In the early 1970s, Donald Earl Willmott met Metta Spencer at a demonstration against the construction of the Pickering Airport, planned as a second international airport for Toronto. This chance encounter led to Don becoming an early volunteer for the Canadian Disarmament Information Service and then serving on the first steering committee of Peace Magazine. His appreciation for China’s liberation after generations of foreign control was the basis for his friendship with many Chinese people. He was a co-founder of the Canada-China Friendship Association and in 2014 received the YMCA Peace Medal. Don passed away in Owen Sound, Ontario, on May 10, 2021. In the last year of his life, he celebrated his 96th birthday and the 70th anniversary of his marriage to Elizabeth Ann (Herrmann) Willmott.
Don was born in 1925 in Renshou, China, where his parents were educational missionaries for the United Church of Canada. He grew up in Chengdu, Sichuan. During World War II, he was a Chinese-English translator behind Japanese lines for the Office of Special Services (the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency). He completed a BA degree at Oberlin College in Ohio, an MA at the University of Michigan, and a PhD in sociology and in Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University. Cornell University Press published his dissertation in 1960, The Chinese of Semarang: A Changing Minority Community in Indonesia. It is a comprehensive study of the assimilation of a classic intermediary minority group in a non-Western, multicultural setting. Due to Don’s left-wing political views, he felt obliged to leave the United States in the 1950s.
In 1956, Don became the first sociologist to teach at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. He also taught at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Toronto before spending most of his teaching career at the Glendon College campus of York University. He was as much an environmentalist as a peace activist. At York, he may have taught the first environmental sociology course offered at a Canadian university. A celebration of Don’s life is planned for a later date this summer once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.
Stephen Harold Riggins is a retired professor of sociology, Memorial University.