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Remembering McGill Governor Emeritus Gordon Echenberg 1940-2023

Passionate about social justice, Echenberg supported global human rights conferences at McGill’s Faculty of Law

Gordon Echenberg

As a student, Gordon Echenberg played an active role in university life: he excelled on the McGill Debating Team and served a term as president of the students’ society. And his involvement with McGill continued long after he headed out into the world as a newly minted Law graduate. At 29, he became the youngest member appointed to McGill’s Board of Governors and would serve three terms.

The University’s flag was lowered in Echenberg’s memory after his passing on September 26. Echenberg, BA’61, BCL’64, is remembered at McGill as a loyal friend, a generous supporter and volunteer, and as a champion of human rights.

“Gordon’s passing is a tremendous loss for McGill and for Montreal,” said Marc Weinstein, Vice-Principal of University Advancement. “His deep commitment to social justice and human rights was unwavering and admirable, and was truly reflective of the type of person he was.”

Echenberg and his wife Penny donated $1 million to McGill, enabling the Faculty of Law to establish the Echenberg Family Conference on Human Rights. The series of conferences began in 2007 with a Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide.

“We hope that these conferences will have some influence on decision-makers, and generate public awareness and public interest,” Echenberg told the Faculty’s magazine at the time.

When the collaboration between the Echenberg family foundation and the Faculty of Law and its Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism wrapped up in 2015, McGill Law noted: “Over the past nine years, this collaboration has resulted in three Global Conferences, one Regional Conference in Rwanda, two published books, a DVD on genocide largely based on its 2007 conference, numerous working papers and a global community of young human rights specialists.”

Echenberg was a founding director of Interamicus, a McGill-based international rights advocacy centre, now known as the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, which paid tribute to him as a “great communal leader, educator and human rights activist.”

“On a personal level, Gordie was a soulmate from my university days. He was my debating partner, and one of the best student leaders the university ever had. He was responsible, among other achievements, for the construction of the McGill Student Union,” McGill Emeritus Professor of Law Irwin Cotler said in the statement.

“He went on to become the youngest ever member of the Board of Governors at McGill, a veritable lodestar in university and legal education, and a champion of justice for all,” added Cotler, an international human rights lawyer and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, who founded the Montreal-based Wallenberg centre.

A proud native of Sherbrooke, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Echenberg earned an Arts degree, followed by a Law degree at McGill. He served as president of the Students’ Society of McGill University in 1962-63 – an experience that would have also provided insight on university operations for his later role on the Board of Governors.

Echenberg enjoyed a distinguished career in law and was a partner at the firm Chait Amyot as it was then called. 

He will be deeply missed by the McGill community.