Convocation fall 2021 honorary degree recipients

Robert Thirsk, M.D.C.M., O.C., O.B.C.

B.Sc. (ME) (University of Calgary), M.Sc. (ME) (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), M.D.C.M. (McGill University), M.B.A. (MIT Sloan School of Management)

Doctor of Science, honoris causa (D.Sc.)

A Canadian icon of science and space travel, Dr. Robert Thirsk has made key contributions to medicine, science, the Canadian Space Program, and science education in Canada. He holds the Canadian record for the most time spent in space.

A McGill M.D.C.M. graduate, Dr. Thirsk began his distinguished career as a member of the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut corps in 1983, developing skills in spacewalking, robotic operations, and orbital rendezvous. His first mission was in 1996, a 17-day flight aboard the space shuttle Columbia. This mission was devoted to the study of life and materials sciences, with Dr. Thirsk performing dozens of international experiments (including one from McGill University) investigating changes in plants, animals, and humans under spaceflight conditions.

As a crew member of the Expedition 20/21 mission to the International Space Station in 2009, he marked a milestone for the Canadian Space Program, as it was the first time a Canadian had taken part in a long duration mission. Dr. Thirsk spent six months as a flight engineer aboard the ISS conducting cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and complex robotic operations on behalf of Canadian and international researchers.

Much of Dr. Thirsk’s work has been dedicated to making space flight safer for astronauts, from researching the effect of weightlessness on the heart and blood vessels to strategizing the delivery of remote healthcare to future deep space explorers.

Robert Thirsk has also been a tireless advocate for scientific education, particularly for Canadian youth. He has worked with educational specialists to develop space-related curricula for grade school students bringing the wonder of space and the thrill of discovery into the classroom. He joined the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Ottawa, overseeing 13 institutes dedicated to healthcare issues such as cancer research and aging. After retiring from the federal government in 2014, Dr. Thirsk served a four-year appointment as Chancellor of the University of Calgary.

Robert Thirsk is the recipient of numerous honours for his years of dedication to scientific discovery, including the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal (2009) and the Sandford Fleming Medal from the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science (2012). He was named to the Order of British Columbia in 2012 and made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2013 for his contributions to space exploration and the promotion of science education.

Robert Thirsk’s remarkable career as a scientist and astronaut, his commitment to science education and his generous dedication to community engagement make him an inspiring role model for all, and especially for future scientists of Canada.

Angela Swan

B.Comm., LL.B. (University of British Columbia), B.C.L. (Oxford University)

Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.)

Angela Swan is a distinguished legal scholar, practitioner, teacher, mentor and an acclaimed figure in both Canadian contract law and the Canadian legal community. She received a Bachelor of Commerce and an LL.B. from the University of British Columbia and a B.C.L. from Oxford University. She was admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1970. With over fifty years experience in the legal profession, Professor Swan has expertly filled a number of roles from professor to esteemed counsel. An award-winning author, renowned educator, and frequently cited scholar, she is regarded as one of the most distinguished experts in Canadian contract law.

She began her career as a professor of law in 1965 at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, remaining there until 1988. She held the rank of full professor at her departure. Professor Swan then practiced law at Aird & Berlis, McCarthy Tétrault and Stikeman Elliott. She is presently at Aird & Berlis as Counsel, where she was formerly a partner. She has also taught as a visiting professor in many of Canada’s law faculties.

The author of numerous books, papers and annotations, her book Canadian Contract Law, won the 2006 Walter Owen Book Prize of the Canadian Bar Association and is regularly cited by courts including the Supreme Court of Canada. The Walter Owen Book Prize recognizes excellence in legal writing, rewarding outstanding contributions to the Canadian legal system.

Professor Swan has inspired and informed several generations of law students with her legal expertise and scholarship. Her accomplishments are all the more remarkable for a trans woman of her generation. Angela Swan is a proud member of the LGBTQ2+ community and contributes to its ongoing development. She has been an invited speaker at many events, including the joint lunch program organized by the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee of the Canadian Bar Association and the Feminist Legal Analysis Section of the Ontario Bar Association. In 2015, Start Proud (formerly Out on Bay Street) honoured her with their Professional Leadership Award.

Angela Swan was named to the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers for earning the highest level of professional skill and integrity. She received the Ontario Bar Association’s Award for Distinguished Service in 2016, which recognizes exceptional career contributions and achievements by Members of the Ontario Bar Association.

Angela Swan has a distinguished record of achieving the topmost professional standards of conduct, ethics, reliability, and diligence. Her name is synonymous with “excellence” in contract law and is a shining example of a dedicated teacher and mentor.

Roger Warren

Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.)

A generous, inspiring, and humbling philanthropist, Mr. Roger Warren has been quietly making an impact within Canadian education institutions and beyond for over 50 years.

Completing three years of a Bachelor of Commerce degree at McGill University starting in 1951, Mr. Warren struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and was unable to complete his fourth year. This made an enormous impact on him, instilling a deep sense of compassion for others facing their own challenges, which in turn became the motivation behind much of his engagement and giving.

Roger Warren began his career in the investment business in 1954, working in Toronto, New York, and London, England. In 1984, he established the Rathlyn Foundation, named after his parents’ Ontario cottage, as a small, private family foundation to support medical research, veterinary science and education. The Rathlyn Foundation has since grown tremendously and supports numerous institutions such as McGill University, frequently lending support to the Office for Students with Disabilities, and the Chinook Project at the University of Prince Edward Island, which allows veterinary students and faculty to provide essential veterinary care to remote communities in Northern Labrador during the summer.

Through the Rathlyn Foundation, Mr. Warren has endowed graduate and professional degree fellowships at McGill across the Faculties of Arts, Law, Science, and the Desautels Faculty of Management, as well as scholarships for Indigenous students. In addition to his financial support and long-term giving that will continue to benefit students for years ahead, Mr. Warren has generously offered his time and energy over the years to supporting McGill students.

Mr. Warren regularly engages in lunches with groups of McGill students who are facing their own unique challenges, openly discussing his personal disability, and encouraging students to share their experiences. During these engagements, he motivates students to not set limitations on their potential. Students speak incredibly fondly of these conversations and have cited them as being inspirational on a deeply personal level.

In 2021, Mr. Warren was named a recipient of the CCAE (Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education) Friend of Education Award, which recognizes outstanding service or commitment to post-secondary or independent school education, where the recipient has made a significant contribution in a leadership role to institutional advancement or education in Canada. In September of this year, he received the Ontario Veterinary College’s OVC Legacy Medal, which recognizes outstanding voluntary and philanthropic efforts that have contributed to OVC’s mission of creating healthier futures for animals, people, and the environment.

Mr. Warren is a prime example of how extraordinary success can be achieved by overcoming challenges. His generosity, perseverance, and determination to help others have created monumental strides for the Canadian education sector and are an inspiration to all.

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