Remembering Rod Dobell

Honouring a treasured colleague who played a crucial role in the POLIS Project

Published On: May 28th, 2024

Rod Dobell was closely involved with the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance since its beginning—in fact, even before then. Rod recalled how he “became associated with POLIS pre-conception” back in 2000, ahead of its formal establishment the following year.

“I was involved pretty much from that beginning,” he told POLIS communications director Laura Brandes in an interview last year.

Rod continued to work with POLIS as an advisor up until his retirement in 2022, and was a vital part of the organization’s growth and success over those 22 years.

His death, on February 26, 2024, represents a profound loss for the POLIS Project, the many people whose lives he enriched through a storied career that alternated between academic work and public policy, and, especially, his friends and family.

Rod’s genuine support for intergenerational learning was evident in daily life at the Centre for Global Studies, always welcoming our young ones to share a seat at the discussion table. 2013.

“I can say with certainty that without Rod, POLIS and certainly I would not be where we are today,” said POLIS co-director Oliver M. Brandes. “He remains a role model, where I often might think or ask myself: ‘What would Rod suggest?’ We often jokingly called him ‘The Rod-father.’”

Like many of Rod’s friends and colleagues, Oliver remembers his gentle humour, warm nature, and humility.

“He embodied class and kindness,” Oliver said. “He was always the smartest person in the room but yet never made anyone feel less than that.”

Rod was born in Vancouver in 1937 and earned BA and MA degrees from the University of British Columbia, before completing his PhD in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He taught economic theory at Harvard University for five years before returning to Canada as Professor of Political Economy at the University of Toronto.

Over the following decades, his career included time in Ottawa with the Government of Canada, in Paris with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and, eventually, in Victoria as the founding Chair of the University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration, which was at that time one of only four such programs in public administration across Canada.

In later years, Rod’s research focused on regional oceans governance, and costal and marine spatial planning through the Centre for Global Studies, the Centre for Co-operative and Community-Based Economy, and the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria.

Rod speaks at the inaugural workshop in the new ‘Dobell Room of Dialogue’ at the Centre for Global Studies. June 15, 2022.

Rod was also an early proponent of democratizing science and supporting community-based research collaborations. In 2001, he garnered over a million dollars in federal funding to support an innovative partnership between UVic and the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve called the Clayoquot Alliance for Research, Education and Training (CLARET).

“I met Rod at the early stages of CLARET,” reflected POLIS co-director Kelly Bannister. “He asked me to facilitate a process to create guidance for how the university and community partners could work together in ways that respected the protocols of the Central Region Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. We called it the Protocols Project.”

The process took two years and the resultant Standard of Conduct for Research is still in circulation to this day.

“Rod always made time and created space for people—not just personally, but professionally,” said Kelly. “He vehemently supported diversity and inclusion way before it was a trend or a requirement. He used his status and privilege to enable more voices to have a say in spaces of influence, whether that was junior colleagues, women, Indigenous Elders, or the general citizen. I’ll always be grateful and indebted for his generosity and the space he made for me.”

Rod collaborates with Moussa Magassa, former director of the Equity and Human Rights Office, UVic, to explore intersections of human rights and justice with Indigenous rights and responsibilities. 2016.

Rod participated as a veteran discussant at the POLIS “Freshwater Research Roundup Webinar” series for years, as recently as 2022. One of his favourite POLIS memories was the Watersheds 2014: Towards Watershed Governance in B.C. and Beyond event at the Quw’utsun Cultural and Conference Centre, where he was invited to serve as a witness, an honoured role in the Quw’utsun oral tradition. Speaking last year, Rod described that three-day gathering as “a bit of a turning point in the working relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous neighbours around water challenges.”

Rod offers his witness remarks at Watersheds 2014, held on Cowichan Tribes territory. January 29, 2014.

The University of Victoria’s flag was lowered last month in Rod’s honour. A tribute from UVic’s Centre for Global Studies included testimonies to his wide and lasting impact, from academic leaders from Canada and the U.S., as well as the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

In addition to his own impressive career, Rod will be remembered through the many others who he mentored, taught, supported, and guided, including grad students, future leaders of the federal public service, and our team here at POLIS.

Rod at the opening of the new Dobell Room of Dialogue at the Centre for Global Studies. June 10, 2022.

Outside his office, Rod had posted the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

With his own generosity and intellect, Rod worked in many ways towards promoting justice, reducing inequality, and abolishing poverty.

Thank you, Rod. We miss you. The influence of your intellectual work and generous spirit will continue here at POLIS and through the work of so many others.

A condolence board has been set up by Rod’s colleagues at the Centre for Global Studies: