A pillar of the University of Ottawa passes away at 92

A man of commitment and vision, Father Guindon gave a new meaning to altruism.  

A pillar of the University of Ottawa passes away at 92

Father Roger Guindon—An era of hope and change

The name of the University of Ottawa is synonymous with that of Father Roger Guindon. A man of commitment and vision, Father Guindon gave a new meaning to altruism. But altruism doesn’t just happen; it is born of love. Love of people. Love of the challenge of opening up new horizons.

Father Guindon, OMI, CC, first came to the University of Ottawa as a student, in 1933, when he enrolled to complete his high school studies. In 1942, he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and three years later, a degree in theology. He was ordained a priest in 1946 and taught from 1947 to 1964 in the theology faculty, where he also served as dean for four years.

During his term as the University’s president (then known as “rector”) from 1964 to 1984, Father Guindon witnessed profound change not only in society but also in this small Oblate institution that became a flourishing provincially funded university during his time here. Father Guindon, in office during the transition, became the first official head of the University of Ottawa.

With the desire to improve services for students, Father Guindon played a key role in obtaining provincial funding to build the health sciences complex on Smyth Road. This 80-acre site, which today bears his name, is now home to the General Campus of the Ottawa Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario CHEO), the Rehabilitation Centre as well as the University of Ottawa’s faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Father Guindon’s affection for the University was infectious. Having spent more than 70 years of his life with the University, he gave selflessly of himself. And for this reason, all those who knew him returned this affection for our institution and truly appreciated Father Guindon—especially the students, who held him in the highest regard.

Just as Father Guigues is considered the founder of the University and Father Tabaret its builder, Father Guindon is recognized as the catalyst responsible for profound institutional change, the driving force that saw the University ushered into modern times. As the leader of the University, he brought about dramatic transformation. He laid the foundation that has allowed us to become one of the Canada’s leading public universities. Today, students continue to reap the benefits of Father Guindon’s work, his love of life, his vision and his perseverance.

Awarded eight honorary doctorates and two fellowships from postsecondary institutions in Ontario and Quebec, Father Roger Guindon is an example of exceptional commitment to public service as well as a passionate advocate of bilingualism and French culture. He will be greatly missed, but he has left behind a valuable legacy for the entire University community and for the generations after him.

Statement from Allan Rock, President and Vice-Chancellor

Our Chancellor, the Right Honorable Michaelle Jean, joins me in expressing sadness and a sense of loss on the death of Father Roger Guindon at the age of 92. The Board of Governors and the entire university community mourn the loss of one of the University of Ottawa’s iconic figure.

Father Guindon was a remarkable man who will be remembered with deep respect and affection for his many qualities and achievements. Perhaps more than anything else, however, his name will forever be associated with the astonishing transformation he brought about at our University.

Roger Guindon was nothing less than the founding father of the modern University of Ottawa. Under his remarkable leadership, a small private institution owned by the Roman Catholic Church transformed itself in 1965 into what was to become one of Canada’s leading public universities. Working with the talented team he assembled, he managed the complex transition with consummate skill and then became president (then called “rector”) of the new university. He remained in office until 1984, and during those 20 years of inspired and unceasing work, he laid the foundations for the world-class institution that “his university” has become.

Father Guindon’s affable and unassuming nature concealed a powerful intellect and a keenly strategic mind. Bill Davis, who was Ontario’s Minister of Education during the University’s early post-transition days and later, of course, was our premier for many years, once recalled the experience of negotiating with Father Guindon. According to Mr. Davis, “it was a daunting task.” Whenever he saw a meeting with Father Guindon on his agenda, he began immediately to calculate just what it was going to cost him!

During his 20 years of selfless service as rector, Father Guindon presided over an era of rapid growth and expansion, managing profound institutional change with unpretentious wisdom and a light touch. In direct dealings with others, and especially with students, he was always warm and welcoming. He was, however, no pushover. In 1969, during my time as president of the University of Ottawa student association, I presented him in his office with our demands for student seats on the University’s Board of Governors and Senate—a rather radical notion at the time! These steps were long overdue, I insisted, and must be taken immediately. He made it clear in no uncertain terms, though, that reform would come on his timetable, not ours. I discovered only later that Father Guindon had already begun paving the way for the changes. He simply needed the time to bring others around, and he succeeded. Within the year, student representatives were welcomed into the membership of both bodies.

Father Guindon was a modest man and a person of deep faith. He would, I know, recoil at the idea of an elaborate memorial or commemoration in his name. But in a very real sense, the University itself is the most enduring monument possible to his extraordinary work.

As an Oblate priest in the Catholic Church, Father Roger Guindon devoted his life to the service of others. He lived simply and accumulated no material possessions. But he leaves a rich legacy of achievement, of which we are all the grateful beneficiaries.
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Last updated: 2012.11.27