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Bill Foster (1943-2021)

We regret to announce that Professor emeritus William Foster passed away on 10 August 2021.

Below, we share photographs of our friend Bill, and tributes from friends and colleagues. Please share your own using our Guestbook form below.

Donations may be made to the William Foster Memorial Fund for Students in Need.

Daniel Jutras smiling, Bill Foster looking thoughtful, and Patrick Healy speaking. Photo by Lysanne Larose.
2011: Dean Daniel Jutras and Professor William Foster listen as Justice Patrick Healy shares some thoughts on Bill at his retirement party.
William Foster flanked by his wife, children, and grandchildren. Photo by Lysanne Larose.
William Foster at his retirement party, with his family, in September 2011.
William Foster smiling at the camera. Photo by Lysanne Larose.
Professor William F. Foster in 2011.
William Foster laughing as Patrick Healy gestures towards him. Photo by Lysanne Larose.
2011: Professor William Foster laughs as Justice Patrick Healy shares a bon mot at his retirement party.
Professor William Foster in front of a corner bookshelf. Photographer unknown.
Professor William Foster in his office, 2003.
Professor William Foster. Photo by Claudio Calligaris.
Professor William Foster standing in the grand staircase of Old Chancellor Day Hall, 2006.

Tributes to Bill Foster

Please share your memories of Bill Foster using our Guestbook form below.

"With one short break, I was a colleague of Bill's between 1977 and 1988. We did not teach the same subjects, but the subjects we taught, whether compulsory or heavily subscribed electives, gave us a great deal in common. On his part, he had some very heavy lifting to do with courses like Property and Real Estate Transactions. For the greater part of that period, we both lived in Montreal-West, sharing the same car (Bill's) on many occasions going to and from McGill. We both had a preference for early morning classes (8:30) which some might have thought odd, but which suited us both rather well.

What can be said about Bill that has not already been said better? He was kind, calm, considerate and possessed of a fine judgement of human character.  I do not recall ever seeing him really angry. He was also dependable: if he gave a commitment, then it was already as good as accomplished. Bill was as solid as a rock, whether as teacher, Acting Dean or senior figure in the McGill administration. He was a foundation stone for both Faculty and University and set a standard for his colleagues to try to emulate. A very great loss to McGill and to those of us who were lucky enough to be one of his colleagues and friends."
Professor Michael Bridge

"Bill was a Teacher, one of those few real ones who had the wisdom to find the way to the students' minds, who had the quiet passion for science needed to engage students' souls, who had the calm presence to lead us students through the jungle of Common Law Property -- and even to make the journey fun. Thank you for your friendship, Bill! Knowing you was one of the most generous gifts the universe sent me."
Boris Stoichkov, BCL/LLB'06

"I was saddened to learn of the passing of my tort law professor. I remember him as a personable and approachable person.

He taught tort law in a non-tortuous way. He instilled in me a vigilant mindset to avoid tortious liability."
Louis Robayo, LLB'72

"I'm so sorry to hear of Professor Foster's passing. He was one of my very first law professors all those years ago. His good humour, approachability and ease with the subject matter reassured me at the very beginning of my career. A lovely person and wonderful teacher. My condolences and best wishes to his family."
Susan Steffen, BCL'91, LLB'91

"Dr. Foster was one of the most important mentors of my legal career. In addition to being funny and smart, he also treated students as peers not as subordinates, and always encouraged me to believe that my opinions on the law were as important as his. Due to his support, I had the chance to pursue graduate studies at Cambridge. I have always thought both highly and kindly of Dr. Foster, and I am so sorry to hear of his loss."
Melinda Munro, LLB'89

"Bill Foster was Dean of Students when I was at the law school between 1972 and 1975. He was a great lecturer, and a very helpful dean. As class president of the B.C.L. class I had occasion to meet with him to discuss various student affairs and he was always positive and helpful. There aren't that many people like him around any more. I will miss him."
Paul Skolnik, BCL'75

"I was very sorry to learn of Professor Foster's passing in August. He was my Torts professor in 1981-1982, and I remember him as a terrific expositor of concepts, excellent at linking disparate ideas, and very approachable and down-to-earth after class and in his office. We were lucky to have him. R.I.P. It's been sad and moving to learn over the last several years from afar of the passing of (...) other McGill Law teachers of that era."
Owen D. Kurtin, LLB'84

"Bill was such a loving, calm, wise and generous gentleman. Our family dearly loved him as a very special brother-in-law, husband, uncle and much loved Honourary Captain of our family unit. Our hearts hold Joan, Mark, Anna, Sarah and Rebecca, and all their families, in prayer and love. Missing him greatly."
Wendy, John and family

"It is with great sorrow that we feel at Bill’s passing. He was my only sibling and much loved brother. Bill’s achievements throughout his life both public and private have been a great source of wonderment and pride to our family here in New Zealand. Our deepest love and condolences go out to Joan and her family."
Rich F. Foster

"Bill Foster was a compassionate and wise teacher and colleague. I remember his sign off for each Torts class, delivered in his gentle lilt: "Take care. Take reasonable care." Bill took such good care of generations of students and colleagues. Rest in peace, Bill."
Professor Hoi Kong, BCL/LLB'02

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Foster. He was a treasured colleague and friend who enhanced the lives of students and faculty who were privileged to know Bill and benefit from his guidance, thoughtfulness and friendship. I shall miss his presence on campus, and our visits and cups of tea. Bill taught me that the law, rules and regulations can be applied with grace and humanity and enhance the lives of members of a University community and citizens more generally. Bill's passing leaves a hole in our personal and communal existence."
Professor Abraham Fuks

"My condolences. Bill Foster was my Torts professor in the late 70s. He gave the funniest retort to a student’s question: 'Do you honestly expect an Englishman to commit a crime of passion?!'"
Howard Greenfield, BCL'81, LLB'81

"When I arrived as a Boulton Fellow at the Faculty in the fall of 1993 and settled into my office on the third floor of Old Chancellor Day Hall, Bill - together with Jane Glenn, both of them down the hall - made sure I felt warmly welcomed. I recall many wonderful conversations with Bill about substantive topics in law (education, children's rights, torts), about the fact that we both shared the experience of being babies in India, and mostly about the experiences, insights, and challenges that come along life's trajectory and within a close community like that of McGill's Faculty of Law. Bill simply showed all of us around him how to be kind, generous, smart, and thoughtful. He served as a model of true collegiality and responsible leadership. He taught us what matters and endures in a career devoted to teaching and learning. And he reminded us to smile and laugh and care for each other. He also shared wonderful Joan with us, and I am thinking of her and the whole family... and hoping that all of the good memories help make each day a little lighter."
Professor Shauna Van Praagh

"Professor Foster’s contributions to McGill over the decades are like a dark planet, the extent of which observers can only guess from fleeting glimpses. He was a man of peace, who approached everyone with respect and who never sought to draw undue attention. By heartfelt listening, by visiting people in their offices, by taking whatever time was needed, it seems that Professor Foster helped to heal countless conflicts and enmities. An honest and trustworthy man, his actions embodied the biblical '… be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.'

The ups and downs of academic life naturally fed Professor Foster’s gentle sense of humour. For example, a human rights complaint had been filed against McGill on the question of an exclusive Muslim prayer room. It seems that a key point of McGill’s position was the university’s religious neutrality. The situation was widely discussed in newspapers, television and online during the spring of 2005.

In April 2005, Pope John Paul II died. The next morning, Professor Foster drove to work at the James Administration building. He turned in at the Roddick Gates and saw that the flag was flying at half mast over the cupola of the Arts Building. Since he had responsibilities for both university protocol and the prayer room file, he had a nervous moment. Once he had rushed into his office, he breathed a sigh of relief to learn that the flag had been lowered to mark the death of a distinguished retired professor."
Edmund Coates, BCL'02, LLB'02

"Bill Foster was a great public servant of our University. I am grateful for his many contributions to the Faculty, and for his kindness to students and teachers at McGill, including me."
Justice Nicholas Kasirer, Supreme Court of Canada

"Like so many others, I have been deeply saddened by the news of Bill's passing. He was a terrific person and a great colleague. I was the beneficiary of many, many kindnesses from him.

We both taught Common Law Property and (in the days when the rule against perpetuities was an important rite de passage for students) he compiled a detailed outline of future interests, which he allowed me to poach. As my co-examiner, he saved me from many an egregious error.

For example, on one exam I had concocted what I thought was a clever fact pattern on priority of interests in a gold ring which a duck had ingested on A's land. The duck was subsequently shot by hunter B over Crown land, but its momentum carried it to C's land, where it was discovered by C and subsequently bailed to D for cooking, at which time the ring was found. Foolishly (because I know nothing of such things, but I was aspiring to verisimilitude), I specified a distance at which the duck was flying when shot. Bill, co-examining, pointed out to me that it would be impossible to hit a duck at that distance with a 12 gauge shotgun. Who knew?

More notably, when I was Associate Dean and developped some health problems, Bill just sent me home and took over. It was so typical of him to step in (with zero ego and zero fanfare) when something needed to be done. And then it just was done.

I could go on, but I shall desist. Just wanted to register my gratitude to Bill—for everything."
Professor emeritus Dennis Klinck

"Bill was a remarkable man: self-effacing, low key, but immensely strong; he was an embodiment of the badly needed virtue of moral humility, a recognition of one's own moral fallibility, an appreciation for the moral strengths and moral views of others, and a moral perspective that transcends the self. It is said that great leaders practice moral humility and, in a very non-obvious way, Bill was an impressive leader.

He was also the person from whom many of us sought advice when we were troubled, for whatever reason, certainly that was true of me. Perhaps it was because we had a pre-existing bond in that we both came from Downunder. Bill loved New Zealand and we used to joke about the rivalry between NZ and Australia, especially in rugby, and how Aussies denigrated NZ, calling it 'the little islands off the coast', but then the All Blacks almost always beat the Wallabies.

However, Bill did not just give wise and comforting advice, he acted out his kindness. When I was diagnosed with a serious illness in 1986 and unable to continue to teach Torts, Bill stepped in and taught my class for the rest of the year, adding it to his already full-time load. When I first started to teach Torts, he gave me all his teaching notes and densely annotated Allan Linden Torts case book, which I used for many years.

We were indeed very blessed to have Bill as a McGill Law Faculty colleague. My deepest sympathy to Joan and to their children."
Professor emerita Margaret Somerville

"Bill’s kind and gentle presence pervaded Old Chancellor Day Hall, and made it a more human place. He was easy to talk to, smart and quietly competent. My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues."
Pearl Eliadis, BCL'85, LLB'85

"An inspiring professor and, later, colleague, who had the wisdom of listening more than lecturing , and the knack for finding imaginative solutions to help students achieve their goals."
Professor François Crépeau

"My sincere condolences to Bill's family, I worked in administrative role in the Dean's Office at the Faculty of Law many years ago now. Bill was a wonderful person, always pleasant, a very kind and gentle soul. He will be missed."
Heather Hum, former staff member of the Faculty

"Bill Foster is one of the professors I remember most fondly from my time at McGill from 1999 to 2002. He was always there to offer a kind word of support, was quick to smile and offer help to students, and always offered words of encouragement. My condolences to his family and friends."
Vasilis Pappas, BCL/LLB'02

"I have fond memories of Professor Foster teaching Torts in a calm, methodical, patient manner. He answered students’ questions the same way, making me feel comfortable and able to enjoy the subject matter more. He had an academic’s mind and a gentleman’s manner. His soft accent made his lectures pleasing to listen to. I am thankful I had the opportunity to be one of his students as he contributed to the positive experience I had at the Faculty. I am certain he will be missed by many."
Heather Cooper, BCL/LLB'02

"Condolences to his family and friends. So glad I got to meet such a wonderful spirit."
Michelle Sarrazin, former staff member of the Faculty

"My condolences on the passing of Professor Foster. He was my thesis advisor in third year, and I always looked forward to our conversations, about real estate law and whatever else we were diverted to in the course of half an hour. He will be missed."
Aaron Atcheson, LLB'98

"Professor Foster was a wonderful professor and an even better person. Thank you for everything you did in helping law students and future lawyers find their feet."
Nathaniel Carnegie, LLB'01

« J’ai eu la chance de suivre le cours de Common Law Property du professeur Foster lors de la 2e année de mes études. La manière dont il répondait aux questions les plus saugrenues, en lançant sa craie dans les airs, avec un calme débonnaire et une petite pointe de sarcasme, est toujours un souvenir vif dans mon esprit! Il fut un enseignant inspirant et divertissant; merci pour tout. »
Élizabeth Gagné, BCL/LLB'02

« Je suis très attristé par le décès de Bill Foster, dont la gentillesse, la sagesse et la générosité ont marqué toutes mes années à la Faculté de droit de l’Université McGill. C’était un homme modeste, intègre et loyal, qui écoutait son cœur et celui des autres, et n’agissait jamais par calcul - de belles qualités pour un universitaire. J’offre toutes mes condoléances à Joan, que Bill adorait, à toute leur famille, ainsi qu’à mes anciens collègues de McGill qui ont eu la grande chance de côtoyer ce gentil géant. »
Le professeur Daniel Jutras, Recteur, Université de Montréal, et ancien professeur de droit à McGill

"Like many students passing through Chancellor Day Hall, I had Professor Foster for Property Law. He was a lovely man and teacher. And the chalk on the back of his trousers amused him and his students in equal parts. As a student liaison officer between students and faculty, I had the pleasure of getting to know him, and his sense of humour, a little more. I went to him on more than more occasion for advice, which was always kindly and gently given. Years later, when I would visit the school for alumni events, I felt warmed when he remembered my name - given the number of people he had encountered throughout his career. I am sure he will be missed by many.
Charlene Kavanagh, BCL'98, LLB'98

"My heartfelt condolences to Professor Foster's family, friends and former students. I was in his Property Law class in 2012 and greatly enjoyed his teaching style, approachable manner, and general love for the law."
Lawrence David, BCL/LLB'14

"Thank you, Professor Foster. You will forever be remembered."
Paola Hawa, BCL/LLB'01

"My deepest condolences. I had the pleasure of taking his Real Estate Transactions class. Great teacher and an even better man. All the best to all of you."
Ali Farasat, BCL/LLB'09

"I was a student in Bill’s Torts class in 1973, and then as an office neighbour when I was on a sabbatical for several months from the Quebec Court of Appeal a few years ago. He certainly was low key in the classroom, but much more ebullient in social circumstances. Rest in peace."
Justice Allan R. Hilton, BCL'73, LLB'74

"I recall when he was Acting Dean, he organised a get-together. I gather that each person, upon entering the room, asked him what the occasion was, or why he had called us together. By the time I got to the door, he was simply greeting each arrival, calmly and with a gentle smile, with the words ‘No reason, just thought we should all spend some time together. [My memories of him] all share the same qualities: pleasant, agreeable interactions with a person of superb common sense, grace, and downright friendliness and helpfulness. You will be missed, Bill. My condolences to the family and close friends."
Professor Jaye Ellis

"Bill was a truly wonderful person, friend, mentor, teacher. I am still reeling from the news of his passing."
Professor Rosalie Jukier

"Bill was a hero. In the difficult days of the 1980s, he did much to hold the Faculty together in the face of extreme financial stringency. He was a source of hope and confidence for us all at that time. Despite the difficulties of the hour, he was a builder as Acting Dean and did much to keep the Faculty together and on track to build our current transsystemic program. He remained deeply devoted to the Faculty all his life."
Professor emeritus Armand de Mestral

"In addition to being a wonderful colleague and wise mentor, Bill was a significant and much appreciated member of his local community. Together with his indefatigable wife Joan, Bill was heavily involved in community events, fundraisers, and various activities to assist people in need. He recruited me to join him flipping hamburgers at Montreal West’s annual Canada Day festival (not sure if Canada Day festivants count as people in need, but perhaps in a narrow sense….), which led me to realize that Bill knew about the half the town personally."
Professor Stephen Smith

"Bill had many other skills not well known within the Faculty. He had worked in his student years as a driver of large lorries, and I often think of him when I see the driver of some enormous articulated vehicle skilfully backing to a narrow lane. He was very handy, and had designed and built handsome home furniture so attractive that a buyer of his house tried to persuade him to sell it. I hasten to share our sense of loss, and of our esteem, with Joan and with his children Mark, Anna, Sarah, and Rebecca, and to his grandchildren. and to offer them our deeply-felt condolences."
Professor emeritus Stephen A. Scott

"In fall 1996, Bill taught me Common Law Property. There, he was confronted by a student in my year who was less-than-charitable in his efforts to keep instructors on their toes. One class, this student raised his hand and told Bill, 'Sir, your pen has exploded and your shirt’s a mess!' Bill looked down to see that a red pen in his left breast pocket had indeed burst, and a bright red ink stain was seeping across his chest. Bill, in his usual cadence of speech, replied, 'How is this for proof that my heart bleeds for you?'

In 2015, I was offered a position in McGill’s central administration, which is the same one that Bill had previously held. He was among the first people I turned to for advice about whether to take up the role. I was unsure, as I was concerned that the position presented too great a “sacrifice”. Bill suggested, in his usual unassuming way, that I was looking at things the wrong way. For him, service to higher education was an opportunity, not a form of atonement. I also recall him stressing that the equity part of the position’s portfolio would grow in scale, complexity, and importance. He was so right. I will truly miss Bill – a trusted teacher, advisor, colleague, and friend."
Professor Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies)

"He was a memorable teacher of mine and then a kind-hearted colleague. I eventually had many exchanges with him while he was Associate Provost and I was involved with the MAUT. He was eminently fair-minded and presided over a significant overhaul of the University’s statutes, leaving them in much stronger shape after his efforts."
Professor Richard Janda

« Il y a quelques années, alors que je sortais d'une réunion au sujet de la réforme du droit des biens, nous nous sommes croisés. J'avais propablement l'air soit pensif, soit consterné, soit découragé. Je lui fis part des mes états d'âme.

Très sereinement il a posé son regard doux sur moi et ma misère. Il m'a dit alors d'une voix toute bienveillante : "Oh, je ne sais pas grand chose sur le sujet, mais j'ai enseigné un peu Common Law Property. J'ai peut-être ce qu'il te faut; j'en n'ai plus besoin". Il est parti et revenu avec un petit livre sur le sujet. Voilà plus d'un an que je lis et relis ce livre pour le nouveau cours de droit des biens. Je ne me souviens d'ailleurs plus du nom des auteurs. Pour moi, c'est le livre à Bill.

À chaque petite victoire sur la matière, chaque lecture, chaque conquête du civiliste en terre de common law, je remerciais Bill à haute voix : "Merci Bill, merci, tu me sauves encore une fois, Bill!". Je n'ai pas vraiment eu l'occasion de lui dire combien il m'avait aidé.

Bill est parti; je conserve jalousement son livre avec sa signature. »
Le professeur Pierre-Emmanuel Moyse

« Un mot sur la sagesse de Bill. Il était l’un des collègues qui le plus avaient une vision des choses à long terme. Qu’il s’agisse des implications d’une modification au programme académique, du recrutement d’un nouveau professeur, du choix d’un doyen, ou autre, Bill avait la réaction d’en rechercher d’abord les futures conséquences. Quel précieux conseiller pour un doyen, notamment. Bill possédait aussi la sagesse de la parole. Un petit sourire accompagnait presque toujours ses propos. Lorsqu’il exprimait une opinion négative, il le faisait sans pathos quoique clairement, et y ajoutait souvent une boutade comme pour dédramatiser les choses. Il fallait vraiment une tragédie pour qu’il déroge à cette règle.

Un collègue pour lequel j’avais une très grande estime (malgré la forte odeur de cigare qui planait au 3e étage du OCDH le vendredi après-midi …!). »
Le professeur émérite Pierre-Gabriel Jobin

« J'ai très bien connu Bill et je l'ai souvent consulté. Bill communiquait très fortement l'amitié et même l'affection, et évoquait en moi les mêmes sentiments à son égard. »
Le professeur émérite Robert Godin

"I share so many of our colleagues’ fond memories of Bill – his wisdom, calmness, and generosity as a teacher and colleague. I still benefit from his important scholarship on equality rights in the education sector – always comprehensive and clear. My condolences to his family during these challenging times."
Professor Colleen Sheppard

"Bill is very well known for his incredible accomplishments in administrative matters, and in academic subjects of his main speciality. However, what is not generally known is his scholarly contribution to space law. His paper published in 1972 in the Canadian Yearbook of International Law is still one of the most favoured pieces of space law literature. It is often used by space law academics and students for its comprehensive understanding of the 1972 the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.

Above all, Bill was a thorough gentleman. I always enjoyed my academic and social conversations with him."
Professor Ram Jakhu

"It is a sad loss. Bill was a wonderful colleague, a splendid Interim Dean, a fine gentleman – and overall good guy. He is missed."
Professor emeritus Paul Stephen Dempsey

"With one short break, I was a colleague of Bill's between 1977 and 1988. We did not teach the same subjects but the subjects we taught, whether compulsory or heavily subscribed electives, gave us a great deal in common. On his part, he had some very heavy lifting to do with courses like Property and Real Estate Transactions.  For the greater part of that period, we both lived in Montreal-West, sharing the same car (Bill's) on many occasions going to and from McGill. We both had a preference for early morning classes (8.30) which some might have thought odd but which suited us both rather well. What can be said about Bill that has not already been said better? He was kind, calm, considerate and possessed of a fine judgement of human character.  I do not recall ever seeing him really angry. He was also dependable: if he gave a commitment, then it was already as good as accomplished. Bill was as solid as a rock, whether as teacher, Acting Dean or senior figure in the McGill administration.

He was a foundation stone for both Faculty and University and set a standard for his colleagues to try to emulate. A very great loss to McGill and to those of us who were lucky enough to be one of his colleagues and friends"

Professor Michael Bridge

Bill Foster (1943-2021)

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