Friday, May 19, 2017

Michael Bliss 1941-2017 RIP

I was at a Canada's History event yesterday when someone told me Michael Bliss had died.

I telephoned Michael Bliss cold many years ago, wanting to interview him for a radio program I was making.  He instantly knew who I was, and had read my (then only) book -- not always my experience with professors! And he was quite willing to be interviewed.

When we wrapped up the interview some time later, he told me I ought to be writing for The Beaver. He was on an advisory board there. He introduced me to its editor Chris Dafoe -- and I've been writing for magazine, now Canada's History, ever since. (Many years later, I profiled Bliss himself there.)

He was not the most popular historian among his fellow academics, I suspect. There was a driven coldness about him sometimes.  His political positions were not mainstream, and he often did not hide his scepticism about the state of the whole academic enterprise. That was not a problem for me, and we were good, if distant, friends more or less continuously. (I had not known he was ill.)

One little thing I found admirable. He retired from the university as soon as he turned 65, and he mostly retired from public commentary at the same time. He didn't have to, he just chose to -- which is why you have seen much less of him in the last decade.  Now I'm about the age he packed it in, this stays in my mind. I'll miss him.

Photo: Toronto Star  (The insecurities of a seemingly confident man: In his 2011 memoir Writing History a Professor's Life, he says he assumed -- a little gracelessly? -- that he was not the kind of person to whom they would ever give the Order of Canada -- and then confesses his pleasure and gratitude when they did -- and later promoted him in the order)

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