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Remembering Isabel Crook Vic 3T6, Renowned Educator and Anthropologist

Aug. 29, 2023
 A grayscale photograph featuring a youthful Isabel Crook.

(Photo via the Crook family)

Victoria University in the University of Toronto joins academic and international communities in mourning Isabel Crook Vic 3T6, who died in hospital on August 20 at age 107 and was one of the oldest-known Vic graduates. Born in Chengdu, China in 1915 to Canadian missionaries, Ms. Crook was a famed educator, activist and anthropologist who became one of China’s “most celebrated foreign residents,” writes the New York Times

Ms. Crook “led one of the most extraordinary lives of the 20th century, working tirelessly to improve the lives of China’s rural poor and to document their struggle for land reform,” writes the Australian newspaper. In 2019, she was presented with that country’s Medal of Friendship by China’s president Xi Jinping. Awarded only eight times, the medal is “reserved for foreigners who have made contributions to China’s socialist modernization and promoted co-operation with other countries,” writes the Telegraph
Isabel Brown, as she was known before marrying David Crook, was a third-generation Victoria College student: her grandfather, mother, and father had all attended Victoria College, as did her two sisters. Graduating from Vic in 1936, she went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in child psychology and anthropology from the University of Toronto, before eventually returning to China. 

Isabel Crook receiving a U of T medal, an honor bestowed upon students who graduated 75 years earlier. The medal is presented by Paul Gooch.

Isabel Crook receives a U of T medal, awarded to students who graduated 75 years previously, from Professor Paul Gooch. (Courtesy of Li-Ping Geng)

Back east, “Isabel and David did anthropological research on the social reconstruction of Chinese villages near the Tibet border,” recalls former Victoria University president Paul Gooch. “She told me she discovered that in these small communities, salt cost three times what it did in the city. She formed women’s co-operatives to help right this economic injustice.” 
Ms. Crook was also a permanent member of Victoria University’s Chancellor’s Council, a recognition for people who have contributed significantly to the University. In 2008, Victoria University brought Ms. Crook to Toronto to award her an honorary degree for her work as a founder, and teacher, at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “The students Isabel instructed in English became diplomats around the world,” says Professor Gooch. “In fact, China’s consul in Toronto at the time had once been her pupil!”

Isabel Crook seated amongst a group of exchange students from Victoria College in China during the year 2010.

Isabel Crook visits with exchange students from Victoria College in China in 2010. (Courtesy of Li-Ping Geng)

In 2010, Professor Gooch travelled to China to establish an exchange program between Victoria University and Beijing Foreign Languages School for students in the Victoria College/OISE Concurrent Teacher Education Program. The agreement between the two schools grew out of the Isabel Crook Student Exchange, established in 2009. In 2014, Professor Gooch established a scholarship in the name of Isabel Crook, “awarded to a Victoria College student achieving excellence in their studies, with preference given to a student with an academic connection to China, including previous studies or participation in an exchange.” 

An elderly Isabel Crook stands proudly alongside a group of individuals in front of a striking red banner. The banner prominently displays the text: 'The Signing Ceremony for the Student Exchange Agreement between Beijing Foreign Studies University and University of Toronto and Victoria University in the University of Toronto.' The group appears engaged and united, representing a significant moment in international academic collaboration.

(Courtesy of Li-Ping Geng)

The Victoria University community extends its deep condolences to Ms. Crook’s family and loved ones, and to the many people whose lives she touched over the course of her long and remarkable career.

Read more reflections on Isabel Crook’s storied life:

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