Manitoba

'Pretty impressive guy': Former head of Workers Compensation Board dies

Wally Fox-Decent, described as the “go-to guy” for settling labour disputes, mediated more than 120 public and private labour disagreements, from symphony workers, to city employees, to sugar workers. He also headed task forces in the Meech Lake and Charlottetown conferences. 

Wally Fox-Decent mediated more than 120 public and private labour disagreements

Wally Fox-Decent was the longtime head of Manitoba's Workers Compensation Board. (CBC)

A man described as the "go-to guy" for settling labour disputes in Manitoba has died.

Wally Fox-Decent mediated more than 120 public and private labour disagreements, from symphony workers, to city employees, to sugar workers. Fox-Decent was also tapped by the province to handle public task forces on constitutional matters for the Meech Lake conference in the late 1980s, then again in the early 1990s for the Charlottetown conference. 

Don Leitch, who worked with Fox-Decent as the clerk of the province's executive council, told the CBC that the man had an uncanny ability to bring people together.

"He had a way of dealing with both sides, seeing their perspectives and finding a middle path that they can subscribe to," Leitch said.

"He was always down-the-middle, straightforward, listened to all perspectives and engaged in discussion. It was almost professorial, trying to get the best and the most out of everybody who was there."

Leitch added that nobody wanted to be the party that could not come to an agreement with Fox-Decent as the mediator, "and he played on that."

Elevated to rank of rear admiral

Fox-Decent was born in Winnipeg on July 22, 1937, and grew up in Winnipeg's West End. He went to high school at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute, where he was elected class president every year he attended.

In 1954, Fox-Decent enrolled in the Naval Reserve aboard the HMCS Chippawa in Winnipeg, where he became the Chippawa's commanding officer, then later rose to the rank of rear admiral.

Leitch described Fox-Decent as "a hulking, big guy," whose presence was felt as soon as he walked into a room.

"You can imagine he's a pretty impressive guy when he's decked out in his naval whites."

In 1962, while still serving with the navy, Fox-Decent became a professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, where he would teach for 33 years. This is where Leitch said he first met Fox-Decent, as a student in a political science class.

Fox-Decent reached the top position of Chief of Reserves and Cadets in 1987, and became the first Canadian to become chair of the NATO Chief of Reserves Committee the following year.

"He dealt with world leaders who were (at NATO briefings)," Leitch said. 

He later held the position of CEO and chair of the Workers Compensation Board from 1992 to 2005.

Fox-Decent was recognized by appointments to the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba.

In 2009, Fox-Decent and his wife Joan moved to Montreal, where they lived together until Joan died in 2014.

Fox-Decent died Sept. 5, 2019. He was 83 years old.

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