UNB Names Dr. Robert (Bob) Neill and Dr. Roderick (Rod) Nolan as the first Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award Recipients

Author: Engineering Alumni Office

Posted on Feb 12, 2018

Category: Alumni Spotlight

Bob Neill is a name that is synonymous with Engineering in Fredericton. After graduating from UNB in 1954 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, he went to work for New Brunswick Electric Power Commission, intending to stay for the required two years needed to become a registered professional engineer before going into business for himself.  It turned out to be a 10-year exciting learning opportunity where he advanced to retire as Chief Design Engineer. “It was such a tremendous learning and networking experience,” recalls Bob, “I call it my 10-year PhD.”

Bob had always intended to go into business for himself and had started a part-time business called R. D. Neill and Associates. Harold Gunter, a classmate from UNB, was the local manager for Bailey Meter Company, a supplier to NBEPC. They found that they had similar business interests and agreed to incorporate Neill and Gunter Limited to pursue engineering work in the heavy industrial field which was not being served by most New Brunswick consulting firms.

Harold knew a very bright young electrical engineer who had worked for Bailey Meter and was in England on a Beaverbrook Overseas Scholarship. His name was Rod Nolan. An interview was arranged and Rod agreed to join the fledgling firm.

Rod Nolan had grown up in Point La Nim and was only able to attend UNB because he won a coveted Beaverbrook Scholarship. He studied electrical engineering, only because while he was at the registrar’s office on his first day in Fredericton, he was told that you can “make good money in electrical.” He borrowed $366 from his father to help cover expenses, but still needed to work to continue his years at UNB, and so he enrolled in an officer training program as an RCN Officer Cadet attached to HMCS Stadacona Halifax and worked during the summers to pay his tuition.

Upon graduation from UNB in 1957, Rod took a job with Bailey Meter Company for $325 per month and was sent to Bailey’s Head Office in Cleveland, OH for a year (and promptly paid back his father). While gaining hands-on experience as a design engineer for boiler installations he also attended the company’s Instrumentation and Controls School. He was sent to different locations around North America, including the commissioning of four Canadian destroyer escorts going back and forth to Bermuda. He returned to UNB and completed his Master’s degree in 1963, and continued his studies at the University of London’s Imperial College as a Beaverbrook Overseas Scholar. It was then – in the London airport in fact - that he met Bob Neill and was asked to join him in the “lower office” (Bob’s basement) to work at Neill and Gunter.

Neill and Gunter Limited started business on October 1, 1964 in the basement of Bob’s home, where he and Rod Nolan – employee number two after Bob - worked on opposite sides of an old roll-top desk with the top removed. The company would become one of the largest consulting and design engineering firms in Atlantic Canada.

From Rod’s assignment at the Courtney Bay Generating Station to a variety of projects including power plants, pulp and paper mills and other industrial clients, the firm steadily grew. They opened a head office on Prospect Street in Fredericton, Neill and Gunter Nova Scotia Ltd. was added in Halifax, and Neill and Gunter Incorporated was opened in Portland, Maine.  The company eventually went on to locate facilities in Jacksonville FL, Vancouver, BC and Regina, SK. Projects were completed throughout North America, the UK, the Philippines, the USSR, Egypt and South Africa.

Developing and designing industrial facilities was a niche market where the firm became an internationally recognized leader in the field of renewable resources and energy projects. “We were not interested in taking business away from other local firms,” both of the gentlemen exclaimed, “and no one else was focusing on industrial projects.”

Bob was Chairman and CEO of Neill and Gunter Limited and Rod was Vice-Chair when the firm was acquired by Stantec in 2007. At that time the Neill and Gunter companies employed over 700 people.

Bob and Rod both fervently say that they put in long hours but had a lot of fun doing the work they did. They got to spend time with people like K.C. and J.K. Irving and Harrison McCain, but also worked alongside many knowledgeable and talented ‘everyday’ individuals in both boiler rooms and boardrooms. And they loved it. Says Rod, “You have to do what you love to do. If you don’t, change it right away.”

Accomplished as they are in their careers, these two exceptional engineers, businessmen and family men didn’t just lead at work; they’re also leaders in the community.

Bob Neill served on UNB’s Board of Governors as well as the Board of Governors of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery for many years and a number of university and government advisory boards; he also volunteered with Junior Achievement and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists New Brunswick. In 1985 he received an honorary Doctorate of Science from UNB for his tremendous contributions to industry, community and the university. In 1991 he received the Gold Medal Award from The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, and in 1999 he was inducted into Junior Achievement’s New Brunswick Business Hall of Fame. Bob is also a philanthropist and has been a continuous supporter of UNB through the Neill and Gunter Scholarships and many other projects over the years.

Rod Nolan’s dedication to his community is equally impressive. He served as a member of UNB’s Board of Governors for nine years, was vice-chair for two, and chairman of the board for five. He has gifted his time, talent and financial support to a range of organizations including the Red Shield Campaign, Run for the Cure, the New Brunswick Breast Cancer Network, the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation and as Past President of the Endowment Fund of the United Way Central New Brunswick (The Forever Fund). He has also given his time to APEGNB and the UNB Engineering Faculty Advisory Committee. He’s particularly proud of his work as a trustee of Portage, a Canadian non-profit organization that helps people suffering from substance abuse-related problems to overcome their dependencies and live healthy, happy, and productive lives. He is the founding chairman of Portage Atlantic at Cassidy Lake NB. Rod has also very generously supported UNB scholarships and the Varsity Reds men’s hockey team over the years. Rod was granted an honorary Doctorate of Science from UNB in 2004, was inducted as a Fellow in the Canadian Academy of Engineering and received the commemorative medal for Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee.

Dr. Neill and Dr. Nolan were celebrated amongst family, friends and current UNB engineering students and faculty and were honored with the first-ever UNB Engineering Distinguished Alumni Awards on Feb 9th, 2018. The award recognizes their demonstration of excellence, integrity and leadership throughout their careers as well as their service to advancing the profession and society.  We thank them deeply for their contributions, and for being #ProudlyUNB.