David Taras, a scholar and political pundit who taught at multiple universities around Canada and abroad, passed away on June 9.
Taras, 72, was in hospice with cancer when he died, surrounded by his family.
Revered by both students and faculty alike, he was described as elegant, kind, engaging and gifted.
Taras arrived at Mount Royal University (MRU) in 2010, shortly after the institution made the transition from college to university. He became a professor of communication studies, and held the Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies.
He had also taught previously at the University of Toronto, the University of Amsterdam and the University of Calgary. During his tenure there, he won the Students’ Union Award for Teaching Excellence five times.
Political science professor Duane Bratt only knew Taras in passing while he was at the U of C, but eventually built a friendship that led to many collaborations during their time at MRU.
“He dropped by my office at Mount Royal and we must have had about a 45-minute conversation about a whole bunch of different things,” says Bratt. “It was only afterwards that I realized that he was being interviewed for a job at Mount Royal and he was doing intelligence about whether he should take the job or not.”
Sally Haney, the Chair of MRU’s Journalism and Digital Media, and Broadcast Media Studies programs, says Taras genuinely cared about how his students and colleagues were feeling.
“Whenever I saw David in our hallway at work, without fail he would always ask a sincere ‘How are you doing?’ and very much wanted to know what was going on in his colleagues’ lives,” says Haney. “He was accessible, he was warm, he was a very generous individual. So whether you were a reporter, or a colleague, or a student, he always had time for you.”
Sharing morning conversations with Taras, associate professor Janice Paskey, says she could tell how interested he always was in his work and the people around him.
“He connected with so many people. He included people in his projects, and his books, and his conferences — finding a role for all different kinds of people,” she says.
Paskey recalls a moment when Taras came into her office with some chocolates, and asked if she would contribute a chapter to his latest book. As did many other colleagues of Taras’, Paskey agreed to help.
“It was just so him. He just had a gracious way of being. Of course, everyone wanted to participate and be around David,” says Paskey.
Taras worked on many different books, and was a co-editor on his final academic project Blue Storm: The Rise and Fall of Jason Kenney set for release in January 2023.
Bratt, another one of the book’s co-editors, says it will be dedicated to Taras’ legacy and memory.
Taras was an elegant writer who communicated his ideas with eloquence, says MRU communications professor Brooks DeCillia.
“He was arguably the top political communications scholar in Canada. He edited books that were important, that made important contributions to debates in political communications,” he says.
DeCillia, who considered Taras a mentor, says Taras helped him make the decision to pursue a PhD.
“We often went for lunch and talked about work and academic things. He was a tremendous person,” says DeCillia. “He was so generous with his experience, his knowledge and his time. He was really, honestly, one of the kindest people I have ever met.”
DeCillia believes Taras was the model of being both an excellent scholar and a great person, which Haney also agreed with.
“David was one of those people who really modeled what it meant to be teaching, learning, mentoring and advocating in a university setting,” says Haney.
Haney recalls her talks with Taras, where he would always hold his students in high regard.
“When he talked about teaching, he talked with such passion and such love for the material. And most importantly, his love for the students,” she says.
University of Ottawa associate professor of communication, Patrick McCurdy, had Taras as a thesis adviser during his master’s of Media and Communication in the early 2000s. McCurdy later attended a conference at the Banff Centre, which Taras had organized.
“He was happy to create and give these opportunities, this escape at the Banff Centre where you had a group of academics from across Canada, the U.S., the UK who came together. He also wanted to create an experience where you enjoy yourself,” says McCurdy.
McCurdy says although Taras was dedicated to his work, his family was of equal importance.
“It was clear that, yes, he loved his work, but he loved his family. He would always talk about not only his kids, but his grandkids, and that’s pretty cool,” says McCurdy.
As a teacher, Taras was dedicated to all of his students, McMurdy adds.
“He was there for you. When you had questions he would work through ideas, he would give you feedback. He would do so with a sense of insight, but a sense of humour as well,” says McCurdy.
During his time at Mount Royal University, Taras created a show with the students of Broadcast Media Studies called David Taras Talks To… where each week he would invite a guest to come have a scholarly conversation with him. Bratt believes this experience was extremely valuable for students.
“You’ve got this person who’s an internationally renowned scholar, public intellectual… and he’s doing this small little show for the benefit of the students,” says Bratt. “What he helped to do was energize [Mount Royal] and become an important place.”
A memorial service for Taras will be broadcast live on June 19.