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It's been Kelly Gallacher's lifelong dream to be on stage at Places des Arts. As a musician in the '60s and '70s, Gallacher played venues like London's Royal Festival Hall, warming up for such bands as The Moody Blues, but he never made it to Montreal's grand stage.
"I knew I'd get to play there one day," he chuckles, sitting in the basement of the Ferrier Building where he keeps the tools of his trade. No guitar and microphone here. Just rolls and rolls of pipe insulation and a bucket full of hand-cutters, fasteners, lighteners and a couple of drills.
Gallacher works in the power house, the system of boilers and chillers that keeps most of McGill warm in winter and cool in summer through a labyrinth of underground tunnels. In the interest of energy conservation and reducing fuel bills, his job is to repair or replace the insulation and aluminum sheeting around the roughly eight kilometres of pipes. For his precise and often sweaty labour, he's just been awarded a Principal's Award for Administrative and Support Staff in the category of trades and services. He and four others will receive their awards at this fall's convocation at Place des Arts.
Gallacher, who began at McGill 16 years ago and has spent the last four as an insulator, couldn't be more pleased. "This is the most incredible thing I've ever achieved at work," he said, adding that with the award sum of $5,000, he will make a donation towards fighting hunger in Africa.
Another winner of a Principal's Award for her little-seen but essential work is Penny Aubin. A librarian assistant for the past 18 years, Aubin works in Library Technical Services in the Redpath Library in the acquisition and cataloguing of audiovisual materials as well as educational kits for the Faculty of Education. Early in the job, she could see that help was needed cataloguing Hebrew books, some more than 400 years old, so she taught herself to read the ancient language, one of several that she knows including Old Provençal, Old Norse and Old Anglo-Saxon.
Aubin confesses to being a little stunned, though thrilled, about winning in the category of library technicians. "People say I won because I'm helpful, but I'm just doing my job," she says. "There are so many that are more deserving in my department."
Gordon Bingham is the senior technician at the Institute of Parasitology, on the Macdonald Campus. While he's "surprised and humbled" to receive the Principal's Award in the technician category, he admitted that it's his wife who is really thrilled.
"She knows how many hours I've put in and how many times the phone's rung at 2 am because some machine's sounding off or there's an animal problem," he laughs, adding that with advances in laboratory equipment and with far fewer animals being used now than in earlier decades, only two to three nights per year are interrupted.
Bingham, who grew up in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, the ninth child of 11, first came to the institute looking for work at age 15 because one of his older sisters worked there as a photographer and illustrator. The young Bingham, not yet out of high school, had experience with dairy cattle and was interested in working with animals. Even today, three quarters of his time is taken up with caring for the animals - mice, guppies, snails, guinea pigs - and it's work he enjoys.
Mary-Beth Campbell will likely use her winnings to visit family members, some of whom live in her hometown of New Liskeard, in northern Ontario, and some of whom live in British Columbia. Mostly, she's just thrilled to have gained such recognition for work she fell into and fell in love with only two and a half years ago.
"This is the dean's [of Music's] office, so it's hard not to distinguish yourself," says the recipient of the Principal's Award in the clerical category, seated in her modest office in the old section of the new school, with percussion sounds resonating from above.
Campbell is a professional singer who did her graduate and undergraduate studies at McGill and who was a freelance musician for eight years.
She still sings a few gigs each year with the chamber choir of La chapelle de Québec. "It's important to keep active with the community," says the light soprano.
Starting off as a temporary receptionist, Campbell found herself filling in at the dean's office, then hired full-time and loving the hectic pace set by Dean Don McLean. "His enthusiasm is contagious," she notes.
Mary Jo McCullogh is manager of Student Accounts and winner of a Principal's Award in the managerial category. A McGill graduate in geography, McCullogh has used her love of people and a love of numbers discovered and developed through her 26 years at McGill (19 in Student Accounts) to turn one of life's biggest sources of stress, money, into something over which students - and their parents - have more control.
"I think this award has to do with e-billing, a major initiative that came through this office," she said, explaining that now students can see their accounts on MINERVA and there is no longer the need to "print and send 200,000 pieces of paper annually."
McCullogh keeps a box of Kleenex in a drawer for the few distressed students that she guides to either financial aid or their bank. On one occasion, McCullogh, mother of 16-year-old triplets, offered to pass on clothes that her two sons had outgrown to a financially stretched PhD student raising a boy on her own.
"You can't do anything without a team," she says, making it clear that she believes much of the credit for her recognition should go to her employees.
When McCullogh broke the news to her hockey-playing son, she put it like this: "Think of me as having won the most valuable player award for my team." That seems a good way of looking at all of this year's Principal's Award recipients.