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- William Cyril Desmond Pacey
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William Cyril Desmond Pacey was born May 1, 1917 in Dunedin, New Zealand to William and Mary Pacey. After his father was killed in the First World War, he and his mother emigrated to England. There, Pacey entered the Magnus Grammar School in Newark in 1928. In 1931, he and his mother moved to Glenford Station, Ontario, where his mother remarried. Pacey entered Caledonia High School the same year and graduated in 1934. He received three entrance scholarships to the University of Toronto, in addition to the first Carter Scholarship for Wentworth County, Ontario. The following year, he enrolled at Victoria College, University of Toronto, where he studied philosophy, English, and history. There, he was also a member and president of the University Soccer Club, served as editor of Acta Victoriana, and acted as speaker of the debating parliament. It is at the University of Toronto that he met Roy Daniells, who would later become a close friend and collaborator. Pacey received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938 with first class honours in philosophy and English. Pacey went on to attend Trinity College at Cambridge University on a Massey fellowship and received his doctorate in English literature in 1941. He wrote his dissertation on “The Reception and Influence of French Realist Fiction in Victorian England.”
In 1939, Pacey married Mary E. Carson. The couple had seven children: Philip, Mary Ann, Patricia, Peter, Margaret, Michael, and Penelope. Pacey began his career in education as a professor of English at Brandon College, Manitoba, one year prior to graduating from Cambridge. After spending one year as executive officer and editor of the Wartime Information Board, he left Brandon College and became professor and head of the department of English at the University of New Brunswick.
In addition to writing numerous articles and books on the history and criticism of literature in Canada, Pacey authored a number of creative works. In 1952, he published two collections of verse for children: The Cow with the Musical Moo and Other Verses for Children and Hippity Hobo and the Bee and Other Verses for Children. The Cat, the Cow, and the Kangaroo: The Collected Children's Verse of Desmond Pacey (1967) brought together the two previous collections, along with seventeen new stories in verse. Pacey also published two other collections of short stories, The Picnic and Other Stories (1958) and Waken, Lords and Ladies Gay: The Selected Short Stories of Desmond Pacey (1974), both of which met with moderate success.
At the University of New Brunswick he helped establish the first PhD program in English and Canadian literature outside of the University of Toronto. Pacey generally worked to further expand graduate studies at UNB as dean of graduate studies from 1960 to 1970. From 1964 to 1966, he served as secretary to the Canadian Association of Graduate Schools and subsequently served as the association’s president from 1966 to 1968. Pacey became the vice-president academic of UNB in 1970 and served as acting president from 1972 to 1973.
Over the course of his career, Pacey received numerous awards and honours for his contribution to Canadian literature and academia. In 1955, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and he received the Lorne Pierce Medal from the Royal Society of Canada in 1972 for his distinguished contribution to Canadian literary history and criticism. From 1962 to 1963, he served as the Canada Council Senior Research Fellow at Cambridge University. In 1973, he received an honorary doctorate of literature from Mount Allison University, as well as an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of New Brunswick.
Pacey died on 4 July 1975 from cancer. In 1980, UNB launched its first annual W.C. Pacey Memorial Lecture. Fittingly, Northrop Frye, Canada’s greatest literary critic and a close friend of Pacey, was the guest lecturer