Alex Hickman remembered for 'remarkable legacy', likeable personality

T. Alexander Hickman, a politician and judge who oversaw a royal commission into the sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig as well as an investigation into the Donald Marshall case in Nova Scotia, has died. He was 90.

Former judge, politician dead at 90

Alex Hickman, who is dead at 90, had a lengthy career in politics and the judiciary. (Sandy Hickman/Twitter)

T. Alexander Hickman, a politician and judge who oversaw a royal commission into the sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig as well as a separate investigation into the Donald Marshall case in Nova Scotia, has died. He was 90.

"Remembering my father, Alex Hickman. I have no words," his son, St. John's city councillor Sandy Hickman, said on Twitter Monday.

A native of Grand Bank on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula, Hickman scaled the top of both the political and legal ladders.

He served as a senior cabinet minister in the Progressive Conservative government of Frank Moores, holding posts in finance, health, justice and other portfolios. First elected as a Liberal, he held a seat in the House of Assembly for 13 years.

In 1979, he was appointed to the Newfoundland Supreme Court, where he served as chief justice of the trial division. 

"Losing someone of his stature is a great blow to the legal community and to the province as a whole," said Andrew Parsons, minister of justice and public safety.

"He will be greatly missed and I offer my condolences to his family and friends."

'Remarkable legacy'

Alex Hickman presided over two royal commissions, which colleagues say will be a big part of his legacy. (CBC)

Hickman oversaw a royal commission into the 1982 sinking of the Ocean Ranger drilling rig, in which all 84 men aboard died. The commission took a critical look at occupational health and safety in the then-new offshore oil industry.

"He used the opportunity to make far-reaching recommendations that have immeasurably improved the safety of offshore workers," said Opposition Leader Paul Davis. 

"That is just a part of his remarkable legacy,"  said Davis, adding that Hickman also took the lead in revising and restructuring the court system in Newfoundland and Labrador, introducing one of the first Unified Family Courts in Canada.

In 1989, Hickman completed another royal commission in Nova Scotia, looking at the wrongful murder conviction of Donald Marshall, Jr., a Mi'kmaq man who spent 11 years behind bars before being acquitted.

'A joy to be with'

Former Lieutenant Governor Ed Roberts, who was elected with Hickman in 1966 as part of the Smallwood Liberal government, also worked with Hickman at the same law firm.

"He was an immensely likeable, pleasant man, a joy to be with. He had an absolutely fabulous memory," said Roberts.

Clyde Wells, who served with Hickman in the legislature and in the law courts, described him as a pleasure to be around. (CBC)

"He remembered with stunning clarity events that occurred years and years and years ago."

He said chairing the two public inquiries was Hickman's biggest accomplishment.

"In their different ways, they were both immensely influential," said Roberts.

"He knew how to bring people to a common cause and get them to work together."

Former premier Clyde Wells served in cabinet with Hickman, and worked together as chief justices.

"He was never nasty or mean," said Wells. "He was great to work with."

He said Hickman gave more than 60 years of his life to public service.

"His contribution to public life would have to be his major feature, but on a personal basis, he was very knowledgeable about Newfoundland, about the people of Newfoundland," said Wells.

"He had a great feeling for it and loved talking about it, loved telling stories about different parts of the province."

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