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For all five winners of the Principal's Award for Administrative and Support Staff, the news came as a surprise. Antero Branco, for one, didn't even know he'd been nominated. In fact, the porter at the Bronfman Building had made plans for a transfer to the Arts Building. All of that changed, however, when he received an envelope from the principal.
Branco, who has worked at McGill ever since he emigrated from Portugal 30 years ago, was blown away by the news inside. He'd won the Principal's Award for Administrative and Support Staff in the trades and services category. Not only is there honour involved in being nominated and supported by colleagues, superiors and students, but the winners also receive $5,000.
"After so many people have been so kind as to have nominated me and to have written such warm letters of support, there was no way I could leave," says Branco, explaining that every few years he likes to change buildings. He likes the Bronfman posting because of the variety of work and people involved.
Branco not only looks after the mail, minor repairs and installations and the co-ordinating of cleaning and larger repairs for the management building, he also does it for McGill-Queen's University Press, the daycare, Canadian Jewish Studies, Asian Studies and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
Branco isn't entirely sure why he's being awarded. "I like people and people appreciate what I do for them. There's no secret to my job — you just have to be attentive," he says.
As for the money, he hasn't decided how he'll use it once it's awarded at convocation next fall. His wife, however, has designs on a cruise.
She's not the only one to associate travel with the prize. Kathy Wilmot, the winner in the management category, sees "some fine Italian leather, or perhaps an upgrade on the hotel" that she and her husband have booked for their first-ever trip to Europe next fall.
Wilmot is the spoonful of sugar that helped the Banner medicine go down. The manager of communications for IST Customer Services, Wilmot helped mastermind the organizational structure for the Banner courses and the training of both the trainers and of the users of the accounting software, which was brought into the university five years ago.
In the field of IT, change is what it's all about, and Wilmot says she "embraces change." She's also embraced the concept of lifelong learning. Beginning 34 years ago at McGill, the then 17-year-old filing clerk in payroll, moved up through human resources and the Registrar's Office. But it was her interest in computing, which developed in the 1970s, that propelled her career to where she is today. "I started with word processing and teaching courses at the old NCS [Network Computing Services]," she recalls.
Jennifer Innes, a senior reference assistant in the McLennan Library and winner in the library assistant category, also started young at McGill. She was 18 when she began in the libraries as a casual while studying for her BA in anthropology. When she graduated in 1990, she was offered a full-time position, and she's been working with two of the loves of her life, books and people, ever since.
Well-appreciated by her colleagues and by students for helpfulness, last year Innes was given the McGill libraries' award for public service. Like Wilmot, she's got a knack for people and technology: she helps students when they have problems with Microsoft Word in addition to her work in circulation, at the reserve desk and in the serials.
There's something in Innes' manner that announces to perfect strangers that she's a helpful person. "When I walk down the street, people always ask me for information," she says. "I think it's because I'm usually smiling."
Smiling was not her state when she received the fateful envelope. "It was 7:45 am and I started to scream. My friend ran in and asked if I'd seen a mouse," laughs Innes. As for the prize money, she's thinking of putting it toward a "new old" car.
Sangean Gulstone, winner in the clerical category, didn't scream when she got the news, but she was "shocked... happy but shocked." Administrative co-ordinator of Mental Health Services for the past 26 years, Gulstone looks after students' appointments with the 16 doctors and psychologists and all out-of-province billing. But at the heart of her work is making the students feel welcome.
"I always give my best to the students because they come here in need of help," she says. "A few weeks ago, a student came back to tell me how grateful she was for my kindness. ‘You were like an angel on my shoulder,' she said."
While Gulstone has made no plans for her prize, Colin Lister knows just where the money will go and why. Working 55 hours per week as manager for Professor Nahum Sonenberg's laboratory, Lister has little time to look after his house so much of the money will go toward repairs. The rest will be for celebrating with the people from his lab. "I'll expect a big tab from Thompson House," he laughs.
Lister, who won in the technical category, manages the grants, biohazards, animal protocols and accounting in a lab that specializes in cancer research, covers four and a half rooms and employs up to 33 people. He likes his job because of the people and because of the freedom he's given to do his job. "I'm blessed that Dr. Sonenberg is not a micromanager," says Lister, who began work at McGill in 1969 as a lab technician after emigrating from the United Kingdom.
He's humbled and flattered to have won this award. "My winning this award is a reflection on the people I work with. I'm fortunate to work in a large lab like this. I'm lucky to have so many skilled people to work with."