John Timothy Irvine Porteous (SHS Class of ’48) Died February 11, 2020 in West Vancouver after 14 years with Parkinson's Disease and Parkinson's dementia. His five decades as leader and administrator in the Canadian arts community, his steadfast integrity, his deep-seated convictions that the arts were of vital importance to Canadian society, and his principled determination to do everything in his power to foster the country's cultural development, earned him a widespread reputation as "the cultural mandarin's cultural mandarin."
He was born in Montréal, August 31, 1933, the son of John Georey Porteous and Cora Ann Kennedy. He studied law at McGill University (BA '54, BCL '57), where he was Co-Author and Associate Producer of the 1957-1958 hit Canadian musical, My Fur Lady, which toured the country, and was acclaimed as "a timely, sometimes racy and nearly always funny spoof of national self-consciousness." Attending a World University Service seminar in West Africa on behalf of McGill the same year, he became firm friends with a fellow participant, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. They were vacationing together at Club Med in Tahiti a decade later when he accidentally became a matchmaker, introducing Trudeau to an 18-year-old acquaintance from West Vancouver named Margaret Sinclair.
The following year, on what was to be a two-year leave from his law practice in Montréal at Bourgeois, Doheny, Day & Mackenzie, he was put in charge of press and television relations and speech writing for Trudeau's successful 1968 leadership campaign. When Trudeau became Prime Minister, Tim accepted his offer of a job as his chief speech writer, and after two years became Trudeau's Executive Assistant. Over his five years at Trudeau's side he became recognized as (in the words of his Order of Canada citation) a "top-level political strategist." Always delighting in the wordplay that had made My Fur Lady such a hit, Tim persuaded the campaigning Trudeau to tell the nation—this was the '60’s—that he wanted to "put some pot in every chicken." And it was Tim who wrote the goodwill message that Trudeau contributed to a commemorative disc that was left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969: "Man has reached out and touched the tranquil moon," he wrote. "May that high accomplishment allow man to rediscover the Earth and find peace."
He accompanied Trudeau on his famous 1969 meeting with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with instructions to keep the conversation going in case of awkward pauses, and close it down if it became problematic. In fact, Tim recalled, the encounter lasted almost four times as long as its scheduled 15 minutes and ended with Lennon saying: "If all politicians were like Mr. Trudeau, there would be peace." According to Tim, Trudeau responded: "I must say that Give Peace a Chance has always seemed to me to be sensible advice." Not all encounters with fame were so harmonious. On a 1972 state visit by Richard Nixon, Tim refused a request from Nixon to open up the sculpted cast aluminium doors to the grand Salon at the National Arts Centre. The doors were works of art and required a curator to be opened. Not getting his way, Nixon took a personal dislike to him and later famously referred to him as "that bushy-haired fellow....ugly bastard. Probably left-wing." He ordered his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to plant a negative story about Tim with the Washington columnist Jack Anderson, but nothing came of it.
Following his years with Trudeau, Tim was offered an ideal opportunity to work in the field he loved. He joined the Canada Council for the Arts, where he eventually became director. He was a master of inspired and inspiring leadership and what he achieved there in terms of protecting and advancing the cultural cause across the nation was perhaps his greatest single legacy. He was by no means all work; he was fascinated by the arcane ramifications of Ottawa bureaucracy and had a mischievous sense of fun (colleagues fondly remember him riding a unicycle around the corridors of Canadian cultural power).
He was a man of great principle, and his conflict with the government over his insistence on the Council's independence from political interference ultimately cost him the job. He later became associate director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and president of the Ontario College of Art and Design from 1988 until he retired in 1995.
Tim served on many Boards and Advisory Committees, among them the National Theatre School of Canada, the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the National Arts Centre, National Museums, the National Gallery of Canada, Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, the Laidlaw Foundation, the National Council of Ghanaian-Canadians, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Youth Theatre, the West Vancouver Foundation, Arthur Erickson House and Garden Foundation, Le français pour l'avenir, and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
Tim was awarded the Order of Canada in October 2003, in recognition of his public service, and received an Honorary Doctorate from Trent University in 1986.
He was married to Wendy Farris, 1968-1982 (daughter, Vanessa Bell Porteous).
He married Beatrice Donald in 1987 (son Nicholas William deLotbinière). They eventually settled in West Vancouver in 1995, at the foot of the north shore mountains and within easy reach of Whistler-Blackcomb where Tim loved to ski and snowboard. He was a devoted father to Vanessa and Nicholas. Both are carrying forward in their personalities and their careers their father's love for them and the arts.
After his move to British Columbia Tim initiated a series of annual Stephen Leacock lunches, honouring the memory of the great Canadian humorist, and devoted much energy to the promotion of the French language in Western Canada. He was predeceased by his sister Jennifer Marriott in 2012 and is survived by his sister Camilla Ross of Vancouver. Bravo dear Tim! You can rest now, in peace.
Memorial donations will be gratefully accepted by the National Theatre School of Canada and applied toward the Timothy Porteous Prize, a bursary in support of promising musical theatre students.
Online at: ent-nts.ca, by mail at: 5030 St-Denis Street, Montreal, QC H2J 2L8 or by phone at: 514-842-7954 x141.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono meet with
Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau
A report from Timothy Porteous, Prime Minister Trudeau's Executive Assistant, who was present during the meeting between John, Yoko
and the Right-Honourable Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
The meeting on December 23, 1969 between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and me would not have happened without the late Jim Davey, and I dedicate this mini-memoir to him. Jim, who had been one of Trudeau’s earliest supporters, was a policy advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office. He had seven teenage children and was an enthusiastic fan of John Lennon and the Beatles. It was Jim who proposed to the Prime Minister’s senior staff that we arrange a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Lennons.
In 1969 the Cold War had divided the world into two nuclear-armed rival camps competing for global dominance. Each believed the other was planning to destroy it. In this volatile situation John Lennon apparently decided that the celebrity he had earned as a songwriter and performer could make him an effective advocate for peace. In the spirit of the decade, peace was to be achieved by the relaxation of tensions between individuals, leaders and nations.
Since Trudeau’s childhood music and the other arts had been part of his life. His mother founded a club called Les Amis de l’Art and often invited artists to their home. Trudeau’s taste in music was eclectic. I remember him enjoying concerts by Lighthouse, Ian and Sylvia and the Modern Jazz Quartet. He also enjoyed the company of musicians. Among his friends were Leonard Cohen, Barbra Streisand, Liona Boyd, Jena-Pierre Rampal and Guy Beart.
Trudeau had been concerned about the Cold War long before he became a Member of Parliament and then Prime Minister. He had been a vocal and consistent proponent of nuclear disarmament for Canada and the other nuclear states. Before joining the Liberal party in 1965 he had been critical of Lester Pearson’s decision to accept nuclear warheads on Canadian missiles. As Prime Minister, he made every effort to improve relations between the nuclear powers, culminating in 1983-84 in a round of visits to major heads of government with a comprehensive set of proposals to end the Cold War.
For the Prime Minister’s staff the principal objective of the meetings was not the discussion of music or world peace. It was to be a classic example of the political photo-op.
There is a theory among political organizers that if a politician is photographed in the company of a popular celebrity, some of the popularity may rub off on the politician and result in additional votes in future elections. Nobody knows whether this theory works in practice. In 1972 Trudeau came within two seats of losing an election to Robert Stanfield, a politician who had never been photographed with John Lennon or Yoko Ono. But then perhaps there were enough voting John Lennon fans in two of the seats to make the difference. Who knows?
Jim Davey’s proposal was approved by the senior staff (of whom I was one) and, with the Prime Minister’s agreement; a meeting was scheduled to consist of 15 minutes of conversation and 15 minutes of photography. Rock stars and Prime Ministers have crowded schedules, often booked months or years in advance. For the Prime Minister Christmas week is more relaxed than usual since the Members of Parliament have gone home to their constituencies and there are no meetings of Parliament or the cabinet. So the meeting with the Lennons was arranged for the morning of December 23. (It is also a slow news period, increasing the chances that the resulting photos would be widely and prominently published.)
Since the Prime Minister was sworn in on April 20, 1968, I had served as Special Assistant in charge of speeches and public statements. I had met Trudeau in 1957 and traveled with him in West Africa, the South Pacific and all the provinces and territories of Canada. He was aware of my interests in song writing, theatre and music. As I had not been involved in making the arrangements for the meeting, I was surprised but delighted when he invited me to be the fourth participant.
As I remember it, the meeting started almost on time but it lasted well beyond the scheduled fifteen minutes. This is an indication that Trudeau was enjoying himself since a Prime Minister can end a meeting whenever he wants. (When I became Executive Assistant in 1970, one of my functions was to "interrupt" meetings that were running overtime, a frequent occurrence.)
The time passed very quickly. In an interview Yoko Ono acknowledged that Lennon was nervous, but to me he seemed quite at home. He was utterly charming, highly articulate, an amusing raconteur and, as you would expect, very entertaining. He spoke with a delightful “scouse” accent, which you could cut with a knife and spread on your crumpet. Trudeau, unusually for a politician, was a man of few words, but what he said was always interesting and to the point. Yoko Ono, spoke very little and, when she did, it was to support her husband. My own role was to keep the conversation going in case of awkward pauses, but, since we were all on the same wavelength, it wasn’t difficult to do.
After 33 years it is not possible to recall the details of our conversation. As is usually the case when strangers meet, there was an exchange of personal information.
It is likely that we talked about In His Own Write as it was Lennon’s best-known non-musical, solo creation. I may have mentioned the book to Trudeau, although I doubt if he was familiar with its contents.
Most of the conversation dealt with the world situation and Lennon’s campaign for peace. Although Lennon and Trudeau adopted very different approaches to dealing with the problems of the Cold War, they were in agreement on its fundamental nature. In addition, to threatening the future of the planet and its inhabitants, the conflict was irrational. Neither side could achieve a victory without suffering unacceptable damage to its own population and territory. Somehow a climate of mutual trust had to be created in which disarmament and peaceful diplomatic relations could begin.
As the photographs indicate, our conversation ended with expressions of friendship and mutual respect. Lennon said, “If all politicians were like Mr. Trudeau, there would be peace.” Trudeau said, “I must say that Give Peace a Chance has always seemed to me to be sensible advice.”
Had he lived, Lennon would undoubtedly have supported Trudeau’s peace initiative of 1983-84.
As far as I remember, Lennon did not give Trudeau a symbolic acorn at their meeting. I do not know if he sent one to Trudeau at some other time.
I was not involved in arranging the meeting with John Munro but I expect it was organized by the Prime Minister’s office, possibly at Munro’s request. Munro was the Member of Parliament for a Hamilton constituency and the Minister of Health and Welfare. The LeDain Commission, which was considering the legalization of marijuana, reported to him. Lennon’s views on the effects of drug use would have been of interest to Munro - and there were lots of John Lennon fans in Hamilton.
November 8, 2002.