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Human rights activist, United Church minister Eldon Hay dies

Rev. Eldon Hay, wearing his trademark rainbow hat, speaks during a 2013 Rainbow Flag raising event in Sackville.
Rev. Eldon Hay, wearing his trademark rainbow hat, speaks during a 2013 Rainbow Flag raising event in Sackville.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – Eldon Hay, a passionate advocate for human rights and a longtime United Church minister from Sackville, has died.

Hay, 85, died Sunday, Sept. 17, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Rev. Hay, who made Sackville his home after moving to New Brunswick 55 years ago to take on a religious studies teaching job and part-time chaplaincy at Mount Allison University, has been a champion for a more tolerant and inclusive society throughout his career.

For this work, he was the recipient of a Human Rights Award from the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission in 1997 and the Order of Canada in 2004. Hay was also recognized just this past spring for his six decades of service to the United Church of Canada.

Janet Hammock, a longtime friend and colleague, said Hay will long be remembered for how he chose to spend his life’s work – “to champion and to fight for the human rights of everyone.”

Whether it was indigenous issues, gender inequality or LGBTQ rights, Hammock said Hay always stood up against discrimination and did what he could to motivate others to do the same. And he didn’t shy away from using his ministry to further those efforts. His message went beyond Christianity, she said, and encompassed all denominations.

“It was really quite a privilege to know him,” said Hammock, who met Hay shortly after moving here in 1975 when she began teaching music at Mount Allison.

Born and raised in Marvelville, Ont., Hay attended Queens and Carleton Universities, studying theology, and was ordained as a United Church minister in 1957. He then went on to receive a doctorate in theology from Glasgow University in Scotland.

Teaching various courses over his 35 years at Mount Allison, including world religion and theology, he retired from the university in ’97 with Professor Emeritus status. During that time, he also served as a part-time minister, mainly at the Jolicure and Pointe de Bute parishes.

Hay has been an avid human rights activist over the years, dealing with issues related to feminism, anti-semitism, and anti-French sentiments. It was in 1986, however, when his son Ron came out as gay, that he then began to place more focus on erasing anti-homophobic views as well.

Hay’s advocacy for LGBTQ rights was instrumental in getting a regional chapter of PFLAG started in Moncton in the early 1990s. Months later, he helped initiate a PFLAG chapter in Amherst as well. Through group meetings and get-togethers, PFLAG not only offered support, education and comfort for the family and friends of lesbians and gays but also worked towards a healthy society respectful of gender and sexuality.

Hammock, who served as a facilitator for PFLAG in Amherst, said Hay was instrumental in helping a lot of ‘closeted’ people work through years of struggles and provided much-needed support to families of those that were coming out.

“There’s a huge amount of people who are indebted to him.”

 

Hay was also known to be a regular contributor to the ‘letters to the editor’ section of the local newspapers, always willing to express his views on causes he felt important.

He had certain causes and he fought for those causes all throughout his life,” said Hammock.

A service is being held for Hay at Mount Allison University Chapel on Friday, Sept. 22, beginning at 11 a.m. Visitation will be held at the Sackville United Church on Thursday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.

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