Remembering Richard Gregor
Richard Gregor, Professor emeritus and Senior Fellow of Trinity College, 1924-2012
Those whose time in the departments of Political Economy and Political Science overlapped with that of Richard Gregor retain a vivid memory of this colleague, who left us on January 25 at the age of eighty-seven. He was a man of considerable presence and vitality, of solid convictions and old-world courtesy. Who can forget his powerful voice – rivalled only by that of the late Steve Triantis – and genial greeting as he strolled down the halls of Sidney Smith? At the ‘long table’, upstairs in the Faculty Club, where a congenial mix of scientists, humanists, and social scientists would gather over lunch, woe betide the uninitiated colleague who took Richard’s regular place, although I recall that exception was made on occasions when the U of T president of the day chose to invite himself.
Richard was first and foremost a teacher, and his devotion to the task went well beyond the call of duty. His teaching assignments ranged widely over the field of International Relations, but Comparative Foreign Policy – probably the first course with this title and scope to be offered at a Canadian university – became identified with him and remained so until his retirement. There were graduate and senior undergraduate versions of the course, and when the popularity of the latter inflated enrolment, Richard voluntarily added to his teaching load by offering two sections so as to preserve a degree of interaction. Adhering to the Morgenthauian school of realpolitik, and possessed of a deep knowledge of international diplomatic history, Richard was a scholar of unbreachable intellectual integrity, and his judgment generally stood the test of time (as in the case of the revisionist school of Cold War history). He preserved a certain decorum in his contacts with students – calling them mister or miss long after fashion had shifted to first names – yet earned not only their respect but, in a remarkable number of cases, an enduring affection.
Born in Prague, Richard experienced the dismemberment and German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Although he was discreet to a fault about this harrowing period of his youth, in the last days of the war he participated in the Prague uprising, and subsequently his open criticism of the communists led to his exclusion from university. He escaped to Paris in 1949 and, a year later, emigrated to Canada. He would never succumb to the irrationality of political extremism.
While working at a series of menial jobs to support himself and assist relatives who had also emigrated, Richard resumed his studies at the University of Toronto. At a time when the department was still located on Bloor Street in the building now housing the Royal Conservatory, he earned a B.A. in Political Science and Economics (1955) and an M.A. in Political Science (1956). He went on to the London School of Economics and Political Science, where his doctoral dissertation on Lenin’s foreign policy was supervised by Leonard Schapiro; his Ph.D. was awarded in 1966.
For a few years Richard roamed Europe teaching in the University of Maryland’s overseas program for American servicemen, then in 1962 took up an appointment at his alma mater, in the Department of Political Economy, where he rose to the rank of full Professor. Richard’s perhaps most significant scholarly contribution was a volume in the series Resolutions and Decisions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, edited by the historian R.H. McNeal. Entitled The Early Soviet Period, 1917-1929 (University of Toronto Press, 1974), it offered a meticulous analysis demonstrating that, contrary to a then popular school of thought, Stalinism was not a perversion of Leninism but the extension of a dysfunctional totalitarian system founded by Lenin. Richard was also the co-author, with his colleague James Barros, of Double Deception: Stalin, Hitler, and the Invasion of Russia (1995), a well-documented investigation into the Soviet Union’s unpreparedness with respect to Operation Barbarossa.
Richard Gregor had been an avid outdoorsman, never happier than when he was skiing or trekking in Algonquin Park with his son. He continued teaching on a reduced scale long after normal retirement age, and remained intellectually active to the end. He leaves behind his wife, Claude, and his son Ian, daughter-in-law Diane, and grandchildren Erica and Nicholas. To them, our warmest sympathy. For those of us who knew him, there remain fond memories.
Bennett Kovrig, Professor Emeritus
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