|February 5, 1999||Volume 6, Number 10|
PhD for U of S internationalist bridges clerkships to commissions in exotic locales
After 25 years in the political realm, Gordon Barnhart decided to do something he'd always dreamed about. He went back to school.
"In 1994 things came together where I was able to take some time off, and I said 'I'm going to be a student again,'" the 53-year-old father of two said recently. "It's one of the best decisions I've ever made."
Born and raised in Saltcoats, SK, Barnhart completed his PhD in history at the U of S last fall. His thesis was a biography of Walter Scott, Saskatchewan's first premier.
Although other books have been written about the Scott government, Barnhart's was the first to establish that Scott suffered from severe depression.
"There's been a fair amount written about women and the vote, and about prohibition," he says. "But all the writers have said virtually nothing about Scott the man."
He says he hopes to turn his thesis into a book.
Politics and history have both played an important part of Barnhart's own life.
Originally intent on becoming a church minister when he first enrolled at the U of S in the early 1960s, Barnhart soon found himself "thoroughly wrapped up with history and philosophy" and decided to become a teacher instead.
But after graduating with a BA in 1967, he taught high school in North Battleford for only four months when he got a call from the speaker of the provincial Legislature.
The two had become acquainted through an involvement with the Saskatchewan Youth Parliament, and as the clerk of the legislature was retiring the speaker asked him if he'd like to take over the job.
"There were no junior clerks back then," he explains. "I did a six-month apprenticeship and became the youngest clerk in the British Commonwealth at the age of 24."
He served as clerk of the legislature from 1969 to 1989, then moved on to Ottawa, where he served as clerk of the Senate for five years, from 1989 to 1994.
Despite his busy schedule, he also maintained an unwavering interest in history, completing his masters degree at the University of Regina in 1977.
It was during his tenure as legislative clerk that Barnhart first developed an interest in the life of Scott. In 1987 he compiled a pictorial history of the Legislature and wrote a series of articles about the Legislative Building and its construction.
"One of the interesting things I found in my research was that when the building was opened in 1912, Scott, the premier, was not there! And I thought 'Isn't that interesting. For a man who devoted so much energy to making sure the Legislative Building was built, and who supervised its construction in such detail... and then to not be there for its opening?' And I couldn't find out why. That was when I determined to write a biography of him.
"Why was he away? Was he an alcoholic? Did he leave because of a failed marriage ? Did he have a woman in every port when he was traveling? And I finally found my answer: he was ill - mentally ill. And yet you would never know it from the newspapers, or from the official record."
"His is a very sad life," he adds.
Fortunately, Barnhart's own life has been a much happier one. He and wife Elaine have been married for 30 years and have two children: David, 28, and Sarah, 23. Both live in Vancouver.
His thesis now complete, Barnhart is tackling new challenges as associate director of U of S International. The non-profit organization helps to establish aid programs and coordinate development projects in foreign countries.
Recent efforts have been to aid dryland farming in Ethiopia and to train health care workers in Mozambique.
USI also administers the Canadian government's Yeltsin Democracy Fellowship Program, which brings up to 100 Russians to Canada each year for training in the private and public sectors .
Barnhart has also been busy doing public administration consulting work in Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
In October he was in Vietnam, where he hosted a week-long workshop for 110 women recently elected to that country's parliament.
And he spent most of December in the Republic of Guinea, conducting a study (with the U.S. Agency for International Development) on how to strengthen that country's national assembly.
One of Africa's poorest nations, Guinea has been marred by autocratic rulers, rigged elections, and military coups. Barnhart says his time there was especially interesting because he arrived just before the country's national elections .
"We were basically under hotel arrest for five days. We couldn't go out [because of the violence]. On the Saturday before the election, five people were killed."
"Russia, South Africa, Vietnam, and Guinea - all in '98. It was an interesting year."
- Keith Solomon
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