Memorable Manitobans: Russell John “Russ” Doern (1935-1987)
Educator, MLA (1966-1969), MLA (1969-1973), MLA (1973-1977), MLA (1977-1981), MLA (1982-1986).
Born at Winnipeg on 20 October 1935, son of Karl John Doern (1906-2001) and Ruby Henne (1915-1951), he was educated at Isaac Newton High School, United College, and the University of Manitoba. In 1955 he came second in Canada in the shot put and discus at the Junior Canadian Track and Field Competitions. From 1959 to 1966, he taught English and history at various Winnipeg high schools.
In 1966, he was first elected to the Manitoba legislature as an NDP member for Elmwood, being re-elected in 1969, 1973, 1977, and 1981. In the House he served as Deputy Speaker 1969-1970, and he served as Minister Without Portfolio (1970-1972) and Minister of Public Works (1972-1977). He resigned from the Pawley NDP government in 1984 over his disagreement with the party’s language policy and was defeated when he ran as an Independent in the 1986 general election. He then ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Winnipeg.
Doern published two books: Wednesdays are Cabinet Days: A Personal History of the Schreyer Administration (1981) and The Battle over Bilingualism: The Manitoba Language Question 1983-1985 (1985). Following his retirement from politics, he hosted a public affairs program on a local television station and wrote a weekly column for several rural newspapers. In 1977, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in recognition of his community service.
He was married twice, first on 10 April 1971 to Patricia Sara Anderson Kirby. They had a daughter before divorcing. He later married Phyllis Thomson from whom he was divorced at the time of his death.
Allegedly distraught over his political failures, Doern committed suicide near Emerson on 19 February 1987. He was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery. His papers (1965-1986) are at the Archives of Manitoba.
“Doern - Kirby,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 May 1971, page 26.
“Doern found dead near Emerson farm,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 February 1987, page 1.
“‘Heart-broken’ Doern mourned by many,” Winnipeg Free Press, 21 February 1987, page 2.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 22 February 1987, page 22.
Obituary [Karl John Doern], Winnipeg Free Press, 26 May 2001.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough and Oliver Bernuetz (Legislative Library of Manitoba).
Page revised: 3 November 2022