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World loses J. Fraser Mustard: leading scholar, champion of early childhood development

Members of the OISE community comment on his deep curiosity and remarkable life…

November 17, 2011

by Jennifer Sipos-Smith and Biljana Cuckovic

Toronto, ON – Dr. J. Fraser Mustard, one of the world’s leading scientists died yesterday. A visionary trans-disciplinary scholar and creator of innovative academic and research networks, he strived for improved outcomes for all young children and families here at home, and around the world. Over the course of his distinguished career, he inspired legions of scholars and educators to follow in his footsteps.
In 1999, his vision was reflected in the report Reversing the Real Brain Drain: Early Years Study, co-chaired with the Honourable Margaret Norrie McCain. Here they insisted that a trans-disciplinary approach is essential to understanding the interdependence among biological, environmental and contextual variables in early child development and the development of health and wellbeing across the lifespan. This ground-breaking work transformed the way people think about early child development and education around the world.
According to Professor Charles Pascal, founding director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation and early learning advisor to the Premier of Ontario, “Fraser was a friend and mentor for over 30 years. He was unrelenting in advocating for proper investments in child development. He more than anyone on the planet, was the pre-eminent scientist who translated the evidence into action…when someone with political power once balked at investing in early child development, Fraser mused ‘there's someone whose childhood didn't go as well as he thinks it did’. He was the giant upon whose shoulders so many of us stood....and will continue to stand.”  
Many at OISE had the privilege of knowing and working with Fraser Mustard over the years. “He was a truly remarkable person and a mentor to me and many, many others. He believed in the importance of education from the beginning of life and extending beyond the traditional silos,” said Professor Carl Corter.
In 2002, Dr. Mustard set up the Council for Early Child Development and Parenting and continued to advocate nationally and internationally for the importance of early brain development for health, behaviour, learning, and quality of life. “His work has excited leaders from across political parties and from academia to the business world, inspiring the University of Toronto’s new Institute for Human Development. He was a remarkable mind and a towering human being. We will miss him terribly,” said Jan Pelletier, director of OISE’s Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study.
His excitement about the Institute for Human Development was infectious. “When I met with Dr. Mustard last month we talked about his career and especially about all of the positive developments for children and families that followed the publication of the Early Years Study with Margaret McCain in 1999. I thanked him for the huge role he played in bringing the importance of the early years and early childhood education into the public consciousness. We spoke of his aspirations for the future and he expressed his high hopes for the University of Toronto’s Institute for Human Development and what it could mean for the future of children, families and communities here and around the world. He asked me to ensure the work we do at OISE in human development and education would always remain at the heart of the work of that Institute. I promised him that it would,” Dean Julia O’Sullivan said.
Friends are invited to gather for a celebration of Fraser's life in the Great Hall, Hart House, University of Toronto, on Friday, November 25 at 1 p.m.