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"It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the
—Harry S. Truman
Sally Drury McDougall prefers to steer clear of the limelight rather than to seek credit for her many hours of volunteer work at McGill. When you're as tireless and dedicated as she is, though, credit has a way of finding you.
Last year, the McGill Alumni Association presented McDougal with the 2007 Award of Merit—the MAA's highest honour. "I was a little overwhelmed," admits McDougal, who graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Science in 1968, followed by a Diploma in Education in 1969 from what was then known as Macdonald College.
"It was a grand old party, though, because at the awards ceremony my husband did an end run on me and brought in my entire family—our four sons, my siblings. They were all there. Having the whole family together almost superseded getting the award."
Enumerating all the reasons McDougall earned the coveted Award of Merit would require more space than this column allows, but some of her many volunteer activities include serving as president of the McGill Alumni Association from 2000 to 2002, representing the MAA on the Board of Governors, helping to organize McGill's 175th anniversary garden party and sitting on a dizzying number of committees, from the McGill Sports Hall of Fame all the way up to Senate.
In addition to the MAA's Award of Merit, she was honoured in 1997 with a Distinguished Service Award. Her work with the MAA has included moderating or hosting anniversary dinner events during Homecoming, hosting tables at the Leacock Luncheon and, in one instance, being a guest speaker at the Sir William Macdonald Luncheon.
In short, she is a consummate champion of McGill and a living testament to the idea that one person can make a difference.
"Whenever and wherever there is a need, Sally is there," said Honora Shaughnessy, executive director of the MAA. "She helps shape University policy as a member of the Board of Governors one week, and the next she puts in time double-checking Homecoming registration.
What's more, adds Shaughnessy, "she carries out all these tasks with compassion, warmth and good humour."
McDougall started volunteering almost as soon as she graduated, beginning first in the schools her four sons attended and in the community—including serving on the board of the Montreal Diet Dispensary and working with Meals on Wheels, and later, at her alma mater.
Her long-standing association with the university is a bit of a family affair: her father, three of her siblings, her husband, her four sons—even some of her in-laws—all attended McGill.
As a McGill student, McDougall competed in three varsity sports—following in the footsteps of her father, Chip Drury, himself a star athlete in his time—and took part in a range of campus activities.
"Later, with four sons attending McGill, and being in and around the place a great deal, I was able to get a good sense of what was going on and what needed to get done," she explains of her volunteer activities, "and my attitude has always been, 'Tell me what you need me to do and I'll do it.'"
Her decision to devote her time to volunteering in the first place also stems from her family. Giving back to the community is a principle that was instilled in her at a young age.
"Everyone in my family volunteered," she says. "It was just part of our upbringing."
Donating time and money to McGill specifically was simply a matter of course.
"At the time I was growing up, if you lived in Montreal, you went to McGill. It's a place where you feel you're part of a world-recognized institution and a strong community," she says.
"McGill sort of sucks you in," she adds with a laugh.
Through her work with the MAA and other McGill organizations, she has tried to tap into that same sense of pride among her fellow alumni, encouraging them to support the university through donations, a cause in which she believes wholeheartedly.
"I really believe strongly that we senior volunteers need to be proud of being associated with McGill," she says. "We need to talk about the institution wherever and whenever we may be."
McDougall has been variously described as "a volunteer's volunteer" and "an inspiration" but thinks of herself simply as someone with the time and energy to give something back on a more or less full-time basis. It's a remunerative and rewarding endeavour, she insists.
"What I get out of volunteering is the satisfaction of knowing I'm helping to get something done," says MacDougall. "I've never done things expecting payback."