probably also friends at the U of Alberta. Margaret and I were pleasantly surprised to meet up with Helen and Bill when the two couples of us had occasion to be living in Cambridge in 1950-51 where Bill was pursuing his degrees in History and I was doing a Postdoc in Crystallography/Mineralogy in the Physics Dept.
With Helen and Margaret having been good friends years earlier, they rejuvenated this friendship but now with the two couples of us, and we had many good times together in Cambridge. It was during that year that Bill got TB (from unpasteurized milk?) and had to spend several months in a sanatorium somewhere outside of Cambridge. Also, Helen and Margaret had jobs doing mathematical calculations in Crystallography in our lab for me and my fellow researchers. After they and we retuned to Canada (I to the U of Manitoba in Winnipeg) we kept up Christmas correspondence for many years including with Bill (in his unique script handwriting) after Helen died, up until about 3 or 4 years ago.
Margaret and I were very saddened to read in the Globe & Mail of Bill’s recent passing, but because he lived such a full and rewarding life, it can only mitigate his passing. He was a truly remarkable person who made many remarkable contributions to the organizations and individuals that had the privilege of knowing him. We still have a copy of his Kootenai Brown biography. On one occasion Bill visited us here in Winnipeg when he was here for a reunion of the Wartime Pilots’ Association, one of his greatest interests.
Margaret and I were anxious to let you, his family, know how very much Bill — and earlier Helen — enriched our lives during the periods when we knew him/them. With our warm condolences to all of you.
Dear Helen and Family. Needless to say the MC Monthly Luncheon group was very saddened to hear this news. You are all very much in our thoughts. Your Dad was such a wonderful person and contributed so much to this World during his lifetime. He will be sorely missed. I’m sorry that I cannot make your Service for him today but I will certainly be thinking of you all. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help.
From the younger Wood, who also enjoyed the scholarly mentorship of “the Rod”, we wish the family well in these trying times. Ian Wood RRMC 1982-84. TDV!
I was sorry to hear the news and will miss Bill at our Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race celebrations. I intended to go today to the funeral, but I have a really bad cold and am sneezing all over the place, so for the sake of everyone else decided to stay at home. My best wishes. reg
Dear Helen, John and Emma,
We were saddened to hear the news of your loss. Please accept our condolences and hope that you will find comfort from many years of happy memories.
Bob, Lena, Roberta and Philip
Pat and Angie Morris
We first met Bill when he was helping my father with his memoirs in the early 90’s, which turned into weekly lunches where the two of them debated the issues of the day. Since that time he has become a dear friend of the family. My mother will miss the Thursday lunches she and Bill shared, and especially the conversational accompaniment. Our sincere condolences.
Cmdre Roy wood and Marianne
Dear Helen: we talked when you spoke to my husband’s NDC class reunion in Ottawa. Both of us have such fond memories of your father. Mine are less directly related as I was “spouse of”, and therefore in some ways they are more precious to me. While Roy was on staff at RRs I was collecting credits at Uvic. Dr. Rodney persuaded me to write a paper on Kootenai Brown. I did. Imagine my delight when 40+ years later while travelling in the Waterton Lakes we came across a K.Brown marker. Every word I wrote came back to me plus the presence of your father. it is a cherished moment in my life, reflecting the joy of having crossed paths with a very special man. He did have a deserved long life. Our condolences to you and yours but how fortunate you were to have had him so long. Sincerely, Marianne and Roy Wood.
Stan Benda, Ph.D. (Law)
My deepest sympathies and sincere condolences.
I had the privilege of being taught by “the Rod” at RRMC 1973 -75. He let loose little segues — “Yes Versailles, it looks different from 1,000 ft in a Lanc” or “fighters are much preferable to bombers”. In my class he would often say to my fellow cadet “Mr Leonard, enlighten the troops”.
I was studying late one night in a library room and Prof. Rodney shut off the lights. When he realized I was there, turned them back on with a firm apology and a quip about old habits from the war.
I am blessed to have had the privilege of his academic insights and the inspiration of his example. The world is so much poorer without him.
Dr. Charlie Pickett
Our good wishes and condolences to the Rodney family.
from Dorothy and Dr. Charlie Pickett from days at Nuffield Foundation on Prince Albert Road (1958)
Your father was a great friend of my parents.When in Victoria I always took the time to visit with Bill,he made an excellent cup of tea, and was a great conversationalist! My sincere sympathies to the family.
Several decades ago, as a young RMC scholar who also specialized on communism, I met Bill Rodney and found a wonderful colleague. We shared a commitment to original archival research, the political history of a radical leftist political party, a special trans-continental solidarity as military college professors, and a passion for the well-being of generations of officer-cadets. I will greatly miss Bill’s dignity, grace, enthusiasm and profound decency. He was a scholar-gentleman and it was my honour to call him a friend.
Merrill & Bernie
How sad to lose Bill.
We’ve been so fortunate to have Helen and Emma as friends and neighbours, then also to get to know Bill in Berlin and Victoria. Our very sincere condolences .
I was saddened to read of your father’s passing. I remember him as a history professor at Royal Roads which I attended from 1962 to 1964. He was always supportive and provided a calm and steadying influence in our somewhat hectic lives. One of his statements I will always remember was that we should consider the (history) text as a “point of departure.” He was indeed a true gentleman.
David Brook (et famille)
Karen and I were neighbours of “The Professor” as we and our children came to know him. On my family’s behalf I extend our heartfelt condolences to family and friends. To us Professor Rodney was an inspiration, right from the time we moved into the neighbourhood 27 years ago. His way of going about the world was meticulous and compassionate, erudite and warm. He was a natural leader, a beacon of rectitude and civic-mindedness. My enduring memories are of a distinguished gentleman marching purposefully and uncomplainingly up the hill, always careful to enquire after the well-being of our (then)-young children, of the joy that residents felt at the formal announcement by then-MLA John Brewin that the Gonzales Hill Observatory and Park would be saved from development (the boundary-stakes with the orange Day-glo flags had already been put in), his modest mien, the twinkle in his eye, and his evident love for The Other. A great and mindful and neighbourly man, fully-alive, who quietly and courageously served his fellow-man with humility. May his memory be as for a blessing and a consolation, and his generous spirited-ness and willingness to serve an enduring inspiration.
Helen and John:
It is with great sadness that I learned of your father’s passing. I was one of his students at Royal Roads who knew him as “The Rod”. He would sweep into the classroom, more often than not in his Cambridge gown and immediately launch into where he had left off from his last lecture, notably on the Renaissance. He left an indelible mark on all of his, and was a truly learned man. I am so sorry that I was unable to connect with him last May when he came down to Ottawa, particularly as both he and my father David were Halifax pilots. He has left us with great memories. Per Ardua Ad Astra Bill. Godspeed!
Merrill and Murray Cook
Dear Helen,Emma and John
We will our friend Bill for his good humour and sensitivity and offer our sincere sympathy to you . Merrill and Murray Cook
Gail Branton (nee Grimble)
I was sorry to hear of your father’s death. I knew him only from the stories told by my father, Harold Grimble. Harold was the bomber in Bill’s plane when they limped back to Britain. He thought very highly of your Dad and said that it was really his excellent flying skill that pulled them through.
May your many happy memories give you comfort.
HelenKate and Greg; we are so sad to hear of Uncle Bill’s passing away.
Though I hadn’t seen him for more than a decade, he is very fondly
remembered by me and all the Rooneys
Our condolences to you and your families
Mike and Jo Molloy
Dear Helen, Emma and John:
Please accept our condolences on the passing of a great man and father. We look forward to seeing you on your return to Ottawa
…mike and Jo
Shirley N(We Care)
John, Helen and Emma: I was so sad to hear of you dad and grandfathers passing. It was an honor to have met and known him for the short time I had been visiting him for We Care. He was such a gentleman. We enjoyed a little chat before I did my chores. He always apologized for all his books. He will be missed especially by all his friends and especially you Emma. I will miss him too. Please accept my deepest sympathy to you and your families.
Shirley (We Care)
I have only just learned, with sadness, of Dean Rodney’s death. Dr. Rodney was Dean when I was a cadet at Royal Roads in the late 1980s. Some years later I had the great privilege of attending St. John’s College, University of Cambridge as a graduate student. Within the first week or so of arriving at John’s, as I wandered down Trinity Lane with eagerness to breathe in the rarefied air of centuries of learning, I recognised, with surprise, a very distinguished gentleman, in the mould, perhaps, of Robertson Davies: Dr. Rodney. I said “hello, you won’t remember me…” but, of course, he did (I expect that cadets of either a distinguished or poor academic calibre were brought to his attention – unfortunately, I fell into the latter category). We spoke briefly of various things but I recall, in particular, his comment about his own time at Cambridge. “It was so different in my day.” Thus, I carried on, disabused of my misplaced sentimentality, but with a fond affection for Dean Rodney’s mischief.