Ken Kernaghan’s Lightness of Being

As the public administration community in Canada and world-wide mourns the loss of Ken Kernaghan, I’d like to offer some recollections. I first met Ken forty years ago, and we were often in touch since then. We worked particularly closely on two co-authored books, The New Public Organization (with co-author Brian Marson), and Digital State at the Leading Edge (with co-authors David Brown, Perri 6, Nick Bontis, and Fred Thompson). So I knew Ken well as scholar and collaborator.

The strength of Ken’s scholarship was obvious in a number of ways in our collaboration. He had a lively sense of intellectual curiosity that, throughout his life, would lead him into the study of new areas. These included organizational partnerships, digital campaigning, and new technological trends such as the Internet of Things and robot ethics. The interest in technology was somewhat surprising, and therefore particularly impressive, because the techno-enthusiasts tended to be members of much younger generations. Ken’s work was always comprehensive, thoughtful, and imaginative. He was an ideal collaborator.

Ken was also an ideal collaborator for a second reason, identified long ago by IPAC Executive Director Joe Galimberti (of blessed memory). Joe remarked that Ken was one of a handful of scholars who met – usually with considerable time to spare – any deadline. As a collaborator in co-authored work or an editor of two academic journals (Canadian Public Administration and then International Review of Administrative Sciences), he led by example.

The title of this post refers to the face Ken presented to the world. He was calm, unflappable, and possessed of a great sense of humour. He didn’t take himself too seriously and he had an unmistakable generosity of spirit. Someone with Ken’s inner determination and record of accomplishment might have been self-important and overbearing, but Ken wasn’t the least like that. Ken’s lightness of being helped him navigate the rocks of egotism that trouble the waters of academe, and made it easier for him to collaborate with others. Working with Ken made everyone a better scholar and person.

Finally, Ken took family very seriously. He devoted a great deal of time to his own family. Joe Galimberti’s admiration for Ken’s professional punctuality was heightened by his awareness that Ken never neglected his family. My last email exchange with Ken was this past June, when I inquired about his health and mentioned that I would be travelling in Japan for a few weeks with my son Nathaniel. Ken didn’t have much to write about his health, but he did comment on our trip: “Years from now Nathaniel will look back and talk about his great Japan trip with Dad. This news warms my heart since I’ve come to realize more than ever how important family is.”

Ken made a great contribution to the profession of public administration, and he did it his way. But his way was a way that enriched the lives of everyone he met and worked with.

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