Frances Halpenny

Frances Halpenny

By Peter Russell

Frances Halpenny died on on Christmas Day, 2017 at the age of 98. Frances was truly a U of T giant.

After graduating with a MA in English literature from the University of Toronto in 1941, Frances joined the University of Toronto Press as an editor. The very next year she enlisted in the RCAF and served as a meteorologist observer in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. She returned to the Press after the war and built a professional editorial staff that trained a generation of scholarly editors all across Canada. No one did more to advance scholarly publishing in Canada than Frances Halpenny.

In 1972, Frances accepted an invitation to be Dean of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Library Science (now Information Studies). As Dean she led this relatively new faculty into the new technological era that was opening up in the 1970s. But she still found time to carry on as the general editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, the most ambitious multi-volume publishing venture in both official languages our country has seen. Frances’ leadership of this enterprise from 1969 to 1984 was an enormous contribution to Canadian scholarship. During this period she also served the University of Toronto Press as associate director academic.

Frances was a creative scholar in her own fields of expertise, publishing widely on such topics as editing, scholarly publishing and the art of biography. She loved the theatre and did some fine acting. Some of us will fondly remember her on the stage at Alumni Theatre.

She received many honours, including 11 honorary degrees, the Molson Prize for her contribution to Canada’s cultural and intellectual heritage, and being appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honour.

Frances Halpenny, despite her extraordinary achievements, was always a down to earth person, full of practical wisdom and good cheer. Those of us who had the pleasure of knowing her and working with her will treasure our memory of her.