The quality of its alumni speaks volumes about a university. In uOttawa’s case, that talk is about commitment, excellence, innovation and gratitude. Since 2011, the Alumni Association has recognized outstanding graduates through its annual Awards of Excellence. Meet this year’s exceptional individuals who are giving back to the University and the community.
By Sophie Coupal and Michelle Hibler
Alumnus of the Year
Guy Laflamme — From Ottawa the old to Ottawa the bold
Forget Sir John A and the Fathers of Confederation. What Guy Laflamme, just-retired Executive Director and Producer of the Ottawa 2017 Bureau, wanted to mark Canada’s sesquicentennial in the capital were giant robotic spiders, dragons, picnics on the bridge and underground sci-fi travel experiences.
Given free rein by Ottawa mayor Jim Watson when he took up the challenge of organizing a year of events that would rock Ottawa’s staid image, Laflamme (BASc ’83, MBA ’89) let his imagination loose in a 300-page business plan, written from his summer home in the Magdalen Islands.
“I had a chance to just go wild from an artistic standpoint and to apply all my knowledge as a business strategist,” he says.
Laflamme also drew from 25 years of experience in high-visibility marketing and production for the Department of Canadian Heritage, the National Capital Commission, and Casino du Lac-Leamy, among others.
His enthusiasm for the 2017 program “of things never before seen in Ottawa” was contagious: the $40M program of major events and festivities brought in $300M for the city. That success earned him a nomination to the Order of Ottawa and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario. RadioCanada and LeDroit named him “Personality of the Year” for his vision, boundless imagination, determination and energy — not to mention sheer guts.
The former professor at uOttawa’s Telfer School of Management is now set to rest on his laurels. “I’m going to become one of the country’s laziest people,” he says.
Meritas Tabaret Award for Alumni Achievement
Catherine Cano — Informing to advance democracy
No one can doubt the enthusiasm of Catherine Cano (BSocSc ’84), the president and general manager of the Cable Public Affairs Channel, better known as CPAC. “I adoooore my job,” she says as she attempts no less than the transformation of CPAC into a leader in education on democracy in Canada.
But this is just the kind of daunting challenge you would expect this trained journalist to undertake, given her meteoric rise to top-level positions in broadcasting in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere around the world, including a year spent in Qatar restructuring Al Jazeera’s English-language network.
“I’ve travelled a lot, I’ve been to countries where people had nothing and were fighting for the right to vote. We are so lucky in Canada, but democracy is fragile: you only need to look south of the border to see evidence of that … so we need to stay well informed,” she said.
Today she’s working on exciting projects like Route 338, an impressive tool that teaches democracy. Such projects make the most of the creative, innovative mindset that has earned her a host of awards throughout her career. And she pursues her involvement in various organizations that defend human rights, freedom of the press and the empowerment of women.
The University of Ottawa can pride itself on having provided this Saguenay native, who was late to learn English, with what she calls a “gift from heaven”. “When I first arrived, I knew more about Europe than I did about the rest of Canada,” she said. “I was chosen for the House of Commons Page Program and I discovered a whole new country.”
2018 Honorary Alumnus
Tony Durst — At his students’ service
After 50 years on the uOttawa campus, Tony Durst has finally “graduated.” The honorary alumnus award is the latest of many distinctions he’s received over his long teaching and research career. He holds it to heart “because it’s recognition of the work that I’ve done with students.”
Ensuring student success has been the driving force of Durst’s career, whether as professor, chair of the Department of Chemistry, or vice-dean of the Faculty of Science. That earned him Excellence in Teaching Award from the Faculty of Science in 1994 and 1998, followed by the university’s Professor of the Year Award in 1999. “I never felt that I had the gift of languages of the great professors,” says Durst, “but I could relate to students and they felt that it was genuine.”
Durst, a Western University graduate, is the spark of many “first” at uOttawa — the Biopharmaceutical Sciences Program launched in 1999, for example, then unique in Canada. He also developed an innovative COOP program for the chemistry department, offering students eight months of work. This model subsequently became the template for all COOP programs in the Faculty of Science, and eventually for the whole university.
Durst also kindled the Faculty of Science’s Undergraduate Research Scholarships, designed to attract Canada’s top high school graduates to uOttawa. The six initial scholarships in 2000 have since grown to 16. The early alumni of the program, now in their 30s, are making major contributions to Canadian society. “That’s real legacy,” he says.
Looking back, Durst says he didn’t start out to become a teacher.
“It was serendipity,” he says. “Life presents all kinds of opportunities and I tell students not to be afraid to take them because you want to have an enjoyable and rewarding life — and be active way beyond 65,” he says. “I hope I’m an example of that.”