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Remembering Rev. Gordon Livingstone Toombs, 1920 – 2022

Mar. 15, 2023

Died Nov. 8, 2022 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at 102 years of age. 

Rev. Gordon Toombs at the age of 101 seated on a blue couch.

Rev. Gordon Toombs at the age of 101, after marking 75 years as an ordained minister. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Gordon Toombs was many things to many people in the remarkable course of his long life: a conscientious objector who served in Canada’s military during the Second World War, before earning a diploma from Emmanuel College in 1947. A devoted minister who did pioneering work in sex education, counselling and dream appreciation. A man of the cloth who pursued doctoral studies in ethics and was fascinated by eastern philosophy, identifying as a Buddhist Christian in his later years. 
 
“I have my historical background as a pastor, but I also have my identity as a sexologist at the University of Manitoba, and I never lost my loyalty to Jesus Christ,” Gordon told The Free Press last June, for an article marking his 75th year as an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada—a milestone he may have been the first to reach. 

A black-and-white photo taken during the Second World War featuring a young Gordon Toombs in a Canadian Forces uniform.

Gordon Toombs was conscripted into the Canadian military in 1941 despite his philosophy of non-violence, and enrolled in Emmanuel College shortly after returning from service.

Born in Saskatchewan and educated in Manitoba, Scotland and Toronto, Gordon joined the ministry in 1947 after earning his diploma from Emmanuel. In the decades that followed, he had a profound impact on the countless lives he touched. 
 
Gordon established the Inter-Faith Pastoral Institute in Winnipeg, the city’s first pastoral institute to provide counselling services for United Church congregations. In 1973, he became Winnipeg’s first Approved Supervisor in Marriage and Family Therapy. With his wife of 71 years, Mary Elizabeth Toombs, he was a trailblazer in the teaching of family life and sex education. After initiating the first queer group in the province at the University of Manitoba, he was chosen to lead a Pride Parade in Winnipeg. 
 
Gordon also initiated the first groups in the study of night dreams and their appreciation as aids to self-understanding and personal growth. He was granted a Service Award by the Interfaith Pastoral Institute, University of Winnipeg in 1988, and in 2006, Gordon was recognized by the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care with the Verda Rochon Award for Distinguished Service. 

The cover page of the book Recollections of a Concientious Objector in World War II signed by Gordon Toombs.

Gordon fulfilled his dream of becoming a published author at 99 with his book L74298: Recollections of a Conscientious Objector in World War II.

A lifelong lover of books, Gordon finally became a published author at age 99 after writing L74298: Recollections of a Conscientious Objector in World War II—a signed copy of which resides in Emmanuel’s library. In it, he writes “we will match our refusal to bear arms by risking our lives in the service of others.” 

You can view Gordon's Emmanuel convocation program here and his Emmanuel class composite photo here
 
Gordon is survived by his daughter, Susan Wagner, and his son, Daniel John. He also leaves 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. 

 

—Joe Howell

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