Charles William John Eliot
Doctor of Letters
Charles William John Eliot, known to his friends and colleagues alike as "Willie," was born of Canadian parents in what is now Pakistan. After returning to Canada, he took his formal University degrees at the University of Toronto, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Master of Arts degree, and then a Doctor of Philosophy in Classics in 1969. He also did graduate work in Athens at the American School of Classical Studies between 1952 and 1957.
As a Classics Scholar, Dr. Eliot has held positions in universities across the country. Beginning as an Instructor of Classics at the University of British Columbia in 1957, by 19701, he was a Full Professor there. From the University of British Columbia, he went back to Athens as Professor of Archaeology at the American School between 1971 and 1976 and continued to retain close ties with the American School in Athens in the years after he had ceased living in Greece. Returning to Canada in 1976, he went to Mount Allison University as Professor of Classics and Head of the Department. In addition to his work in Classics, while at Mount Allison University, Dr. Eliot was elected Chair of the Faculty Council, Secretary of Senate, and appointed Dean of the Faculty and later Vice-President, Academic.
Dr. Eliot has had a prolific professional career as a Classicist, especially in the area of Greek History and Archaeology. He has published numerous books and articles on classical 5th century Athens, with Costal Demes of Attika: a Study of the Policy of Kleisthenes, published by the University of Toronto, probably the best known of his writings among his colleagues. Growing out of his interest in ancient Greek History and his love for Greece, he later studied, lectured and published articles on the 19th century English travellers to Greece. The poet Byron is one of his particular favourites as a fellow philhellene and traveller in Greece.
Willie Eliot's status among his professional colleagues is obvious from the positions he has held in the National Associations of Classicists. He has served as a member of council of the Classical Association of Canada, Vice-President, and then the President of the Association from 1990-1992. As a Past President of the Classical Association of Canada, he remains active in Canadian Classical Association as one whose advice and counsel is of enormous value in the shifting sands of academic life.
In the world beyond classics, he is probably best known as the former, popular President of the University of Prince Edward Island to which he went in 1985, after his years at Mount Allison University. He quickly became a very involved member of the community there, serving on various local comities in Charlottetown in 1994, and still continues in that position. He is a former member of the Board of Governors for Holland College, past Chairman of the Board for the Prince Edward Island Council of the Arts, member and past Chair of the Prince Edward Island Ministerial Steering Committee on Culture, two time President of the Community Museums Association of Prince Edward Island, past chair and current Deputy Treasurer of the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation.
In his years, both before and during his tenure as President of the University of Prince Edward Island, Willie Elliot also began moving in a variety of wider circles beyond Classics and beyond his lifelong tradition of strong community service. He served on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Advisory Academic panel from 1979 to 1983. From 1989 to 1992, he held the position of Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities, one of the most important posts in higher education in this area because it provides a forum for discussion and unified action by universities across Atlantic Canada. In 1988, Dr. Eliot was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada. Beautiful, well-constructed and elegant buildings, whether in Canada or in Greece, have been a lifelong passion with him.
Over the years, Dr. Eliot has had a strong public voice as one concerned about the state of Canadian education and the plight of the Canadian students. In his University of British Columbia years, he made a formal proposal to the Faculty of Arts on the nature of Arts education there. In 1995, MacLeans' magazine quoted him as saying "Who is going to accept a debt load of $20,000.00 to $40,000.00 to learn to appreciate poetry?" About the only people that can afford that kind of debt are doctors, and maybe some lawyers, who will be jumping into high-earning positions."
Because of his involvement in so many aspects of Canadian life and his concern that we preserve our culture and history, in 1992, he was awarded the commemorative medal for the 135th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. The University of King's College had already granted him an Honorary Doctorate in 1988 and in 1994, he joined the prestigious ranks of the Order of Canada.
Willie Eliot is married to the former Mary Williamson and they have four children: Charles, Nicholas, Johanna and Luke. Their daughter Sophia died in 1963.
In conclusion, it seems worthwhile to end with a quotation from Willie Eliot himself. This comes from one of his admonitions to SSHRC to maintain an abiding interest in and funding for the Arts and Sciences. In 1989, it was reported in The Financial Post "Is it not justification enough?that we contribute a sense of value and heritage to the world in which we live, that through human sciences above all, we learn and transmit what it is to be human, that through our criticism we may remember that the environment is worth saving?and that at the end, we may stand with Sophocles and repeat his timeless verses: "Without numbers are the world's wonders, but none more wonderful than man." Sophocles could only be proud of one who has laboured so long to foster and develop that definition of what it means to be human.