James MacPherson Gripton (November 2005)

With sadness the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) acknowledges the passing of James Gripton, Ph.D., RSW. The following memorial, prepared by Gayle Gilchrist James, shares memories and Jim’s many accomplishments



Professor Emeritus in Social Work

University of Calgary



I am so incredibly honoured to have been asked by Mary Valentich and Stuart Gripton to speak of Jim, whom I have know for 43 years as my first faculty advisor at the University of Toronto, as a colleague in our profession and in the academy, and as a mentor and friend.

Our relationship did not have an auspicious beginning… I met with Jim, by appointment at his U of T office when he was assigned to be “Miss Gilchrist’s” Faculty Advisor, September 1962.

He was occupied with a project and said he would see me just in a few minutes. I took a chair in the hall, to wait, and read my book. I finally realized that more than an hour had gone by, and timidly knocked on his door, again. He was aghast… he had forgotten I was there.

I had 3 self-talk explanations for this event, based on all the wisdom of a 22 year-old: the first was that he had to be one of those absent-minded genius professor I had heard about, but not, heretofor, met; that I was so unimpressive a BSW Admit that maybe I was in the wrong program; and last that, just maybe, his mind was “going” because he was, after all, an “older” person, at 40 years….

Thirty-Five years later, Dr. Allan Irving (then of the University of Toronto) and I were nominating Jim for an honorary life membership in the Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work, which he was awarded in 1997. In the “Letter of Nomination”, I noted inter alia these things:

Jim’s achievements are numerous, consistent over a lifetime, and totally unadvertised by himself. He is a person who keeps professions and professional education “going; i.e., he believes in intergenerational continuity, integrity, the authority of his very real expertise while being open to the interpretations of others, and the importance of being a moral and ethical professional. And, he has always been at the leading edge, taking the risks, establishing the facts which were, much later, to become commonplace knowledge…. Maybe, the best I can say is that he sought always to expand our frontiers in practice and in the production of knowledge, even when that knowledge was not “popular”; he worked across every field of practice, and he did so with honor and integrity, piling up the achievements as he went…those honors and awards and “firsts” never mattering to him. He is the scholar, the practitioner, the quiet mentor, the man who loved his profession and the teaching of it to others, much. And, in this, he never sought either fame or gain for himself, as so many have; rather, he did what he felt his duty as a responsible professional and privileged person, entailed. Maybe that is why, so many years later, I have my class notes from but 2 people at the University of Toronto: Jim Gripton, and Albert Rose. And I have just returned Jim’s notes to him. (20 April 1997).

Time does not permit my enumerating all of Jim’s achievements, but permit me to list but a sample of them and some commentary thereto….

- 1943: starting the first social action club, with two student friends, at the U of T, where he received his BA 2 years later

- member, Japanese Canadian coordinating committee (1944-45), coordinating the opposition by various civil rights groups and churches to the internment of Japanese Canadians, and the confiscation of their property by the Government of Canada

- 1946: starting, with three friends, the first urban day camp in Toronto (still in existence)

- 1946 first president of the Toronto Local, Social Services Employees Union of America

- Late 1950s: appointed first director of training and personnel, metro Toronto Children’s Aid Society (CAS). Created flexible job arrangements for women social workers who were mothers, and wanted to work part-time out of their homes. Recruited women social workers from Great Britain through the society for overseas settlement for British women, also creating case aide positions and offering in-service training

- 1964: at Metro Toronto CAS, developed a computer simulation of adoption services(an inkling of things to come) that demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of intensive services for adoption placement of hard-to-place children

- 1964-65: Jim (5th Ph.D. at U of T’s Faculty of Social Work, Dr. Richard Splane having been the first Doctoral Candidate) was the first Instructor to have MSW students use computers in their thesis research, and first to use computers in his own Doctoral research . We talk, today, about e-learning and distance education…just thought you ought to know we got to where we are

- 1966: Jim Joined Health & Welfare’s National Welfare Grants Program, as Principal Grants Officer, Administering Welfare and Demonstration Research Grants.

- 1969-71: Jim, as part of a Committee, Developed the Constitution of the Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work (CASSW) and authored for the Canadian Council on Social Development, the first National Study of Day Care in Canada. At Roughly this same time, I got re-acquainted with Jim, who had been elected to the Board of the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW), where I was representing AASW

- 1970-71: It was Jim’s study that literally blew the lid off mythology that social work treated male and female social workers equally and equitably; equal qualifications did not mean, as it turned out, equal opportunities for promotion or remuneration of women in Canada

- 1982: Jim was researching the gender biases in social work education at all of its levels, and I can remember being stricken to discover, at that time 7 years into my own academic career, and a married woman, that married women (or still married woman, or ever married woman) had a doctoral degree in social work, in this country

- 1982: Jim and colleague Dr. Richard “Butch” Nutter obtain a SSHRC grant to investigate, for the first time, and with the full support of the Canadian Association of Social Workers, a “state-of-the-art” review of social work research in Canada

What I am omitting, in the interests of time, is Jim’s contributions in developing the first graduate courses in human sexuality, his being an International Leader, with Mary, in sex education, sex counseling, sex therapy, and the training and supervision of sex therapists, with appropriate certifications thereto.

I am omitting Jim’s (and Mary’s) contributions to the disciplinary committee of ACSW, Jim’s expert testimony in courts, their workshops for our profession on “boundary violations” and their conjoint publications thereto, Jim’s over 50 publications, as well as developing, with Audrey Ferber, the first University course in Canada on private practice in social work.

As recently as July 2005, Jim (and Mary) were presenting scholarly research at the Montreal Congress of Sexology.

Jim Gripton was, for me, a role model and mentor, who came into my life, unbidden and by random accident. He was a man of great honesty, ethics, class, and style. The dignity with which he treated all, including intellectual and personal adversaries, was astounding. From him (and Dick Ramsay), I learned how the world might be, if we but followed our own professional codes, and what had heart and meaning for the truest believers among us.

Jim died of a cancer with which my own, and that of many others (not all off this faculty), parallels.

In the case of this, please remember the words written on the wall of the Princess Margaret (cancer) hospital, Toronto, words with which I believe Jim would concur:

“Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love, it cannot shatter hope, it cannot erode faith, it cannot destroy peace. It cannot kill friendship, it cannot suppress memories, it cannot silence courage, it cannot invade the soul, it cannot steal eternal life, it cannot conquer the spirit.”

Godspeed, my friend….