Director had strong sense of justice

Published February 1, 1999

Robin Neil Gibson, 45, director of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund since 1993, died of cancer at his home in Toronto on Dec. 27.

His friend and colleague, Rob Shropshire, recalled that when Robin Gibson’s computer went to sleep, the screen saver that came up said “Justice, not just us.”

“That was the real focus of his life,” Mr. Shropshire said. “He possessed a deep sense of justice at the global level.”

Mr. Gibson died after a four-year battle with cancer. Despite taking a turn for the worse several weeks before, Mr. Gibson had told colleagues he planned to return to work in January. PWRDF, the Anglican Church of Canada fund that supports development, refugees and disaster relief, loses a skilled and committed administrator as well as a director of vision and integrity.

His colleagues lose a friend with, in Mr. Shropshire’s words, “a strong sense of vocation and a strong sense of community.”

One of Mr. Gibson’s main goals as director of PWRDF was to bring the work of the fund home to each individual Anglican, said Mr. Shropshire, PWRDF development co-ordinator for Africa.

“His idea was to develop within the Anglican constituency a vision of the Primate’s Fund where it is integrated into the heart and life of every parish,” he said. This led to a restructuring of the fund and to the designation of parish representatives.

Primate Michael Peers described Mr. Gibson as “an administrator par excellence – an amazing combination of ‘shop steward’ in his concern for the fair treatment of people who worked for him, and manager.”

Mr. Gibson was diagnosed with cancer in late 1994.

“Life since then has been a series of plateaus, each ending with a major drop of some kind,” Archbishop Peers recalled. “He said his worst days were when he looked at the questions ‘Why’ and ‘What if.’ His best days were when he looked at the question ‘What do I do today?'”

Mr. Shropshire said that after the cancer diagnosis, Mr. Gibson remained very open about his illness. “It was important for him to share the information instead of trying to carry it all on his own shoulders or keep it a secret.”

He added that after every treatment session, Mr. Gibson would report back to the staff. “If it was good news he would share it through voice mail; if it was bad news he would speak to people individually.”

Archbishop Peers, Mr. Gibson’s supervisor, recalled that in a performance appraisal, Mr. Gibson had once been described by a Canadian International Development Agency official as “among the very few brightest minds in development policy in this county.”

Robin Gibson was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1953, the son of Dr. Donald Gibson, a medical doctor and missionary, and his wife, Elizabeth. He had a twin sister, Joy.

He came to Toronto in 1959 and was educated at Jarvis Collegiate Institute. He went to a British boarding school, St. Lawrence College, Ramsgate, between 1969 and 1971 while his parents returned to Uganda.

He took a bachelor’s degree in science at Trinity College, the University of Toronto, and later a master’s degree in social work, also at the University of Toronto, graduating from that program in 1977.

Between 1979 and 1982, he worked with the Christian Council of Lesotho, South Africa, as an organizer for the Migrant Labour Commission. His work involved organizing assistance for the families of men involved in migratory labour to South Africa.

Between 1982 and 1984, he managed a team of 17 volunteers for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) of Lesotho. For five months in 1984 he worked as a resource person for the MCC in Pennsylvania.

Between 1985 and 1987, Mr. Gibson was employed as a community worker with the Children’s Aid Society of Metro Toronto.

He joined the national staff of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1987, as PWRDF’s Asia/Pacific development co-ordinator. In that position, he oversaw the allocation of PWRDF resources to projects in those parts of the world, and, in keeping with the PWRDF philosophy, he ensured that those resources were used primarily to help people to help themselves. As with all PWRDF regional co-ordinators, a good part of his work schedule involved travelling to the area he was responsible for to monitor how those resources were used.

He was acting director of PWRDF for about a year before his appointment as director.

He held a number of supplementary positions as well, serving as a member of the Canada Asia Working Group, the co-ordinating committee of the Philippines Canada Human Resource Development Program and the Asia/Pacific Working Group of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

Mr. Gibson was also chair of Inter-Church Action for Development, Relief and Justice, chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Council of Churches and a member of the board of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

Archbishop Peers said that Mr. Gibson, as PWRDF director, had a rigorous sense of fairness and responsibility. He recalled that when budget cuts forced a downsizing of PWRDF several years ago, some staff members suggested everyone should be involved in deciding what would be cut.

“As an administrator, he stayed the course,” Archbishop Peers said. “He said ‘No, the responsibility is mine.’ He always had a strong sense of what would be fairest for people with the fewest advantages. He was a superb administrator.”

At Church House, Mr. Gibson was also known as an avid crossword puzzle solver and a keen and talented woodworker. Among his favourite topics of conversation were carpentry projects he was involved in.

In the months since last summer when his illness became acute, Mr. Gibson had drawn a great deal of strength from the expressions of support people sent him.

In addition to his parents and his sister Joy and her husband Len Block, Mr. Gibson leaves a brother, Ian and his partner, Linda Green, a nephew, Eli, and four nieces – Rohanna, Zoey, Nicole and Stefanie.

Funeral services were held Dec. 30 at St. James’ Anglican Cathedral in Toronto.


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