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If McGill had ever wanted to create a template for the ideal graduate, Jim Wright, whose accidental death recently left so many in the McGill community with a true sense of personal loss, would have proved the perfect model. He was an example of everything this university—any university—could take pride in sending out into the world—intelligent, well trained, balanced, sensible, discerning and, withal genial and utterly unpretentious.
I met Jim exactly 30 years ago when I applied for my first McGill job, that of editor of the McGill News. I had just completed a PhD in medieval literature, a training with remarkably few career opportunities, least obvious of which would be that of magazine editor. Nevertheless, with three young children to support, I had screwed up my courage and applied for the post. Facing me across the interview table and representing the Graduates' Society were Jim Wright and his fellow alum, John Hallward.
During the course of our meeting, it became abundantly clear to all of us that I had only the foggiest idea of how a magazine was run. Nevertheless, after a brief, private confab with his confrere at the end of the interview, Jim returned to the room, laughed and said, "Well, you have none of the qualifications, but we have decided to hire you anyway." In the years that followed, seated on the other side of interview tables, I often marvelled at the courage of those two men.
Decades later, when I joined the University Secretariat, I had occasion to work with Jim (and John Hallward) once more, and to witness Jim's immense dedication to the University. As governor, there was virtually nothing he would not do to support McGill. We called upon him time and time again, whenever we needed someone with good sense and good values and he never turned us down.
David Bourke, my predecessor as secretary-general, often voiced his concern that in its drive toward internationalism, McGill had forgotten where its roots lay. He felt it important for the university to remember that it was Montrealers who created it and Montrealers who remain its most stalwart supporters. Jim Wright was the perfect illustration of the continuing commitment of Montrealers to "their" university.
As a representative of the Board of Governors, Jim sat on countless statutory selection committees, the committees that review the dossiers of members of the academic community who are being considered for promotion to full professor or full librarian. He took enormous, infectious delight in witnessing their accomplishments in all the wild and wonderful research areas that attract scholars. He was proud of them. He was a member of the Board of Governors when it approved my own appointment as secretary-general. It must have amused him to think that he had brought me into the university when few others would have taken the chance. I hope he was proud of me too.
Victoria Lees began her 25-year career at McGill in 1977 as editor of the McGill News. She retired in 2002 after seven years as secretary-general.