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Late 'Father of Economics' at UCalgary leaves one final gift

Donation of $1.5 million announced at inaugural Dr. Frank Anton Distinguished Lecture Series

At the inaugural Dr. Frank Anton Distinguished Lecture Series, a donation of $1.5 million from Anton's estate was announced. From left: Daniel Gordon, head of the Department of Economics; Norman Smyth, Anton's nephew; David Card, guest lecturer at the event; and Richard Sigurdson, dean of the Faculty of Arts. Photo courtesy of Emily Aalbers

By Heath McCoy
March 14, 2017

He was both the "Father of Economics" at the University of Calgary and one of the founding fathers of the university itself. Last Friday, the legacy of late economics professor Frank Anton left us with one more gift of great and lasting importance.

At the inaugural Dr. Frank Anton Distinguished Lecture Series in Economics, with the late professor’s family in attendance, Dean of the Faculty of Arts Richard Sigurdson made the announcement of a $1.5-million donation that the faculty received from Anton's estate.

“This gift will leave a remarkable legacy to our Department of Economics,” said Sigurdson at the event, held at MacEwan Ballroom. “A portion of it will now support this very prestigious lecture series in perpetuity and the remainder will continue to support the previously established John M. Dalgarno and Dr. Frank Anton Memorial Award, which supports students registered full-time in a thesis-based graduate program in the preferred area of agricultural economics.”

Frank Anton’s remarkable and inspirational life

Before turning over the floor to guest lecturer David Card from the University of California, Berkeley — who gave a talk on the economic consequences of immigration — the audience was regaled with stories of Anton’s remarkable and inspirational life.

Born June 21, 1920, in Ireland, Anton was studying to be a pharmacist in England when the Second World War broke out. Joining the Royal Air Force as a navigator, he was shot down in a Lancaster bomber over Nuremberg in 1943, one of three men to survive on his crew of seven. Parachuting into a frozen field, Anton smuggled his way onto a passing train in an attempt to escape Germany. However, the Nazis caught up with him and for the next two years he was a prisoner of war in Stalag VIII-B, in Lamsdorf, which is now part of Poland.

Rather than wiling his time away or finding trouble, Anton took advantage of an educational program offered within the prison by studying German and French. It was here that he also found his life’s calling as an economist.

In prison, 'the light went on in his head' 

“Somebody gave him a book about economics and the light went on in his head,” says Norman Smyth, Anton’s nephew. “He realized that conflicts around the world were caused by political dissatisfaction that generally had an economic base to it. In the middle of this political turmoil of the war he was trying to understand what drove people and he felt if he understood economics, he could get a better handle on it.”

In 1945, Anton was sent on a punishing 40-day forced march as his Nazi captors sought to stay ahead of the advancing Soviet army. Many of his friends from the prison camp died on the march but Anton survived and the following year he gained entry into the elite London School of Economics, where he earned his bachelor degree. He later received his MA at UCLA before returning to the London School of Economics to complete his PhD.

Anton spent the majority of his academic career in Calgary, arriving in 1957 when this campus was a branch of Edmonton’s University of Alberta. When that satellite declared its autonomy in 1966, establishing itself as the University of Calgary, Anton played a leading role in the new institution’s development. He fathered the university’s Department of Economics, becoming its first department head in 1967. He also co-authored, with M. Inman, the seminal textbook Economics in a Canadian Setting and throughout his career he contributed to the resolution of many labour disputes.

Passionate connection to University of Calgary

Anton’s estate is also gifting an equal donation to the London School of Economics.

“He’s split his estate between the two universities that meant the most to him,” says Smyth. “He had a passionate and emotional connection to the University of Calgary and, of course, he never would have gotten there had it not been for the London School of Economics. He always felt that both of those universities made a huge impact on his life and that’s why he decided to give back with this gift.”

Sigurdson notes that when the University of Calgary celebrated its 50th anniversary last April, it also launched its largest fundraising campaign ever: Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High. “We are extremely grateful for the philanthropic support we receive that enables us to reach our goals,” he said of the donation from Anton’s estate. 

Daniel Gordon, current head of the Department of Economics, says the department is very fortunate to receive such a generous gift. He adds: “Many students, both graduate and undergraduate, will benefit for a long time to come from Dr. Anton’s legacy.”