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Ronald St. John Macdonald was an internationally recognized legal scholar and jurist. He was born 20 August 1928 in Montreal, the son of Col. Ronald St. John Macdonald and Elizabeth Marie (Smith) Macdonald. After finishing his secondary education, he served with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve until his discharge in 1946 as a sub-lieutenant. He earned a BA from St. Francis Xavier University in 1949 and an LLB in 1952 from Dalhousie University. He furthered his legal education at the University of London (LLM, 1954) and Harvard Law School (LLM, 1955). From 1955-1957 he lectured in law at Osgoode Hall (York University), then moved to the University of Western Ontario from 1959-1961. He was appointed to the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto in 1961, and served there as Dean of the Law from 1967-1972. From 1972-1979 he was Dean of Law at Dalhousie University Law School, where he taught international law from 1979-1990.
He served as a consultant with the Republic of Cyprus from 1974-1978, and was a Canadian representative to the United Nations General Assembly in 1965, 1966, 1968, 1977 and 1990. From 1980-1998 he was the only non-European judge to sit on the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, and in 1984 he was made a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague. He was appointed an Honorary Professor of Law at Peking University from 1986-1998. Other roles included President of the World Academy of Arts and Science (1983-1986). In 1984 he was made an officer of the Order of Canada and in 2000 a Companion of the Order of Canada. Ronald St. John Macdonald died 7 September 2006 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is buried in the family plot in the St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church parish cemetery in Lismore, Pictou County.