The university community will pay tribute to Chancellor Emeritus, Dr. Richard J. Currie tonight in a commemorative dinner at the building named in his honour.
The prestigious event is part of UNB Homecoming 2013, September 26-29 – an opportunity for the whole community to celebrate UNB.
The event was featured on the front pages of New Brunswick’s major papers this morning. The Telegraph Journal’s Michael Woloschuk covered the story.
UNB to celebrate Currie’s years of service
The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
Thu Sep 26 2013
Byline: MICHAEL WOLOSCHUK The Telegraph-Journal
The motto Richard Currie chose for his entry in the 1955 Saint John High School yearbook reads: “I’ll not budge, no – not an inch.”
And while the youth in the black-and-white photo with the fashionable bouffant has come a long way since then, Currie’s choice of words remains appropriate for a man whose career has been built on resolutely sticking to his guns – and to his friends.
“He always had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish,” says Earle Wood, the former New Brunswick deputy minister of education who grew up in Saint John and has been a lifelong friend of Currie’s.
“Yes, he gets input – he always makes sure he has done the analytical work – but then he gets things done. He has tremendous strength of conviction.”
On Thursday night, the University of New Brunswick is paying tribute to Currie at a commemorative dinner celebrating his 10 years as chancellor and marking his new role as UNB’s chancellor emeritus.
Currie, a beacon of leadership for the university since he was recruited for the chancellor’s position in 2002, has provided more than just guidance over the years. Indeed, Currie has donated millions of dollars for a host of projects at UNB, including more than $20 million to construct the athletic complex that bears his name and millions more for the prized Currie scholarship program.
A renowned business leader whose curriculum vitae includes top positions at many of the country’s largest and most successful businesses, Currie is perhaps best known for transforming the market value of Loblaw Companies Ltd.
Under his leadership, the value of Loblaw increased to $14 billion from $40 million and it became Canada’s largest food retailer, with 650 corporately owned stores and more than 400 franchised locations.
By the time Currie stepped down as chief executive officer in 2000, the company was the largest private-sector employer in Canada, and the total selling area of its Loblaws stores was one-third the size of Prince Edward Island.
Currie worked a similar magic as president of George Weston Ltd., reshaping that company into the second largest and most profitable baker in North America.
His commercial associations have included directorships of CAE Inc., Staples Inc. and Imperial Oil Ltd. and membership on the international advisory board of RJR Nabisco. He was also chairman of the board of Bell Canada Enterprises.
With credentials like that, it’s no wonder that business leaders from near and far are gathering in Fredericton to pay tribute to Currie. The commemorative dinner is a demonstration of appreciation for a lifetime of good works – for Currie has never forgotten his roots, but has remained loyal to his community.
Currie was born in Saint John in 1937 and lived with his parents and two sisters at their modest home on Duke Street. His father was a machinist at Saint John Iron Works and provided a good but simple living for his family.
“Dick’s father was a solid individual who worked hard, but he was also a well-read and very articulate man with much strength of character,” recalls Earle Wood, who lived nearby and walked to Saint John High School and back each day with the young Currie.
“They didn’t have a car but they had everything else they needed. I remember everyone at their home was always cheerful and good-natured.”
This stable and balanced home life provided a solid foundation on which Currie was able to build his business and leadership skills, which were evident from a fairly young age.
John Ferris, who grew up in the north end and graduated from Saint John High with Currie in 1955, remember that he already displayed a taste for leadership, having been elected class president and “talking finances even when he was in high school.”
Business aside, Currie also enjoyed sports, particularly baseball and basketball, playing for the Saint John Hi-Bobs under famed basketball coach Bob Neal.
“I had some great moments with Dick on the basketball court,” says Wood, who captained three teams featuring Currie, including the team that won the 1954-55 Maritime juvenile championship and one that played for the Eastern Canadian Championship in Montreal.
Currie and Wood also made frequent journeys together to Boston, where they attended Red Sox games and watched their hero, Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, swing his mighty bat.
“We both loved the Red Sox, and especially Ted Williams – what a treat,” Wood says.
After graduating from Saint John High, Currie entered the University of New Brunswick as a Beaverbrook Scholar.
“My father would have worked his hands up to his elbows to make sure I got a university education,” Currie once told Canadian Business. “Fortunately, he didn’t have to, because I won scholarships.”
Currie then got a degree in chemical engineering from the Technical University of Nova Scotia and established himself at Atlantic Sugar Refineries, where he was refining superintendent until he left to resume his studies in 1968.
“There had been an enlargement to the refinery that would allow it to move from processing one million pounds a day to 2.5 million pounds a day,” Currie once explained in an interview. “And it didn’t work. I got tapped to try to make it go. I made it go.”
After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1970, Currie joined New York-based management consultants McKinsey & Company until he left to work for Loblaw Companies in Toronto in 1972. He remained at Loblaw until 2000.
In all that time spent largely away from his home province, Currie never forgot his Maritime roots and always remembered his friends, particularly those in Saint John.
Currie, who was best man at Wood’s wedding, remains close with his Saint John friend to this day.
“I guess we’ve been best friends for 70 years now,” says Wood.
Friendship and loyalty have always been important to Currie, Wood says.
“He’s always been loyal to his roots, his Maritime roots, but especially to New Brunswick – and this shows in his contributions to the province as a whole.”
Besides his gifts to the University of New Brunswick, Currie has been generous in other, sometimes not so public, ways. For example, Currie, along with John Irving, recently donated more than $100,000 to restore the bandstand at King’s Square in Saint John.
This commitment to giving back to the community is paired with a deep desire to establish social networks. Indeed, maintaining friendships that span a lifetime is one of the key reasons for Currie’s success, Wood says.
“He has a wonderful ability to network – he will contact the right person at the right time. He still has this great network of friends, and that’s very much part of his success story.”
In 2012, Currie supported the memory of a friend through the New Brunswick Medical Education Trust, accessible to any New Brunswick resident accepted at an accredited medical school and committed to practising in New Brunswick.
He endowed the G. William McQuade Memorial Scholarship in memory of his friend, a fellow Saint Johner who became a surgeon through hard work and determination.
“Dick supports the education of medical students for the good of New Brunswick, but he also wanted to make sure that this was named for a close friend of his.”
Currie will continue to provide advice and guidance for UNB – not only as chancellor emeritus but also as a friend, which must be a very comforting idea for the university.
As Currie has shown time and again, he always stands by his friends, and from them he’ll “not budge, no – not an inch.”