The passing of telecommunications pioneer James Arthur Talbot


James Arthur Talbot

For historian Mary Louise McCarthy-Brandt, it is tough to encapsulate the legacy of James (Skip) Arthur Talbot, who died on April 13.

“He was a legend,” said McCarthy-Brandt.

Known affectionately as Skip, he broke barriers in telecommunication and electronics.

Born in Truro, N.S., in 1932, he spent his youth in Saint John and graduated from Saint John Vocational School in 1952. Shortly after, he became the first Black bilingual radio operator for Transport Canada. He later worked as an electronics technician.

He would go on to work across the country at airports in Dorval and Sept-Îles, Que., and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., before retiring in Moncton in 1989. He later returned temporarily as a consultant for Transport Canada.

“He is a man full of knowledge and he was a leader, a teacher … but most of all, he was a very proud Black man whose roots go back to Elm Hill, New Brunswick,” said McCarthy-Brandt.

Those were roots Talbot never forgot, as he dedicated his life to community work and each year he would organize an annual picnic at Elm Hill, near Gagetown N.B. It is one of Canada’s earliest Black settlements.

Talbot championed social justice, particularly around immigration and anti-racism initiatives.

James Arthur Talbot

He contributed to various organizations to address equity such as the RCMP’S Commissioner’s Advisory Committee for multiculturalism, New Brunswick Multicultural Council Advisory Committee; Multi-Cultural Association of Greater Moncton Area, Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education and the Moncton Press Club.

McCarthy-Brandt also recalls a speech he gave in front of Fredericton City Hall on Emancipation Day.

“He talked about diversity and he talked about the grass we walk on being diverse. The birds that fly in the sky are diverse. The plants are diverse … so why are we not embracing the diversity of humans?” said McCarthy-Brandt. “We are all unique and we are all precious.”

McCarthy-Brandt said she has a past family connection to Talbot.

“He knew the McCarthys and I was thrilled to think that maybe I might even share DNA with this beautiful, learned man. I then went back and asked my family and they said yes.”

It is this connection that McCarthy-Brandt cherishes as she said: “In the African proverb tradition, it says, when an elder dies, it’s like a library burning to the ground.”