TORONTO -- Former premier John Robarts, the small town lawyer who guided Ontario through the boom years of the 1960s and a key proponent of Canadian unity in the 1970s, died today of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 65.
The Ontario legislature suspended regular business for 24 hours to mourn the former leader who had adopted 'compromise over conquest' in ruling Ontario and fought hard for Confederation against 'empire building' by the provinces.
Metro Toronto Police said they were called to Robarts' exclusive home at 64 St. Andrew's Garden in the luxurious Rosedale district just after 8 a.m. EDT. His wife, Katherine, had found her husband dead in the shower.
Coroner Dr. Donald Blunt determined Robarts died 'as a result of a gunshot wound ... no foul play is suspected,' police said in a prepared statement.
Political colleagues and foes were stunned by the death.
Ontario Premier William Davis, who served as Robarts' education minister, said that 'as a friend, I feel a deep sense of loss. ... Mr. John Robarts will be missed. He had a gut feeling for the government, its history and its tradition. He was a leader who promoted the province and nation.'
Ontario's elder statesman, Donald C. MacDonald, said that while Robarts' political life was brilliant and fulfilling, his personal life was 'streaked with unhappiness.'
His first marriage ended in divorce and his eldest son, Tim, was found dead in Oxford county in southern Ontario in August, 1977. He had shot himself.
Robarts had resumed recently a reasonably active public life, but he had not fully recovered from two strokes suffered last August while attending a board of directors' meeting of Reed Shaw Stenhouse in Houston, Texas. The stroke had impaired his speech and left him partially paralyzed on the left side.
Friends and political colleagues said the disabilities from the stroke had weighed heavily on the Banff-born lawyer who served as Conservative premier of Ontario from Nov. 8, 1961, to March 1, 1971.
Even after he left provincial politics and was succeeded by Premier William Davis, Robarts remained active in political circles, serving on various provincial committees.
An advocate of a strong federal government in opposition to what he called 'empire building' by the provinces,' Robarts was chosen by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to serve on the unity task force.
Born Jan. 11, 1917, at Banff, Alta, John Parmenter Robarts was educated at the University of Western Ontario and Osgoode Hall and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1947. He served as a Navy lieutenant during World War II.
He entered provincial politics in 1951 as the MPP for London North and served as minister without portfolio from 1958-59 and minister of education 1959-61 in the Conservative administration of Premier Leslie Frost.
Robarts succeeded Frost as Conservative Party leader in October 1961 and took over as premier a month later.
He brought a new style of leadership of compromise over conquest to Canada's major industrial province, and while his no-nonsense style of a business-like administrator made few headlines, he earned great respect from his fellow premiers and political opponents.
MacDonald, who was New Democratic Party leader during Robarts' tenure, said he 'brought government into the 20th century.
'He was a man who recognized the changing complexities in business and government and the impact it had on every facet of life and the need for government to cope with change.'
Robarts was responsible for the Committee on Government Productivity in 1968, and MacDonald said its 10-volume report brought about the 'most far-reaching restructuring' of government in any jurisdiction of Canada.
'We in this province have been blessed with Confederation,' Robarts once said. 'Make no mistake about it. The idea of union was conceived between Ontario and Quebec, and I believe we carry a very special responsibility ....'
'We must never forget our responsibility to ensure that everything we can do to assure the continued health and well-being of the whole country is, in fact, done. We can ill afford the doubtful luxury of being temperamental in times of stress.'