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McGill Reporter
February 10, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 10
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Gérard Charbonneau: The Energizer

Gérard Charbonneau
PHOTO: OWEN EGAN

When Lise Lalonde thinks about Gérard Charbonneau, her boss for the past four years, the image that comes to mind is that of the Energizer bunny. "He's like that little rabbit. He goes on and on."

Which is quite a feat considering that the 52-year-old McGill employee had his first heart attack at age 28 and has suffered two minor strokes in the past six years, one only last March.

"I've just a little numbness in the left arm," he says, sitting in his office on McTavish Street underneath the Redpath Library.

Running the printing press for a university with a combined student/employee population of 36,000 might seem somewhat of a high-stress occupation for someone with a vulnerable circulatory system, but Charbonneau, who was hired to help with the accounting in Printing Service 29 years ago, says it's not impossible.

First off, he says that he has managed, on doctor's orders, to leave every day before five and to leave his work at work before returning to the home in Longueuil he shares with his wife and two grown children. Initially, it was hard to get printing off his mind, but reading, especially mysteries, is his relaxation. "And, for the first year ever, I've contracted out the snow-removal for the driveway," he exclaims.

Surrounded, as Charbonneau says he is, by "very competent staff," the burden of overseeing an average of 100 print jobs per day is spread around. "Our advantage is that we're all old-timers here; no one has less than 12 years seniority," says Charbonneau, who believes the University has suffered from the rapid loss of many of its senior employees over the past six years.

At the same time Charbonneau recognizes that there is a time for moving on — at least where his own job is concerned. "I've been here too long. We need some new blood."

He looks forward to getting back to his first love: history, especially of the middle ages, something he began learning as a student at the collège classique in Rouyn-Noranda not far from his hometown, Cadillac, before attending the Université de Montréal to train as a teacher.

When Charbonneau retires, he will be missed. Lalonde, for her part, found it "motivating" working for Charbonneau because of the respect he has for workers' initiatives. "He'll give you the space you need in which to improve. He's the opposite of a control freak; he won't hesitate to delegate," says the former administrative manager of printing, now on loan to the Banner Project.

Charbonneau spends at least 20 minutes every morning visiting some of his 29 staff members. "Supervisors don't like it," he chuckles, "because it prevents working but it brings me a lot. It's important to know about any problems, who's sick, whose child is sick, etc."

Believing, as he does, in the value of an in-house university printer, as opposed to the "out-sourcing" or "contracting out" of printing to the private sector, Charbonneau has worked to make the unit self-financing.

"Gerry is dedicated to a fault and he will defend his unit and work hard to keep it running," notes Alan Charade, director of Ancillary Services and Charbonneau's boss. "He's determined that the unit has a role to play at McGill. We've gone from a deficit to a break-even situation," he adds.

Charbonneau doesn't believe that an outsider could better look after McGill's eccentric printing needs — often at very short notice. Some documents, such as exams, require extreme confidentiality. In fact, explains Charbonneau, when the top-secret documents are taken from the vault to be delivered, there is always someone who stays in the truck to police the cargo while the other makes the delivery.

At a university printing operation, he continues, there are more rush jobs than in other industries due to the number of deadlines faced by students and professors. "You can't not have study notes ready for Friday's class," says Charbonneau.

Just as he has a personal approach with his staff, so Charbonneau does with his clients. He meets with the professor, editor or designer of a document in order to assess the time needed. "It's important that we know our customers," he says, "because sometimes we have to switch jobs, privileging one over another."

When he came to McGill at age 19, hired initially as a customs clerk because of his proficiency in French, Charbonneau had recently left the teaching profession. He was disillusioned after six months in St. Henri, because he could see that the ministry wasn't going to let him teach children in the way in which he wanted.

For his years at McGill, however, Charbonneau has almost nothing but praise for the freedom he has had to develop his skills, to meet people from all realms of life and to develop his own management style. "McGill's been a fantastic place to work at."

A lot of things are going to change, and no one knows exactly how. Stores could disappear. Record companies could disappear. Nobody knows where it's all going to go.

Communications professor Will Straw, talking to The Globe and Mail about how record company executives are losing sleep over the widespread availability of free music on the Internet.

Longing for Leo


Girl power. Get used to it.

One of English professor Melanie Nash's areas of expertise is fandom — especially the way girls idolize certain celebrities. Nash notes that, historically, girls' views and preferences "haven't been widely respected or paid much attention to." But things are changing.

Thanks to the monstrous success of the film Titanic and the popularity of several TV shows aimed at teenage girls, young lasses are suddenly a hot commodity in Hollywood, their attitudes studied closely by marketers hoping to cater to their buying power.

"For the longest time, movies seemed to be directed toward 19 year-old males," notes Nash. Girls have helped pave the way for more niche marketing and a broader selection.

And, says Nash, being girl-friendly doesn't necessarily mean being dumb. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show with a huge girl following, is widely considered to be one of the best shows on television.

But some have mixed feelings about this turn of events. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, the "king of the world" in the eyes of many girls and the subject of a recent chapter on fandom that Nash co-wrote for the book, Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster.

"He is seen as a teeny bopper" because of the army of girls who have Leo posters in their bedrooms, whereas DiCaprio was once regarded as a "neo-method actor" capable of blistering perfomances.

"It puts girls in the awkward position of destroying what they love by the very act of loving," says Nash, noting that DiCaprio has made disparaging remarks about his fans' obsession with Titanic. Of course that doesn't stop him from cashing in on the $20 million a movie he can charge for his services in Titanic's wake. Thanks, girls.

One lousy mistake, that's all it is.

Human genetics professor Tom Hudson, speaking with the National Post about the genetic flaw responsible for Spastic Ataxia of Charlevoix-Saguenay, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that is more common in Quebec than anywhere else in the world. Hudson headed the team that found the flaw.

Catch the buzz

Flies don't get a lot of press. They're not as cute as ladybugs, as beautiful as butterflies, as flashy as hornets or as scary as praying mantises.

Natural resource sciences professor Terry Wheeler is doing his part to add a little lustre to the image of the humble fly. He and his graduate students make up the largest group of fly researchers in Canada and they've discovered several new species over the past few years.

On February 23, Wheeler will present a talk entitled, "The hidden world of flies: The various habitats of flies and some of their very strange habits," at the Redpath Museum at 7:30 pm.

"When most people think of flies, they think of house flies, mosquitoes, black flies or fruit flies," says Wheeler. "The ones that are the best known are the pests — the ones that breed in filth and transmit disease.

"But there are over 7,000 species known in Canada. It's the biggest group of insects in the country." And, says Wheeler, "they play a number of really important roles in a variety of ecological systems."

Some flies act as parasites for other pest species, keeping their numbers down. Tachinid flies, for instance, ensure that the gypsy moth population never spirals out of control.

Flies also speed up the decomposition of dead animals and vegetation "so nutrients can be recycled back into the environment." Aquatic flies "are major components of food chains" and serve as early warning systems for lakes or rivers imperilled by pollution.

Flies are also a little more exotic than they're given credit for. One wingless species makes its home inside beehives, cohabiting peacefully beside the honey-makers, while some parasitic flies "live their whole lives inside the feathers or fur" of birds and bats.

So, a little respect before you swat.

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