CDS & His Connection With the Peninsula
12192 T.J. (Tom) Lawson was recently appointed as Canada’s next Chief of the Defense Staff. Gen Lawson entered Royal Military College of Canada in 1975, served as the Cadet Wing Commander from 1978-79, and graduated in 1979 with an Electrical Engineering Degree. He returned in 1985 to complete a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and then served as a lecturer on the Electrical Engineering staff.
The former fighter pilot returned, once again and served as XLII Commandant from 2007 to 2009, and also taught in the Engineering Department. Imagine being a cadet and having the commandant as one of your profs.
e-Veritas contacted former classmates of the General and other ex-Cadets from various vintages to get their response to his appointment.
What others are saying…
“On Tuesday evening, 28 August, I was sitting in the lobby of a Toronto hotel, casually glancing at a TV monitor showing images of the evening news while I waited for a colleague to join me for dinner. Something caught my eye on the scroll bar that was panning across the bottom of the screen that caused me to focus in: “LGen Tom Lawson named Canada’s top general.” This happy announcement caught me by surprise. We had been expecting a change of CDS this summer but the short list of eligible candidates was long and one could only guess at which service and which person was going to get the nod from the government.
You see, Tom Lawson and I had flown fighters together in Germany some 30+ years ago during the waning days of the service life of the CF-104 Starfighter. He was a first-tour pilot on 421 Sqn. and I was a somewhat longer-in-the-tooth CO of 441 Sqn. Those two squadrons occupied different halves of the same ops building at CFB Baden Soellingen and, despite the ever-present, inter-squadron rivalry, there was a special bond between us “old boys” from RMC in a fighter-pilot community where ex-cadets were very much in the minority. Tom always stood out from the crowd by virtue of his enthusiastic team spirit, his ready smile, and that air about him that made it clear that he had everything firmly under control.
Tom and I went our separate ways after those tours but, as military people so often do, we would continue to bump into each other in the years that followed. We always shared the good vibrations and fond memories of the glory days flying jets together — very low and very fast — as part of Canada’s NATO contingent during the Cold War. Indeed, he and I had occasion to do some official business together many years later after I had retired from the Air Force and which included a lengthy interview session in the Commandant’s office, right here at RMC.
I am absolutely delighted with Tom’s appointment as CDS as are, I am sure, virtually all Canadians. He is definitely the right man for the job at this important time in our history. I know he will discharge his new and challenging responsibilities with competence and aplomb and will make us proud as cadets, ex-cadets and, indeed, all members of the Canadian Forces’ family – prospective, serving and retired.”
7264 Col (ret’d) K. Ross Betts
“I have known Gen Lawson since 1975 when he arrived as a recruit to RMCC. He was a precocious young man, who already was demonstrating a high level of initiative. I had the honour of being appointed CWC for my final year (in those days our bar appointments lasted the whole year) and at one point if, I remember correctly, I “awarded” him 5 circles, I think for stepping between the salad table and the Wing HQ table…He went on to be the CWC of his class, so obviously he did not get into any more “trouble”. I then ran into Gen Lawson many times over our careers; he commanded 412 Squadron which flew the Challenger jets in support of VIPs in Ottawa and I had occasion to work with him then, and of course, when I arrived as Academic Director of RMC Saint-Jean in Dec 2007, he had been Commandant of RMCC since the summer. He was an excellent Commandant, who even taught in the Elec Engr Dept at one point…how would YOU like to have the Commandant be one of your professors? A great choice for this gentleman to be our CDS, and my wife Barbara and I wish him and his wife Kelly the best in this challenging appointment.”
10966 LGen (ret) Michel Maisonneuve, Class of ’76
“My long and valued relationship with Gen Lawson began in August 1975, when we were both assigned to the same rook flight in 2 Squadron; his door was 2 down from mine in Fort Lasalle. His leadership and engaging personality were evident even then, as we plotted and executed some of the more visible and (to us) memorable skylarks, including the one that resulted in the 2 squadron flag flying over Mackenzie for a week. Within 4 years, Gen Lawson was at the helm of the wing as the Cadet Wing Commander, and I found myself as his right-hand man. The experiences I gained in this leadership position, both from observing Tom in action and from doing my part to meet his expectations, proved invaluable throughout the remainder of my career.
As a fellow fighter pilot and friend, I have kept closely in touch with Gen Lawson over the ensuing years, and have shared many an hour discussing the way of the world and the meaning of life with him. On the eve of retirement, I was extremely happy to find that I would once again be serving in a key subordinate position to Gen Lawson, then Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, for the final year of my service. Once again I marvelled at his leadership abilities, and continued to learn from him as we shaped the issues and prepared the ground for the success of our Commander and the Air Force in general.
I was both excited and extremely pleased to learn that the Prime Minister had also recognized the extraordinary talents of Gen Lawson, and had selected him to assume Command of the entire Canadian Forces. While there will certainly be no shortage of challenges in the years to come, I know from my direct personal experiences that Gen Lawson is perfectly suited to lead the team forward.”
12162 BGen (ret) D.A. Davies
“I have known LGen Lawson since we stood opposite each other on day one of Rook Camp in Lasalle in August 1975. He later confided that he was going to try RMC till Christmas and would then decide if he would continue. Obviously he decided to stay and make a career of it.
Tom is an inspiring and innovative leader and it will be interesting to see how he deals with the challenges the CF will face in this age of governmental restraint and cutbacks to the DND budget. By his own admission he told them what he thought during the screening process and did not try to win the appointment by giving them the answers they wanted. The Canadian military will be well served by this appointment.”
12207 Kevin McCarthy
“My friendship with General Lawson goes back to our RMC rook days when he arrived in Kingston with a pretty good 70’s hairdo. After RMC we were both posted to Germany to fly CF104s where I witnessed his professionalism and drive to the Forces and his commitment to the people around him. With his calm and personable demeanor, along with his intelligence and dedication, I am not surprised by Tom’s career progression and how he has succeeded in his past appointments. In General Lawson they have found a great leader who is also a loyal friend and the Class of ’79 email traffic over his appointment to CDS supports my rather biased opinion. (In rook camp – who would have thought – Class of ’79 two CDS’s).
The one mistake General Lawson may have made in accepting this position is the negative affect it will probably have on his golf game. However, this is all good news for me as I have the potential of earning $3.25 more a game.”
12240 Jim Sullivan
“As a cadet and grad student, I was around the college for four different commandants, and although I can’t say I had a bad experience with any of them, General Lawson was different from the rest. He really made an effort to connect with cadets and athletes and was a very approachable, great influence around the college. I remember one morning after some pretty intense rugby training getting a personal email from Gen. Lawson saying to keep up the good work, and then when we played at Queen’s, which was never a great experience, he was sitting front row in his college blazer with his dog. At times it’s tough being an athlete at RMC, and he really made our team feel proud to be cadet-athletes.The first thing I did when I found out, was to send a message to Ben Lawson asking him to pass my congratulations on if he wouldn’t mind. I feel like we were really fortunate to have just had Gen. Natynczyk as our CDS, and although my military experience ended when I left the college, it makes me proud that our favourite commandant is the CDS, and I think he’ll do a fantastic job.”
23785 Matthew McLeod – Articling Student – Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP – Toronto
“I was extremely pleased to hear of Lt-Gen Lawson’s promotion. He was the Cmdt of RMC during my fourth year as a cadet. He inspired me to get more out of my RMC experience and get involved in a leadership position. I followed his advice and became a Cadet Squadron Leader and it was one of my best experiences at RMC. I am positive he will be an inspiration to the members of the Canadian Forces. Congratulations Lt-Gen. Lawson!”
23988 Gino Bruni, 2012 graduate from Oxford Law on a Rhodes Scholarship