Lautens legacy lives on in McMaster Libraries


[img_inline align=”right” src=”” caption=”Photo: Ron Scheffler”]McMaster University Library has acquired the papers of distinguished journalist, humorist, and McMaster alumnus, Gary Lautens '50.

Born in Fort William, Ontario, Lautens moved with his family to Hamilton in the early 1930s and completed his high school education at Hamilton Central Collegiate Institute in 1946. He graduated from McMaster with a bachelor's degree in history.

Lautens' apprenticeship as a journalist also occurred at McMaster. Editor of the Silhouette from 1948 to 1950, he joined the staff of the Hamilton Spectator after graduation and worked there for a dozen years.

His newspaper work as a columnist continued at the Toronto Star from 1962 to 1982. He was executive managing editor of the Toronto Star from 1982 to 1984 and editor emeritus and columnist at the same newspaper until his death of a heart attack in 1992 at the age of 63.

Gary Lautens' premature passing was mourned nationally and at McMaster. “Whether it was chairing Alumni Weekend or the alumni phase of the Centennial Campaign, or stepping in to emcee the Hall of Fame banquet or simply showing up on cold and rainy days to support the football team, he was always there . . . He never forgot what McMaster had meant to his life and always credited much of his success to his experience here,” wrote alumni director Roger Trull '78 about him at the time.

In Lautens' memory, his family, friends and colleagues established the Gary Lautens Memorial Scholarship, to be awarded to a McMaster student who has completed any Level I program, has achieved notable academic standing and has demonstrated journalistic skills in the written media.

Lautens wrote more than 8,000 articles. The first collection of his columns, Laughing with Lautens, appeared in 1964. During that time, he earned a National Newspaper Award for sports writing, the first of many accolades heaped upon him.

His career blossomed in 1980 when his collection, Take My Family — Please!, won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. He repeated his success with the Leacock Medal in 1984 with the publication of No Sex Please, We're Married.

In the same year that we won his second Leacock Medal, Lautens re-directed his comic pursuits toward the political arena with How Pierre and I Saved the Civilized World.

In addition to being a journalist and satirist, Lautens was also a part-time radio and TV personality, including contributions to Front Page Challenge.

Several collections of his writings have appeared posthumously, most notably Peace, Mrs. Packard and the Meaning of Life (1993) and The Best of Gary Lautens (1995). Like his mentor, Stephen Leacock, Lautens believed that humour should be used for kindly purposes as an expression of life's incongruities.

For someone often in the public eye, he was a shy, private person, a man of principle who disliked the slightest trace of insincerity and ostentation, who cared deeply about his family, friends and country.

A Web site on Lautens, maintained by his eldest son, Stephen, who writes a weekly newspaper column, can be found at

The archives of Gary Lautens, which extend to 14 metres, contain a variety of documents, including copies of Lautens' columns and manuscripts of his writings, dating back to the start of his career. But there are also many other documents and realia such as correspondence, photos, films, scrapbooks, audio tapes, placards, and awards. Especially touching are several boxes of memorial books, mementos, and letters of condolence sent to Lautens' family.

Among Lautens' many correspondents are Pierre Trudeau, Norman Jewison, Keith Davey, Ann Landers, Ronald Reagan and, strangely enough, the mass murderer, Clifford Olson. On March 15, 1983, Olson protested an editorial that Lautens had written two days earlier in the Toronto Star.

The archives of Gary Lautens are ultimately a celebration of his life — that he lived his life fully and that he lived it well.

Carl Spadoni '72 is a research collections librarian in Mills Memorial Library

Photo caption: The meaning of a life: University librarians Sheila Turcon '78 and Carl Spadoni '72 examine some of the items contained in the Lautens archives, which were recently acquired by the McMaster Library. Photo credit: Ron Scheffler