The Mount Allison community was saddened last month by the passing of the Rev. Eldon Hay, professor emeritus. The funeral service for Prof. Hay was held in the University Chapel to an overflow gathering of mourners – a testimony to Prof. Hay’s life and legacy among many communities, including Mt. A, the United Churches in Sackville and area, the town of Sackville and the LGBT2Q+ community.
Prof. Hay was perhaps best known in recent years for his work on behalf of the LGBT2Q+ community as a tireless advocate and educator. Founder of local chapters of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), he was a public voice of support and a champion of LGBT2Q+ rights, and served as the first national president of PFLAG. Recognized for his work for gay rights and acceptance, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2003. Not only did he want rights and acceptance for all – he desired a better country. Part of that working towards a better community and nation was his modelling of the very things he desired; he demonstrated a great love and compassion for people while pursuing larger causes. He never forgot the individual or lost his pastoral sense of caring. His was truly a biblical model of justice tempered by kindness and mercy.
It was that same love of people, arising from his faith commitment, that inspired his teaching for thirty-five years at Mt. A. He began his work at Mt. A as a lecturer in religious studies, also holding chaplaincy duties for the first three years. It was fitting, then, that the commemoration of his life and work was held in the University Chapel, which was completed and formally opened under his pastoral leadership.
While Prof. Hay was most well-known for his LGBT2Q+ advocacy, it should also be noted that he represented a progressive edge in his professional career. He arrived at Mt. A in 1962, when the department of religious studies taught courses exclusively in the Christian tradition. Under Prof. Hay, introductory courses in eastern and western world religions were initiated, and before long he was teaching courses on themes such as death and dying in world religions. He was also a scholar, researching and writing on local church history. His interest in the local church was practical as well as academic; for many years he served as the part-time minister at Jolicure United Church.
I note that I met Prof. Hay at my first visit to Mt. A in 1993, when I was interviewed for the position of University Chaplain and he sat on the search committee. Eldon, as I knew him, took a keen interest in me, welcoming me on my first day on campus as a new employee and following up that welcome with a generous show of support: he faithfully attended Chapel services every Sunday evening during my first year. It was at his initiative that I began teaching at Mt. A.
He was generous in his interest and support of people, so I was not alone in receiving regular emails that would comment favourably on some event I had conducted or spoken at. He would often, however, use such emails to pass on pieces of advice or an additional word of advocacy for the cause of gay rights and acceptance.
And now Eldon’s work is done, and he has been laid to rest from his labours; his legacy is assured in the nation, in the community and in the hearts of many people. In Vespers last Sunday, flowers in his memory continued to bring colour and life to the Chapel – as Eldon did to his communities – with the light falling softly through stained glass.