Bob Van Alstyne
First President of CUSJ
Photo of Bob Van Alstyne and his life partner, Bert McBain, also a CUSJ activist.
We are sad to report the recent death of the first official president of CUSJ, Bob Van Alstyne, Nov. 22, 2020. Born in Wetaskwin, Alberta, in 1932 Bob ended life with both a degree in chemical engineering and a degree in sociology. He cared about how the real world works, but he also cared about people and what they needed. He lived in Calgary and Toronto during his younger working years, drawn by his strong connections to the Student Christian Movement. It inspired his lifelong commitment to social activism. Bob was also active in the Co-op Movement. Over the years, he had worked in town planning, (urban renewal), public housing, and real estate.
Upon arrival in Victoria in the late 1990s, his wife, Bert McBain, brought him to the First Unitarian Church of Victoria where he immediately joined the Social Responsibility Committee. When the First Unitarian Church of Victoria chose to host the executive of the newly formed CUSJ, Bob was a critical part of the team. Bob led the way to gather those who started CUSJ in Toronto with other social activist leaders across the country to build a national voice. He was always involved with politics because that was where you could make change. He said in an interview that “It’s both rewarding and frustrating and if it didn’t work you looked for other ways to get the message across. It taught you determination.” Bob and Alastair Mont were part of a team who proposed and got passed the Globalization Resolution for the Canadian Unitarian Council.
In the 1990s it was pricey to have conference calls on the phone. Always ready to innovate, Bob set up what was then called a daisy-chain system of conference calling. Bob, who had conferencing capability would join two Board members to his call, and Board members would keep adding others until everyone was connected. He never stopped building his technical skills on computers and was enjoying The Victoria Church’s services on Zoom right to the end.
Until dementia made it no longer possible, Bob continued to be a faithful member of CUSJ. He was able to follow our Group Forum conversations on our listserv site, and on on-line Annual General Meetings. Thanks To First Unitarian Church of Victoria for their care and concern for Bob during his challenging time.