He was never one to sell himself short, to shrink into the background and idly watch.
Lincoln Alexander, who has passed away at the age of 90, always knew he was a politician, not a policy wonk. But he also knew he was a politician whose skin colour would lend his every move, his every accomplishment, the weight of history.
“I have no qualms about saying I don’t think anyone can work a room better than I can,” he once told an interviewer.
“I’ve never really been in awe of anyone. When you’re 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and good lookin’, you know, you’re not in awe of too many people.”
It’s hard to imagine a man of lesser confidence surmounting so many barriers to African-Canadians in the span of a single lifetime — the first black Member of Parliament, the first black cabinet minister, Ontario’s first black lieutenant-general.
Alexander’s ability to mix courtliness and anger soon came to the fore amid 1971’s “fuddle duddle” scandal, in which Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was alleged to have mouthed an obscenity in the House of Commons, one directed at Alexander and Newfoundland MP John Lundrigan.
“He mouthed two words, the first word of which started with F, and the second word of which started with O,” Alexander told reporters at the time. “Now I think that we’ve reached a point where this type of conduct, it’s not only disgraceful but it’s unacceptable, and I tried to bring that point home.”