Remembering Agriculture Leader John Hagarty

Date: February 20, 2024

Author: Rural Ontario Institute

Photo of John "Jack" Hagarty

John “Jack” James Hagarty peacefully passed away at Guelph General Hospital on Monday, February 5, 2024 in his 86th year.

Among his many contributions to communities, Jack is remembered for his inspiring leadership as director at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for which he served over 30 years, and as founding Executive Director of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program (AALP).



"True leaders exhibit commitment, passion, and conviction for their fields of work. They also inspire others and are inspired through others. This was Jack to a ‘T’.  For me, I think of him when I read the last lines of the poem “I Went on A Search to Become a Leader”. It reads… “I lead best when I forget about myself as leader and focus on my group, their needs, and their goals. To lead is to serve, to give, to achieve TOGETHER.” This, in my mind was the essence of Jack Hagarty. Thank you for inspiring me, Jack!"

Hon. Rob Black
Senator (Ontario)

Established in 1984, AALP is an experiential executive leadership program for those wanting to help shape the future of the agriculture and food industry and make a positive difference in rural communities across Ontario. As the first executive director of the AALP program, Jack's leadership and guidance marked the beginning of an incredible journey for over 500 AALP alumni today who serve their communities and lead the future of agriculture. His early direction of the AALP program set the stage as a premier agricultural leadership program just as relevant 40 years later as it was in its inception.

I lost a friend recently

by Hon. Rob Black, Senator (Ontario)

"Years ago, Jack Hagarty was my Branch Director, early in my career with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. I remember buying a ‘package’ at a Branch staff conference once, for the opportunity to spend the ‘day with the Director’. We set the day and I arrived in Guelph to see and experience ‘what a director does’. Jack ensured I got a taste of it from a variety of perspectives. We travelled to a couple of outside meetings. I got to use his ‘car phone’! We met with head office staff, and I learned about things that I didn’t know about as a staff member of the Rural Organizations and Services Branch. It was a good day, and I came away with a new and better understanding of who Jack Hagarty was, what he did and how he did it."

Read more

Times, titles, and roles changed. He retired. I moved on to new opportunities within and outside the Ministry. Jack kept in touch and, when I took over the role as Director of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program (AALP), Jack was right there, encouraging me in this new role. I asked him/ he offered to write a history of AALP because he was there at the beginning and had followed and supported my predecessors and the program through the years. I lugged boxes and boxes to and from his garage in Guelph. A comprehensive history of AALP was written, and it remains a testament to his desire to ensure history and facts are accurate and complete.

Time moves on. We kept in touch as a group of AALP leadership directors and met occasionally for a catch- up. His wife Joan was always included in our times together. There was always lots of laughter and memories of times past, both of the program and our time together with OMAF/ OMAFRA.

Time moves on. I was appointed to the Senate of Canada. It was early in those crazy days after the announcement and appointment that I had a message from Jack Hagarty. In his quiet and unassuming way, he congratulated me and indicated he was proud of this latest accomplishment. Thank you, Jack.

True leaders exhibit commitment, passion, and conviction for their fields of work. They also inspire others and are inspired through others. This was Jack to a ‘T’.  For me, I think of him when I read the last lines of the poem “I Went on A Search to Become a Leader”. It reads… “I lead best when I forget about myself as leader and focus on my group, their needs, and their goals. To lead is to serve, to give, to achieve TOGETHER.” This, in my mind was the essence of Jack Hagarty. Thank you for inspiring me, Jack!

Time moves on. I lost a friend recently.

Early History of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program,

by Jack Hagarty & Patricia Mighton  

AALP was modelled on the sucesses of many international rural and agricultural leadership programs funded by the Kellogg Foundation in the United States. In the early 1980's the Kellogg Foundation expressed interests to expand their impact to other countries, a move that inspired leading founders of AALP to conceptualize a program at home in Ontario.

A number of leaders in Ontario, among them Dr. Clay Switzer, former Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC); Peter Hannam, former President of the Foundation for Learning (FRL); Ken Knox, Ontario Agriculture Hall of Fame inductee; and Lyle Vanclief, who would later serve as Canada’s Federal Minister of Agriculture; took the initiative to craft a proposal. Over 100 members from rural and agricultural organizations in Ontario contributed to the early beginnings of AALP, through the formation of the Rural Agricultural Trust, a collaboration of 4 principal organizations who launched the AALP program in 1984.

A board of directors emerged alongside founding partners Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF), University of Guelph (U of G), Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), and Foundation for Rural Living (FRL), with Jack seconded from OMAF to serve as the first executive director of the program. And so began the first AALP North American Study Tour in the Fall of 1984 with Jack visiting agricultural/rural leadership programs across the USA to gather insight, best practices and shared successes. A tradition that continues today with both North American and International Study Tours woven into the leadership journey that is AALP.


"We missed Jack and Joan at the last few gatherings of our AALP colleagues. We knew he was not well. His death should not have come as a shock. But still, his passing caught us off guard and leaves a void in our hearts."

by Pat Mighton, Ontario Agriculture Hall of Fame Inductee

In the early 1980s Jack was seconded from his position in OMAF to travel across the U.S. learning about the most successful of their agricultural leadership programs. Back home in Guelph he and Doug Pletsch put together a curriculum to meet the needs of leaders in Ontario agriculture. In 1984 the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program (AALP) was announced and recruiting for the first class began. Class One of this innovative new program ran from 1985 to 1987 with Jack as Executive Director and Doug as Curriculum Coordinator.

Part way through Class One Jack had an opportunity to return to a new position in OMAF. He would remain as Executive Director until the completion of Class One, but he needed an assistant. That’s where I came in. Then, at the beginning of Class Two, I was appointed Executive Director. Doug remained as Curriculum Coordinator.

Read more

I knew of Jack’s reputation and what big shoes I would have to fill. I was soon to learn that in Jack and Doug I had the best possible mentors, coaches, cheerleaders and friends to help me grow into the role. I am so thankful for that amazing opportunity.

Very early in my time with OMAF, before AALP, I was at meeting with Jack on a Friday afternoon. I mentioned that our younger daughter was at home getting ready for her high school prom. “Well what are you doing here?” he asked. “Go on home. You should be there helping her.”

Several years later I was lamenting the fact that our older daughter, who was travelling in India, had been away over Christmas, that I had missed her terribly, and that I would give my eye teeth to see her. “What’s stopping you?” asked Jack. Until that moment it had never occurred to me that I might actually go to India. But a few months later there I was, back packing in Kerala with Kathy and her friend.

For me these two memories capture the essence of Jack. Jack was a ‘people person’ – kind and caring and able to bring out the best in each of us. Family came first; he was proud of Joan’s accomplishments and of his four children. He loved his grand and great-grandchildren.

It was a privilege to work with Jack, to learn from him, to call him friend.

Since 1984, Jack's legacy continues to grow in rural communities and the ag-sector with AALP welcoming its 20th Class and celebrating 40 years of making a difference! What an incredible legacy.

Honouring Jack

Colleagues, family and friends share their stories and memories of Jack.

 “Jack gave his passion, skills and his great personality to improve the leadership lives and abilities of many future leaders in our agri-food industry. He will be greatly missed but what he has left behind will be his legacy.”

Hon. Lyle Vanclief

“Jack Hagarty knew how to get things done. With his long successful career with OMAFRA, and his passion for improved adult educational opportunities for farmers and those who are connected to ag, Jack knew what to do and who to talk to, in order to get action started. He was pivotal in building a solid foundation, and for the early success of the AALP program.”

Peter Hannam

“Jack Hagarty was a quintessential public servant.  His career, and life, were given to serving others.  As a dedicated civil servant, Jack progressed from a field crop advisor to a leadership development expert.

Jack was the textbook definition of a servant leader – never seeking the limelight, he worked tirelessly behind the scenes to advance ideas and programs.  This was most evident in his role with the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program, where he focused his full attention on developing the leadership skills of others for the betterment of the agriculture and food industry. 

Jack was a kind man.  He was a good man.  He will be remembered well by all of us whose lives he touched.”

Kenneth (Ken) Knox, Member of the Order of Canada

“Jack’s unassuming and visionary leadership style helped direct OMAFRA towards a new direction – one I remember was not always appreciated by other agricultural colleagues.  But his quiet persistence and ability to surround himself with other good leaders set the stage for a period of strong leadership development in rural Ontario.  This included the establishment of AALP and the foundations for ROI.   He was a great influence in my life and many others.”

Ann Gordon, AALP Class 2 Graduate and AALP Executive Director (1997-2003)

“As a colleague and then Director of Rural Organizations & Services Branch, he provided guidance and leadership in a quiet yet definite style, with moments of humour. We were able to transform our programs to focus on leadership and organization development for youth and adults across Ontario. His contributions with others to create the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program are part of his legacy. His star will shine brightly for many people.”

Lorraine Holding

Jack's influence spanned the globe serving from Guelph to Ghana, where he and his family lived during a 3-year assignment with the University of Ghana in West Africa. Throughout his life Jack travelled the world, visiting over 40 countries and enjoying time with family. 

A memorial service for Jack was held on Monday February 19th, 2024 at the Gilbert MacIntyre & Son Funeral Home - Hart Chapel in Guelph. A funeral mass was held at the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate on Tuesday February 20th, 2024.

Do you have a memory to share? 

Please email us and we will post your tribute to this page. 

Share A Tribute to Jack