60-million dollar man

60-million dollar man McGill University

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McGill Reporter
May 25, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 17
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 32: 1999-2000 > May 25, 2000 > 60-million dollar man

60-million dollar man

As organizers prepared for an event that would celebrate him for making what might be the single largest philanthropic gift of its kind to a Canadian university, Richard Tomlinson was concerned about scheduling.

He reluctantly agreed to take part in the McGill press conference, but fretted that it would take him away from his lab in Hamilton. Given a choice between doing research and getting his back slapped, Tomlinson will opt for his lab every time.

Tomlinson did turn up yesterday to hear Principal Bernard Shapiro compare him to McGill's greatest benefactors — James McGill, Sir William Macdonald, the Molson and Bronfman families and others. Which is only fitting given that Tomlinson has just given McGill more than $60 million in cash and stock options.

"We are dazzled, not only by the size of the gift, but also by its scope and imagination, which will benefit a host of University priorities," says Shapiro.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the University," adds Vice-Principal (Development and Alumni Relations) Derek Drummond.

For his part, Tomlinson, an emeritus professor of chemistry at McMaster University and an entrepreneur, says his motivation for making the gift is pretty simple. "I'm interested in education. It's been my whole life." Tomlinson has also made substantial gifts to McMaster, where he taught for decades, and to Bishop's University, where he earned his bachelor's degree.

The gift was several years in the making. Drummond credits former principal David Johnston with laying down much of the groundwork for the donation, and Shapiro with being extensively involved in finalizing the process.

"Our relationship with Dr. Tomlinson is a long one," Drummond says.

Indeed, this isn't Tomlinson's first gift to McGill. He has already created the Tomlinson Chair in Chemistry and made a substantial donation towards the construction of McGill's athletics facilities.

His latest gift will be felt thoughout the University. More than 40 endowed fellowships for graduate students, ranging in worth from $15,000 to $25,000, will be created by the gift, effectively boosting the number of fellowships McGill can offer by 25 per cent.

Associate Vice-Principal (Graduate Studies) Martha Crago says its no secret that McGill has lagged behind other research-intensive universities in this country when it comes to fellowships.

"This is the best and biggest news we've had in a long time," Crago says. "In terms of competing for the very best graduate students, this is going to make a striking difference."

She says the gift will also benefit McGill as it uses the Canada Research Chairs program to try to recruit star professors to the University. "Good researchers want to know that they will be able to support good graduate students."

Four million dollars will go towards scholarships, enabling McGill to offer 40 more each year. Twelve million dollars is earmarked for the creation of six new fully funded endowed chairs, including the first ever for Macdonald Campus.

Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Deborah Buszard says the chair at Mac will be devoted to forest ecology and the chair holder will be able to use McGill sites such as the Morgan Arboretum, the Molson Nature Reserve and Mont Saint Hilaire as natural laboratories for his/her work.

Part of the money for the chair will be used to develop a new research and teaching facility in the heart of the Morgan Arboretum, a 245-hectare forest featuring more than 150 species of trees. The facility will be equipped with Internet access, Geographic Information Systems tools — everything required to do high-tech research in the midst of nature.

The chair is officially named the George Tomlinson and Frances Fowler Chair in Forest Ecology, named after Richard Tomlinson's brother and his late sister-in-law.

"George was the vice-president of research at Domtar and his own research dealt with acid rain and other environmental issues related to forestry," Buszard noted. Fowler shared and supported her husband George's interests in this area. Both earned degrees at McGill.

The Libraries will receive new funding to allow them to expand their work on the digital front — an effort aimed at preserving some key library holdings as well as providing new services to students and faculty.

The Department of Surgery will be using a portion of the gift to create a fund that will allow young surgeons the opportunity to focus their efforts on developing research programs.

The Tomlinson gift will also be used to create the Faculty of Science's new Tomlinson Teaching Project. Dean of Science Alan Shaver says the project plans to bolster high-quality teaching in his faculty in a number of ways. Seminars featuring award-winning science professors from McGill and elsewhere will be organized, opportunities for teachers from different disciplines to bounce ideas off one another will be created and innovative new teaching approaches will receive funding support.

"This will put teaching on the front burner and provide resources for professors who want to become better at it," says Shaver.

As for Tomlinson, he probably scanned the newspapers this morning to see what the media made of his gift. Then he likely brushed the papers aside and got back to work.

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