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Remembering Bruce Buchan, professor and school of business historian

Posted on June 19, 2020
Professor Emeritus Bruce Buchan
Professor Emeritus Bruce Buchan

Kingston, Ont. – Professor Emeritus Bruce Buchan, a committed teacher and mentor at Smith School of Business with a passion for business history and for Golden Gaels football, died on June 6. He was 87. 

Buchan first arrived at Queen’s School of Business, as Smith was then known, in July 1969. An outgoing and friendly personality known for his winning smile, Buchan quickly became a favourite with students. In 1988, he received the Commerce Society’s Teaching Excellence award. 

“Bruce Buchan’s courses appealed to a lot of business students,” recalls Professor Emeritus and former associate dean, Brent Gallupe. “He taught them that business is about more than just accounting and marketing—it’s about history and the lessons to be learned from it. The students who took his courses really enjoyed them.” 

Even after his retirement in 1996, Buchan returned to campus regularly to teach, always connecting with students and continuing to garner high teaching ratings into his late 70s. In 2009, he was honoured for 40 years of teaching. 

He was also a favourite amongst his colleagues. 

“I was blown away by how kind and supportive he was,” says Gallupe, who first met Buchan in 1986 when he arrived at Queen’s. Gallupe remembers Buchan providing excellent advice about how to better get students to engage with a research project. “He said all the kind words that a senior professor encouraging research would say,” he recalls. “We established a good, long-term friend and colleague relationship.” 

Buchan earned his PhD from the University of Michigan and his B.A.Sc. at the University of Toronto. As part of his work in business policy, he developed an interest in the history of management, as well as in topics like strategy at the East India Company and at General Motors.    

In 1999, he and Merv Daub (now professor emeritus at Smith), who had by then already collaborated on a number of papers, published Getting Down to Business, an in-depth history of Queen’s School of Business. 

“It was a good co-writing exercise,” recalls Daub. “He would fact check and make corrections, and would fill in the gaps after I did the rough writing.”

Daub laughs at the memory of suggesting that the book should be called “Taking Care of Business” after the song by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Buchan, ever professional, would have none of it. “He said ‘everyone will think that we aren’t serious. The book needs a more professional title.’ Clearly, the editor of McGill–Queen’s Press and I lost that fight.” 

Buchan, who was known for his lunch-hour runs, also served as executive assistant to Ron Watts, Queen’s University’s 15th principal, for seven years. He later played an instrumental role in organizing luncheons for retirees, enabling retired business faculty and their spouses to maintain their relationships to the school and one another. 

Buchan was married to his wife, Isabel, who died a month before him, for 66 years. The pair were regular travellers to Cuba, spending many winters there. Buchan, who also enjoyed aquafit and photography, leaves behind his son Rae, daughter Carol, and three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His twin sister also survives him.  

“Bruce Buchan had a strong sense of loyalty to his students, his work and to the school,” says Gallupe. “And to me, that’s something I really valued. He was the kind of person who knew what he loved, and he wasn’t afraid to show it.”