People of action and generosity
By Sophie Coupal
The highlight of this year’s alumni week, the Come Together uOttawa gala, will set the stage for the 2016 Alumni Association Awards of Excellence ceremony.
So what does it take to win an award recognizing the talents, inspiring achievements and influence of uOttawa alumni both at home and around the world?
A quick look at the list of 2016 recipients and its clear what sets them apart—outstanding achievements, vision, generosity.
Such is certainly the case for Emeritus Governor Marc Jolicoeur (BAdm ’75, LLB ’78), a lawyer who has had a distinguished career in commercial and corporate law with Borden Ladner Gervais.
Recipient of the 2016 Meritas Tabaret Award for Alumni Achievement, Jolicoeur is well known for his long-standing community involvement.
He remembers, in fact, the time in Grade 7 or 8 when he was helping a teacher deliver food baskets to some of the less fortunate families and came face to face with one of his classmates.
“It affected me so much that after that, each time I was asked, to help out with a fundraising activity, I immediately accepted without hesitation,” Jolicoeur says.
Today this community leader has decades of involvement to his credit with various community organizations, including the United Way, the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa, The Ottawa Hospital and, of course, the University of Ottawa.
But why invest so much? “For me it’s a given and is just a part of my life,” Jolicoeur says. “When we get involved, we see the impact our actions can have.”
And according to the 2016 Alumnus of the Year, Micheál Kelly (MA ’75), it’s somewhat the same as being dean.
“The greatest thing about being a dean is that you can see the value that you create,” he says.
After spending 10 years at the helm of the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, Kelly is now dean of the Lazaridis School of Business & Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University.
And Kelly knows what he’s talking about, having transformed not one but two Canadian management schools by securing benefactors — Ian Telfer in 2007 and Mike Lazaridis in 2015 — willing to lend their names and make multi-million dollar gifts to the schools.
Although another university is now the beneficiary of his talents, Kelly hasn’t forgotten his alma mater and continues to make gifts to the student activity fund the Telfer School established in his name when he left the University of Ottawa.
“It’s amusing, because they use that fund to support the Telfer teams to compete against my students,” he laughs. But that fits perfectly with his belief that if you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best!
Giving generously to the University is also a hallmark of lawyer and activist Shirley Greenberg (C.M., LLB ’76, DUniv ’13), recipient of the Commitment to the University Award.
Now retired, Greenberg remains active not only as a philanthropist and advocate of women’s rights and health but also with her university — since 2001, she has given more than $3 million to her alma mater for various initiatives.
“I feel a debt to the University of Ottawa. I’m really grateful I even got into law school. I was in my forties and had been out of school for some years. It was a wonderful experience, painful at times, but really wonderful.”
Although Greenberg became a lawyer later in life, this didn’t stop her from making her mark on her chosen profession. She says her law degree opened numerous doors for her and allowed her to contribute to the fight against injustices toward women.
“I met some really inspiring people. Together, I think we were able to push along our society,” she says.
Dr. Horace Alexis (BA ’62, MD ’66), recipient of the Award for Community Service, is another person who is acutely aware of the value of getting involved in the fight against injustice.
When he settled in the Southern Ontario town of Petrolia in 1968, a petition was circulated to prevent him from staying — people didn’t want a black physician in their town. But Dr. Alexis not only stayed in Petrolia but also became a very dedicated member of that community. Eight years later, when he decided to move to Ottawa to set up a practice, another petition was started — this time to convince him to stay.
This story gives us a window into the character of a man who also worked very hard to get an education, despite his modest beginnings.
Today Dr. Alexis is retired, but he has never forgotten his early years as a poor student, far from his native land of Trinidad. The memory of these difficult times is in part what inspired him to create the Black Canadian Scholarship Fund, in 1996.
The premise behind the scholarship is that by providing someone with the means to get an education, we create a ripple effect that has a positive impact on generations to come — something Dr. Alexis has experienced firsthand within his own extended family.
“It’s like a flower opening slowly, and you only have to wait to see the whole expanse before you,” he says.
In the case of Katherine Levac (BA ’11), winner of the 2016 Young Alumni Award, her career is just taking root.
Barely three years after leaving Quebec’s comedy school, l’École nationale de l’humour, this young comedian was named best new artist of the year at the 2015 annual Les Olivier gala. She already has a long list of accomplishments to her name — an adventure that she says started at the University of Ottawa.
“If I hadn’t done my BA in lettres françaises, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today,” she says, referring to her time on the stage at improv nights, the creative writing courses she took and the minor in theatre she completed — all of which allowed her to craft her stage personality.
What is she most proud of? It isn’t Paidge Beaulieu or SNL Québec, or even her more recent comedy shows Like-Moi and Le Nouveau Show. It’s being able to stay true to herself.
“In this business, it’s easy to lose ourselves,” she says. “Everyone tries to put a label on you. Regardless of what I do, I try to remain authentic and be true to myself. My one goal is to make people laugh and to reach out and move them.”
Reaching out is one of the specialties of Sam Saab, winner of the Honorary Member Award.
Sam Saab isn’t an alum of the University of Ottawa, but he has grown up alongside the University. This businessman, who carved out a successful career in commercial real estate and the restaurant business, is owner of Father and Sons, the popular eatery founded by his father in 1967 at the corner of Osgoode and King Edward, where it remains today.
The Saab family hasn’t contented itself with simply serving up good food to members of the University community for the past 50 years. This family has also developed a strong relationship with students, and in particular, with members of the Gee-Gees teams.
Free meals, annual donations, student employment, a scholarship for student-athletes — we’ve stopped counting the contributions of this man who has developed a reputation for never refusing a request to help students.
“It’s all about giving back to the students,” he says, clearly proud that his restaurant has become a second home to many of them.
On May 7, it will be the University of Ottawa’s turn to give back to these alumni and friends of whom our institution is so proud. Come out to meet the winners at the Come Together uOttawa gala and party in style with us. Don’t miss this unforgettable evening. Get your tickets today!
The University of Ottawa Alumni Association Award of Excellence.