Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dr. Charles M. 'Red' Williams 1925-2018

Dr. Williams in front of the Stone Barn
Dr. Charles M. 'Red' Williams was born in Richardson Sask in 1925. He passed away recently in Saskatoon at the age of 93.

Red joined the Royal Canadian Navy at age 17and served on HMCS Sioux, a Fleet Class Destroyer, protecting convoys on the Murmansk run and on D-Day provided covering fire on Juno Beach when the Canadians went in. The Canadian War Museum, Ottawa had a diorama view from a German pill box on the cliffs overlooking Juno Beach, HMCS Sioux was visible in the background.  Red said it hit him that he was seeing it from the German side for the first time.

After the war, Red completed highschool and then did his BSA and MSc at UBC and PhD at Oregon, studying ammonia metabolism in cattle. He joined the University of Saskatchewan Animal Science Department in 1954, where he was one of three professors at the time. In the 1970’s he was Department Head for 8 years. He retired officially in 1991 but continued to teach, eventually totaling about 60 years.

Dr. Williams speaks to the crowd
He was very active in Extension, and likely spoke at every town in Saskatchewan.  He piloted his own plane for years to get around the province.  He did a weekly newspaper column and a daily radio commentary for over 35 years. It was in his Extension role that I first encountered him at the age of 12 in 1959. Alan Rugg, long time Ag Rep in Wilkie, put on a three-day short course every February and my father would pull me out of school to go to the livestock day where Red was one of the speakers.

His research included some of the original work with 20% porosity windbreaks for cattle yards, as well as cold temperature effects on dairy cattle, bull fertility and the dwarf gene in Herefords.  He and Dr. Roy Berg from the University of Alberta were avid promoters of cross breeding, earning him the enmity of all the purebreds and the provincial government at the time.  “Don’t mess with our perfect purebreds”. Eventually they got over it. The Herford breeders went from wanting him drawn and quartered to inviting him to speak at the World Herford Congress in Rio de Janeiro.

Red was active internationally, in over 30 development projects, beginning in Uganda in the early 70’s and then in China among other places.

He was a life-long Liberal and served as President of both the Saskatchewan and National Liberal Party. Policy and Politics were his forte. His advice was sought after by Premiers and provincial and national Ministers of Agriculture.  One time he was staying at a hotel in rural China when he got a phone call at 2:00 am.  The clerk did not want to wake him, but it was suggested she should as it was Prime Minister Jean Chretien wanting to speak to him.

He also served as president of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, chaired Canadian University Students Overseas, was a founder of the Canadian Council on Animal Care, chaired the Crown Lands Committee, the Action Committee for the Rural Economy, and the Sherbrooke Community Centre.

Red RCN 1942
His awards are too numerous to remember them all but include the Order of Canada, Saskatchewan Order of Merit, Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame, Queen’s Jubilee Medal. Most recently he was named by the Republic of France as a Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour Sept 28 2016.

It was as a teacher that I and thousands of other students knew him best.  Students loved his lectures.  There was never a dull moment in his classes as he called ‘em as he saw ‘em. Show judging was one of his pet hates. Memorable lines such as “All those of you who were in 4-H, forget everything they taught you”; and “The Ayrshire breed was selected solely on conformation of the udder, which is also how we select our movie stars” endeared him to us forever.

Red was on my MSc committee. In 1978 I was working in Cumberland House and desperately trying to get my thesis written up and approved before the five-year limit.  I wrote it out once and my late wife typed it on her IBM Selectric, bought especially for the purpose.  My supervisor, Dr. Dave Christensen, didn’t like how it was organized.  My boss had died in January and I was flying to La Ronge three days a week to do his job too, so Ella and Dave sorted things out over the phone and she retyped it twice more.  When I went to my oral defense, Red said, “I think we have the wrong person here”.  He was not wrong as Ella was familiar with all of it and could have defended it every bit as well as I.

Ever after graduating, if I were in Saskatoon, I would drop in to see Red and argue about the world in general.  Best advice I ever got, when he said I should never seek public office as with my world view even my own mother wouldn’t vote for me. Tanya and I were able to have lunch with Red when we were in Canada in 2014 which I will always remember as it was the last time I saw him.

Dr. Charles M. ‘Red’ Williams lived “from steam engines to combines and GPS” and left a giant legacy in Saskatchewan and around the world.  He was my friend, my hero and my role model. When he received his PhD in 1954, friends wrote this tribute in a book they gave him as a graduation gift.  They knew him well. The little poem sums up his life in eight lines.

Dr. Williams at age 88 in the
Agriculture Building U of S

Divine Discontent

Ever insurgent let me be
Make me more daring than devout
From sleek contentment keep me free
And fill me with a buoyant doubt.

From compromise and things half done
Keep me with stern and stubborn pride
But when at last the fight is won
God, keep me still unsatisfied.
                    Louis Untermeyer


  1. A long life well lived. RIP. And I wonder how many young men from landlocked Saskatchewan ended up serving in the Canadian navy? Seems counter-intuitive, I know.

  2. Actually many prairie boys joined the navy. They were not over awed by the vast expanses and the distant horizons of the sea.

  3. Wow, what an amazing man! Condolences on the loss of an icon.

  4. Thanks, Diane. He was truly one of a kind. He will be missed greatly.

  5. What a wonderful tribute to a man who made an impact on your life. My husband raises Herefords, and has worked in a University Animal Science department as well as research. I recognize how out of the norm your description of your friend truly is, in comparison to what I hear from my husband.

    1. I was fortunate enough to have two other professors about whom I could write similar tributes. The late Dr. J.Milt Bell and my friend, supervisor and mentor Dr. Dave A. Christensen. I hope it is a long long time before I write Dave's eulogy.

  6. Gasp! I didn't know Red had died! And you've written a woderful tribute to him!
    (You know you're out of the loop when somone th stature of Red Wlliams does and you don't learn about it for almost a week!)
    He was someone who patiently answered my city-guy questions, and taught this reporter a lot about agriculture, rural life, and humanity.
    Like so many others I will miss a great man.

    1. It is hard to think of the world without Red. I have known him for 59 years about. He made a difference in all the lives he touched and he touch a great many.

  7. Dr Williams was obviously a well respected man, and you have written a very heartfelt tribute to your friend and mentor. What an fascinating life he has led.


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