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Oldest living Chief of the Defence Staff passes away

Over the Christmas holidays, the Canadian Armed Forces lost the oldest living Chief of the Defence Staff General (ret’d) Ramsey Muir Withers.

Withers passed away at his home in Kanata on December 24 at the age of 84 with his funeral taking place on January 10 at Beechwood National Military Cemetary.

General Withers was born in Scarborough, Ontario in 1930 and joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in 1948, when he was 18 years old. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in 1952 upon graduating from the Royal Military College of Canada.

“It is with great sadness and a sense of loss that we marked the passing of a former Chief of the Defence Staff General Ramsey Withers. He was an outstanding Canadian who proudly served his country with distinction throughout his 35 years in uniform. On behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces, I extend my sincere condolences to the Withers family during this difficult time,” said General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff.

General Withers served as a signals officer in the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment during the Korean War from 1952 to 1953, became the first commander of the Northern Region Headquarters in Yellowknife in 1970, commanded Canadian Forces Europe, following his promotion to lieutenant-general in 1977 he served as Vice Chief of the Defence Staff. His 35 year long military career culminated in his selection as Canada’s 6th Chief of the Defence Staff in 1980.

Following his retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces in 1983, General Withers continued to serve his country as Deputy Minister of Transport, during which time he was awarded the Commissioner’s Award of the Northwest Territories and the Outstanding Achievement Award of the Public Service of Canada.

Withers then worked in government relations and later served as director of an aerospace technology company, consultant to the Office of the Auditor General, and Chairman of the Industry Government Relations Group.

Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole was saddened by the loss of General Ramsey Withers, but said Canadians could gain comfort in the tremendous legacy General Withers left Canada.

“From his heroism in the Korean War, his leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces, to the Withers Report that helped define officer training for my generation of military leaders, his tireless efforts over decades of service have left a profound impact on our country. I offer my deepest sympathies to General Withers’ family and friends,” said Minister O’Toole.

General Withers earned university degrees from the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, certification as a Professional Engineer and was an honorary graduate of the National Defence College and the NATO Defense College. He held two Doctorates (honoris causa) of Engineering and Military Science, and was a Fellow of Georgian College.

Withers received many awards including the 1995 Queen’s University Alumni Achievement Award, the 1996 Bi-Centennial Award of Merit from the City of Scarborough, and the Queen’s Silver and Golden Jubilee Medals. In 2013, the Editorial Board of the Board of Governors of the Branch History Project, led by General Withers, received the Communications and Electronics Branch Colonel-in-Chief Commendation and Medallion serial #2, presented by HRH The Princess Royal, Princess Anne.

General Withers was an active volunteer throughout Ottawa. In addition to chairing a committee that reviewed the undergraduate program at the Royal Military College of Canada (which culminated in the 1998 Withers Report), he served as Chairman of the Canadian War Museum Committee from 1988 to 1995. He also dedicated his time to volunteer activities at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and he was an active volunteer at the Canadian War Museum, serving as an interpreter up to the week of his passing.

He served from 1977 to 1990 on the National Council of Scouts Canada, for which he was awarded the Silver Wolf. He was Director of the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) Institute and Honorary President of the Royal Military Colleges Club of Canada.

“General Ramsey Withers served his country with honour and distinction, and his impeccable legacy will remain in the Canadian Armed Forces as well as all of the organizations with whom he volunteered his time, for many years to come. I wish to extend my deepest condolences to General Withers’ family,” said Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson.

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Vicki L Morrison

Thanks to her husband's military career Vicki reinvented herself as a writer so she could work from home, while taking care of their three kids. A former MFRC executive director Vicki is a passionate advocate for military families who loves telling their stories.

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