In Memoriam: Jim Delaney
A trusted adviser to students and U of T presidents, this staff member was also open about his mental health challenges
By Paul Fraumeni
Jim Delaney loved playing drums. Photo: Courtesy of Deborah Coombs
He was a student leader at University College who turned that passion into an award-winning, 26-year career in student affairs at the University of Toronto. And when not at work, he was a classic rock aficionado and drummer who was thrilled when his two sons took up his love of music and made Q107 the station of choice in the family car.
Jim Delaney (BSc 1985) died at age 52 on Aug. 30 in the Toronto home he shared with his wife, Deborah Coombs, and their sons Nicholas, 21, and Michael, 10.
“People loved Jim’s authenticity,” says Sheree Drummond, secretary of U of T’s Governing Council and a longtime colleague. “He was a trusted senior adviser to our presidents, governors, faculty and staff. He played a special role with hundreds of students. They saw him as their guy on the inside and never hesitated to consult with him.”
“Jim had a remarkable ability to bring people together,” says Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice president, research and innovation – who was provost when Delaney worked in student affairs. “Whenever there was an issue where two sides were at odds, Jim would find a way to help everyone resolve their differences. People trusted him.”
Delaney extended his expertise in student affairs to the national level, serving as president of the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services. More than 150 people, including student affairs leaders from universities across Canada, attended a Sept. 17 memorial service. Delaney also later served as an assistant secretary of Governing Council and as adviser to the chief administrative officer at U of T Scarborough.
Delaney lived with a bipolar condition but, true to his nature, was open about his experiences. “He wanted to reduce the stigma that too often comes with mental health challenges,” says his wife, Deborah. Drummond agrees. “He never shied away from speaking about his struggles and, in doing so, he enabled countless others to be open about their challenges.”
He used his love of rock music and drumming to help him manage his condition. Friends delighted in seeing Delaney perform in Toronto clubs through League of Rock, a program that enables amateur musicians to play in bands. “I met Jim through his love of music,” says League of Rock founder Terry Moshenberg. “Each band he was in was that much better with Jim behind the drums. He was a good musician, but more importantly, he was a great bandmate and friend.”
The university is honouring Delaney with the dedication of the Jim Delaney Room in the Sussex Clubhouse on the St. George campus.