UPDATE: Former deputy finance minister mourned

·4 min read

A long-time public servant who played a crucial role in modernizing New Brunswick has died.

John L. Williamson, a former deputy finance minister and the father of current New Brunswick Southwest MP John S. L. Williamson, died suddenly on Dec. 14 at the age of 85, according to his family. The elder Williamson had a 32-year career in the civil service, including working in the Premier's Office for Richard Hatfield, the province's longest-serving premier.

"(Williamson) was the perfect role model for any professional public servant for whom public service is a true vocation," said Noël Kinsella, a former Senator and St. Thomas University professor who was a long-time colleague and friend of Williamson.

Williamson served as deputy finance minister during a time when New Brunswick was undergoing changes in education, health care and taxation as the New Brunswick Equal Opportunity Program came into effect, said Percy Mockler, who sat for 24 years in the New Brunswick legislature and is now a Senator in Ottawa.

"He believed in what he was doing, and what his government was doing," Mockler said.

Even though he was born in Maine – his family was living in Woodstock at the time – Williamson was a "New Brunswick patriot, loyal Canadian and proud British subject," according to his obituary. Williamson lived most of his childhood in Atlantic Canada, with some time also spent in Buffalo, Montreal and Long Island.

When he became an army reservist in the Canadian Officer Training Corp, he renounced his U.S. citizenship.

A graduate of Harvard University and the University of New Brunswick, Williamson entered New Brunswick's civil service in 1961. By 1968, he was appointed deputy minister of finance and secretary to the treasury board. From 1973, he served as a deputy head in various units, including the Energy Secretariat, the Premier’s Office under Hatfield, the Prices and Income Bureau, and the Office of Protocol.

Williamson was also responsible for helping create St. Thomas University's coat of arms and upgraded New Brunswick's coat of arms from a provincial shield.

As deputy finance minister at the start of the Equal Opportunity Program, Williamson worked across departments, according to Arthur Doyle, a former New Brunswick newspaper editor and political author.

Williamson helped set up the new Historical Resources Administration and Provincial Archives and oversaw its budget support along with King’s Landing Historical Settlement, le Village historique acadien, and the New Brunswick Museum.

"He was right in the centre of a lot of what the government was doing. These were years when the government size grew dramatically and the budget grew dramatically and there was almost unrelenting change," Doyle said.

Williamson served on dozens of boards and groups, including Kings Landing Corporation, the Fredericton Hotel Company and Algonquin Properties Ltd. He was also an active member of All Saints Anglican Church in Saint Andrews and a St. John Ambulance New Brunswick council member.

For his service to the public, Williamson, who retired in 1993, received the Knight of Justice of the Order of St. John in 2000, the Service Medal of the Order of St. John in 1995, Serving Brother of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in 1984, and the Queen’s Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals.

John LeRoux, manager of collections and exhibitions for the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, said Williamson remained active in the community even after his retirement from the civil service in 1993. Williamson advised LeRoux as he wrote a book on Saint Andrews architecture.

Williamson had an interest in Charlotte County’s heritage preservation, local history and military research. He continued to read history books, biographies, current affairs and thrillers, a lifelong passion of his.

"My dad was in many ways a quiet New Brunswicker, who like so many others in our province, didn’t seek recognition or accolades for his work on community projects or even important contributions such as his additions to our province’s wonderful coat of arms," said his son, MP John S. L. Williamson, in an emailed statement.

"Dad had a heart for New Brunswick and he’ll live on in our hearts."

A previous version of this story incorrectly implied the late John L. Williamson lived in the United States during his childhood. In fact, he mostly lived in Atlantic Canada. His family was living in Woodstock during the time he was born in Maine.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L'initiative de journalisme local est financée par le gouvernement du Canada.

Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal