On the evening of Feb. 26, Brig.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie was a guest at a Toronto dinner hosted by the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies to honor Sa Benwang, a visiting scholar from Beijing. Before the supper, MacKenzie told Alex Morrison, the institute’s executive director and his longtime personal friend, that he would not be part of the 1,200-member Canadian contingent being sent by the United Nations to war-tom Yugoslavia. Instead, the veteran peacekeeper, then the Toronto-based deputy commander of all troops stationed in Ontario, was expecting to move to Ottawa in the summer to assume a new posting at National Defence Headquarters. But about halfway through the meal, the general left the room to take an important telephone call. After a few minutes, he returned, walked up to his old buddy Morrison and discreetly whispered in his ear, “I’m now going to Yugoslavia.”
Surprise: Just four days later, MacKenzie left Canada to serve as chief of staff for the 14,000member United Nations Protection Force in Yugoslavia—a position that would thrust him into the international spotlight. The unexpected orders clearly caught the general and his family by surprise, but for his many friends and military colleagues, who refer to him as “Lew,” it was not at all unexpected. Those who know MacKenzie well say that he is a natural leader, a good-humored professional soldier who not only commands the fierce loyalty and respect of his men, but also displays an uncanny ability to mediate disputes under the most dangerous conditions.
In a brilliant 32-year career with the Canadian Forces, MacKenzie has served in eight previous peacekeeping missions including tours of duty in the Gaza Strip, Cyprus, Vietnam, Egypt and Central America. And he has studied his craft at the Canadian Land Forces Command and Staff College in Kingston, Ont., the NATO Defence College in Rome and the United States Army War College in Carlisle,
Pa. “He was whipped away rather suddenly
because of his great experience,” said Maj.Gen. Nick Hall, commander of Land Force Central Area in Toronto and MacKenzie’s direct superior before he left for Yugoslavia. “He is probably the most experienced peacekeeper that Canada has, so he was the logical choice for the job.” Added Chief of Defence Staff John de Chastelain: “He has a great deal of intelligence and personal courage, and he is trained for war. He knows the limitations of weaponry and of his men.”
Last week, as the 52-year-old MacKenzie watched French Hercules transport planes
land with their cargoes of relief supplies at Butmir airport outside the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, he acknowledged that despite his past peacekeeping experience, his current assignment is definitely more challenging than any previous posting. “If you take all of those missions and multiply by a factor of 10, it’s still not as difficult as this one,” he told Maclean’s. “It’s just so unpredictable—so much hatred, so much history involved, such a complex political situation.”
Shots: As dozens of UN soldiers bustled around on the tarmac, littered with broken glass and spent artillery shells, shots regularly rang out from behind the airport’s terminal building. But MacKenzie, promoted last month to the rank of major-general after five years as a brigadier, appeared completely unruffled, demonstrating the calm in the face of adversity for which he is legendary. Said Shashi Tharoor, who speaks to MacKenzie every day from UN headquarters in New York City in his capacity as special assistant to undersecretary general
for peacekeeping operations Marrack Goulding: “He makes no secret of the fact that he would rather be dodging bullets in Sarajevo than files in Ottawa.”
From an early age, MacKenzie showed outstanding potential. He was bom on April 30, 1940, in Princeport, N.S., a picturesque village of about 100 people on the Shubenacadie River, 15 km west of Truro. Katheryn Chisholm, MacKenzie’s 58-year-old sister who now lives in the nearby community of Old Bams, says that her brother was “mischievous, smart and stubborn” as a child. He got his early education in a one-room schoolhouse in Princeport, and excelled at both academics and sports. “Everything he did he did well,” said Chisholm. “He really didn’t have to work very hard at it.”
Star: MacKenzie’s father, Regimental Sgt. Maj. Eugene (Connie) MacKenzie, was a career soldier and a veteran of the Second World War. He took his wife, Shirley, and their two children to Chilliwack, B.C., on a transfer in 1952. The same year, 12-year-old Lewis joined the army cadets, beginning his long involvement with the military. Just four years later, the family was transferred again, to Sydney, N.S., and MacKenzie finished his high-school studies at Sydney Academy. There, he met lifelong friends Ian Macintyre, Gerald MacNeil and Fraser Webb. According to all three men, MacKenzie demonstrated instinctive leadership skills, a keen sense of humor and natural athletic ability, distinguishing himself as a track-and-field runner and star basketball forward. “Lew gave 100 per cent to everything he did,” said MacNeil, who played with him on the basketball team. “He was probably one of the most popular guys at school.” Added Webb: “He was a tremendous, outgoing guy.”
After graduating from high school, MacKenzie enrolled at Sydney’s Xavier Junior College. At the start of the academic year he joined the Canadian Officer Training Corps, where he met Morrison, quickly adding him to his closely knit group of friends. The young gang would go together to dances and parties, and got into all sorts of good-natured mischief. Said Macintyre: “To say that every weekend was an adventure in the 1950s when you hung around with guys like MacKenzie would be a gross understatement.” Macintyre recalled one night in particular when the young men, after downing “a few beers,” hoped to see the first Soviet sputnik satellite that had been launched earlier that day into orbit. The spunky MacKenzie bravely climbed to the top of the local television tower to get a better
Macintyre also recalled that as a youth, MacKenzie demonstrated another of his lifelong passions: a love of fast cars. Nicknamed “the Racing General,” MacKenzie now drives
a Formula Ford competitively during his spare time, negotiating hairpin turns at high speeds. But, as Macintyre recalls, “Lew did his novitiate on the narrow streets of Sydney, Cape Breton.” The young daredevils would pile into MacKenzie’s father’s Vauxhall and, with MacKenzie at the wheel, race around town, limiting their high-speed antics, according to Macintyre, to “stretches where if we wiped out it would be only us that got hurt.”
After graduating from the college’s twoyear program in 1960, MacKenzie was planning to finish his studies at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. But instead, he got a chance for direct entry as an officer into the Canadian armed forces. “Lew wanted to get into into the army the fastest way he could, so he took that route,” said Macintyre. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, he served as a platoon commander and intelligence officer in Calgary
and Germany. According to retired Maj.-Gen. Robert Stewart, who met MacKenzie around that time, the young officer’s leadership abilities were apparent from the start. Said Stewart: “He was fairly prominent as a young officer, a very personable and adventurous sort of guy.”
Whirlwind: In 1963, MacKenzie had his first taste of peacekeeping, serving with the UN Emergency Force in the Gaza Strip. Two years later, he was a platoon commander with the United Nations in Cyprus, returning to Canada in 1966. After a whirlwind courtship that began at a Toronto roller-skating rink, MacKenzie, then 26, married 19-year-old Dora McKinnon of Baysville, Ont., in 1967. The day after the wedding, they left for Germany, where MacKenzie served on a two-year exchange program with the British military—the first of a long series of relocations for his army wife. Said Dora MacKenzie, who recently had to
manage the couple’s move to a threestorey redbrick home in a fashionable Ottawa neighborhood: “With this kind of life—and especially life with Lew— you have to adjust quickly.”
The MacKenzies’ only child, daughter Kimm, was bom while they were in Germany. Now 24, Kimm MacKenzie said that while she was growing up, her father “was not a drill sergeant or anything like that,” but that he was strict to a point. “He pushed me big time in the things that I did to make sure that I did them well,” she added. “He was very inspirational and gave me initiative and drive.”
Team: After a year of advanced strategic and tactical studies at the staff college in Kingston beginning in 1969, MacKenzie served a second time in Cyprus as operations officer with First Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. And in 1973, he was a team commander with the International Commission for Control and Supervision in Vietnam. There, his deputy was Col. William (Bill) Minnis, who is still MacKenzie’s close friend and is now Canada’s military attaché in Tel Aviv. Minnis remembers MacKenzie as a master conciliator in Southeast Asia, deftly negotiating with the North Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese, the Vietcong and countless other parties purporting to represent political commissars and military officers.
And Minnis, who later served with MacKenzie in Cyprus, in 1978, says that the general embodies all of the qualities of the quintessential UN soldier. “If you don’t have the toughness and the resolve and you have not earned the respect of those with whom you are negotiating, you won’t be successful as a peacekeeper,” said u Minnis. “He has it in spades.”
While Kimm MacKenzie says that she and her mother are obviously concerned about the dangers of her father’s current mission in Sarajevo, it does not seem to worry her unduly. “He is a soldier’s soldier,” she said from her home in Oromocto, N.B. “I have a lot of confidence in dad. It’s like nothing can touch him.” MacKenzie himself is clearly more worried about his men and the suffering of innocent civilians than he is about his own safety. In a recent letter congratulating his nine-year-old niece, Patricia Van Sters of Baysville, on her successful completion of Grade 5, MacKenzie wrote: “All of the children in Sarajevo cannot go to school because all the buildings have been destroyed.” He added: “We are lucky to be Canadians because we do not have to worry about war.”
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