B.C. political pundit and beloved professor Norman Ruff dies at 78

A well-respected political scientist known for his astute observations of British Columbia politics passed away this weekend.

University of Victoria professor was known for his well-informed commentary and quick wit

Professor Norman Ruff, well-respected for his political insight, is interviewed here by the CBC on April 19, 2009. (CBC)

Political scientist Norman Ruff, well-respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of British Columbian political history and an uncanny ability to distill the political climate of the day to a succinct one-liner, passed away this weekend at the age of 78.

Ruff joined the University of Victoria's department of political science as professor in July 1969 after obtaining a PhD from McGill.

His philosophy towards teaching was to make it as active as possible, taking his students into the halls of government and political party events.

Colin Hansen, a former deputy premier and finance minister, was taught by Ruff in the 1970s.

"He had a practical hands-on experience in B.C. politics and he made a point of going out to all of the political party conventions and talking with people who are actively involved in the political process," he said.

"He was a fabulous professor and he was somebody that had the respect of every single one of his students."

But Ruff made it a point to take his desire to educate beyond his students, taking on the role of political commentator.  He even hosted a weekly radio show, "In the Ruff," for a time on CKNW Radio in Vancouver.

The perfect quip

It was his role as prominent public intellectual that Ruff was well known for, particularly by B.C.'s political journalist class.

Les Leyne, who has worked in the Victoria Times-Colonist's legislative bureau since 1985, said Ruff had a much-revered skill: the ability to deliver the perfect quip. 

"When you're writing a certain kind of story, you can't say what you think is happening yourself — it's against the conventions of journalism — and Norman had this absolute gift for discerning exactly what you needed, what the shape of the hole was in your story and he'd fill in instantly," he laughed.

On a personal level, Leyne added, Ruff gave generously of his time and knowledge.

"I phoned Norman off and on for 30 years and he never once missed a call. He'd pick up the phone instantly," he said.

"He was always on standby for me and a generation of other reporters. We're immensely grateful for those skills that he had."

A rich legacy

That generosity was also evident after Ruff retired as professor in 2005. After stepping down, he continued to mentor students within the political science department as an associate professor emeritus.

University of Victoria President Jamie Cassels called Ruff an inspiration to generations of scholars, noting many of them ended up serving in politics or government.

"Perhaps the greatest tribute to Dr. Ruff is that many of his students graduated and went on to prominence, building meaningful and influential careers in public service and politics," he said.

"He will long be remembered and missed by UVic and the greater community."

With files from All Points West