Obituary: Robert Bryce

Robert Bryce was the leading Canadian public servant of his generation and a pupil of whom John Maynard Keynes would have been proud. He was Secretary to the Canadian Cabinet and Clerk of the Privy Council from 1954 to 1963 under the prime ministers Louis St Laurent, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson and thereafter Deputy Minister of Finance until retirement on his 60th birthday in 1971. He had been Canada's first executive director of the World Bank in 1946 and served for three years after retirement as Canadian Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund.

The son of a goldminer, he took a degree in Engineering in Toronto before he came to St John's College, Cambridge, in 1932 with a group of young Canadians including Herbert Norman, the Canadian Ambassador who killed himself in Cairo in 1957 in the days of McCarthy, and Lorie Tarshis, who remained for a time in Cambridge to take his doctorate and died in Toronto last year.

In Cambridge Bryce took a First in Economics in 1934 and was awarded a Commonwealth Fellowship, which at that time was for two years and required the holder to travel in the United States between his two years of university study (later reduced to one year and now abolished). I booked a seat in his car and travelled some 15,000 miles with him in the US and Canada in the summer of 1936 enjoying the equivalent of the Grand Tour and seeing far more of America than would otherwise have been possible.

Bryce had been a member of the "Keynes' Club" and a regular attender at his lectures before the publication of The General Theory in 1936. He took with him to Harvard a carefully prepared resume of Keynesian doctrine which embodied Keynes's latest ideas and introduced these ideas to America, arousing great interest among his fellow students.

After a year with the Sun Life Assurance Company, he entered the Ministry of Finance in 1937, filling successive posts within the ministry for the next 32 years. He was a close adviser to every prime minister from W.L. Mackenzie King to Pierre Trudeau and exercised a powerful influence on Canadian economic policy from the Second World War onwards. Jean Chretien, the Canadian Prime Minister, paid tribute at his death to his long career in government as embodying the finest tradition of the Canadian public service: "He was a man of integrity and loyalty who made a great contribution to Canada's progress as a nation."

Bryce's services were of particular importance when Diefenbaker came to power in 1957 after 22 years of Liberal rule. There were those who credited him with re-establishing trust between the government and the public service when as Clerk of the Privy Council, he gained the confidence of Diefenbaker - a conservative who regarded all bureaucrats as supporters of the Liberals.

In retirement Bryce was appointed chairman of a Royal Commission in 1975 on industrial monopolies but was obliged to resign because of ill-health. He produced a history of his department from 1867 to 1939 and had completed a second volume covering the war years but developed Alzheimer's disease and was unable to publish it.

He was, as his son has put it, a man of courage, probity and intelligence whose personal kindnesses made him a legend within the Canadian civil service.

Alec Cairncross

Robert Broughton Bryce, civil servant: born 27 February 1910; Secretary of the Canadian Treasury Board 1947-53; Secretary to the Cabinet and Clerk of the Privy Council 1954-63; Deputy Minister of Finance 1963-70; Executive Director, International Monetary Fund 1971-74; married 1937 (two sons, one daughter); died Ottawa, Canada 30 July 1997.

Comments