Pacey won several entrance scholarships to Victoria College, University of Toronto, where he received a First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Philosophy in 1938. In 1939 he married Mary E. Carson of Ottawa, and the couple had 7 children. Pacey was awarded a Massey Travelling Fellowship to complete his doctorate degree at Cambridge University in 1941.
Dr. Pacey began his university English teaching career in 1940 at Brandon College, University of Manitoba. He came to the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in 1944, where he served as head of the department until 1969, and taught until his death in 1975.
By the nineteen fifties, Dr. Pacey had established himself as one of Canada's leading literary critics and historians, with the publication of scholarly works including Frederick Philip Grove (1945), Creative Writing in Canada: A Short History of English-Canadian Literature (1952, 1961, 1966), and Ten Canadian Poets: A Group of Biographical and Critical Essays (1958, 1966). He was instrumental in promoting Canadian literary studies at UNB and throughout Canada, and was a popular speaker at both scholarly and informal conferences.
Dr. Pacey also was a creative writer. He authored three children's books, The Cow with the Musical Moo, and Other Verses for Children (1952), Hippity Hobo and the Bee, and Other Verses for Children (1952), and The Cat, the Cow, and the Kangaroo: The Collected Children's Verse of Desmond Pacey (1967). He also published Waken, Lords and Ladies Gay: The Selected Short Stories of Desmond Pacey in 1974. However, it was his pioneering efforts in Canadian literary criticism that brought him national and international acclaim. Other scholarly publications by Dr. Pacey include Ethel Wilson (1968) and Essays in Canadian Criticism (1969). He also edited A Book of Canadian Stories (1947, 1950, 1961, 1967), Our Literary Heritage: An Anthology of Literature in English (1966), Frederick Philip Grove: Critical Views of Canadian Writers (1970), and Selections from Major Canadian Writers (1974), and he co-edited the standard work Literary History of Canada (1965).
One of Dr. Pacey's life-long passions was studying the works of local Fredericton poets such as Bliss Carman and Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and keeping their literary legacies alive. In 1956, he edited The Selected Poems of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, 1860-1943, followed by the 1974 edition of the Selected Poems of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts. But Pacey's real goal was to publish scholarly editions of both the collected poems and the collected letters of Charles G.D. Roberts, and he obtained a grant from the Canada Council to pursue this research, and over the years, he collected Roberts' letters and supervised the preliminary research. Unfortunately, Dr. Pacey's untimely death in 1975 temporarily halted these projects, but his work was carried on by other researchers. The introductions to both The Collected Letters of Charles G.D. Roberts (1989) and The Collected Poems of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts: A Critical Edition (1985) pay tribute to Pacey's principal role in bringing these works to fruition.
In addition to his extensive book publications, Dr. Pacey also wrote approximately thirty short stories, scholarly journal articles and book, film, and play reviews, and he contributed articles to several encyclopedias.
Dr. Pacey's administrative and teaching career at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) was equally as distinguished as his literary career. He served as Secretary of the Faculty from 1952 to 1969 and as Acting Dean of Arts from 1955 to 1956. From 1960 to 1970, Dr. Pacey worked to expand the graduate studies program at UNB, particularly in his position as Dean of Graduate Studies. In 1970, he became Vice President Academic, and from 1972-1973 he served simultaneously as Acting President.
Dr. Pacey actively participated in a wide variety of organizations and on various committees. At UNB, he served as the first Chair of the local Humanities Association, Chair of the Library Committee, Chair of the Founders' Day Committee, President of the Faculty Club, Associated Editor and Chair of the Editorial Board of The Fiddlehead, and on many other committees.
Dr. Pacey's achievements were recognized throughout his long and distinguished career. In 1955 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and in 1972 was awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal of the Royal Society of Canada for his "distinguished contribution to Canadian literature." Both Mount Allison University and the University of New Brunswick conferred honorary degrees on Dr. Pacey in 1973, just two years prior to his death in 1975.