John and Helen Courtney

Obituary of John and Helen Courtney

Helen was born in Winnipeg in 1937 to Rob and Jessie Aikman.  She and John met on a blind date at the University of Manitoba’s “Freshie Dance” in 1955 and married four years later.  They remained the best of pals, “conjoined at the hip” John would say.  They travelled at every available opportunity (starting with a nine-country, three-month camping trip in Europe [including venturing behind the Iron Curtain] in 1972) with their two young children, Joanne Green, now of Toronto, and John Robert Courtney of Saskatoon.  

They were later joined in their travels by their children’s spouses Murray Green and Lesley Courtney and, eventually, by their six grandchildren, Madeleine, William, Elizabeth, Liam, Jackson, and Quinn. If they continue with the “Courtney Travel Tradition,” the great-grandchildren (two to date, Theodore and Emilia) will hit the road once they are able.

Helen and John liked nothing better than time with their family - whether at the summer cottage, “The Marijon” on Lake Katepwa in the Qu’Appelle Valley, or around the dinner table in Saskatoon on Sunday evenings.  John loved a good story (invariably prefaced by setting “the context”) and a good laugh.  

Helen, an accomplished artist in her own right, taught (in one of her grandchildren's recollections) the family to appreciate fine art.  She was also gifted in the kitchen, evidenced by the fact she rarely met a recipe she didn’t alter slightly – for the better. The couple’s dinner parties were remembered long after the last guest was waved good-bye.  

John was born in Regina in 1936 to Mary and Jack Courtney.  Apart from nine years spent outside the province as a student (Manitoba [B.A.], Western Ontario [M.B.A.], and Duke University [M.A. and Ph.D.]), and several sabbaticals and teaching assignments abroad or in the United States, Saskatoon has been his home.  

As a professor of political science or, later, as a Senior Policy Fellow at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan (for a total of 58 years), John made his mark on his university and his profession.  He served as elected President of the Canadian Political Science Association, English-language editor of the Canadian Journal of Political Science, and elected Vice-President of Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  The University of Saskatchewan presented him with a Distinguished Researcher Award and conferred on him an Earned Doctor of Letters degree.

A popular teacher, John’s “Comparative Political Leadership” course was invariably oversubscribed.  His lectures were often sprinkled with stories and anecdotes that his students long remembered.  On his retirement one former student (now a distinguished professor at an Ontario University), recalled that one of the many important things she learned from Professor Courtney’s lectures was “to never serve cheese on a salted cracker!”

John was the author of five seminal books on Canadian parties, elections, leadership conventions, and electoral districting, and editor or co-editor of six other books on various aspects of Canadian politics.  His publications include dozens of peer reviewed articles, chapters in books, and encyclopedia entries in Canadian and foreign publications.  He was a frequent media commentator on Saskatchewan and Canadian elections and served as vice-chairman of two federal electoral boundary commissions for Saskatchewan.

Helen is survived by her sister Dian Freeman of Vancouver.  John was predeceased by his sister, Mary Elizabeth Leach of Regina.  They are also survived by five nieces and their families.

Helen and John died in Saskatoon on 30 November 2023, MAID having been administered. Their family was with them at the end.  At John and Helen’s request there will be no formal service. Just raise a glass, preferably a properly chilled, dry martini – stirred, not shaken.  For those who wish, a donation may be made in their memory to STARS Air Ambulance or a charity of your choice.

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John and Helen