UNB pays tribute to outgoing chancellor

Dr. Richard J. CurrieThe University of New Brunswick recently bid farewell to longtime chancellor, Dr. Richard J. Currie.

A tribute dinner to celebrate Dr. Currie’s ten years of service was held on September 26 at the building named in his honour. Several prominent guests joined the university community, including New Brunswick’s Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Graydon Nicholas.

The following stories were recently published in New Brunswick papers.

Currie helped UNB to reach new heights as chancellor
New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Fri Sep 27 2013
Byline: Chris Morris Legislature Bureau

FREDERICTON – It was with a sinking heart several years ago that Eddy Campbell realized Dick Currie, the esteemed chancellor of the University of New Brunswick, did not share his deathly fear of heights.

Campbell, UNB’s president since 2009, and Currie were touring the construction site of the athletic complex that now bears Currie’s name when the chancellor leaped at the chance to be lifted to the top of the five-storey structure in a small bucket.

Campbell told the audience at a tribute dinner for Currie at the university on Thursday night that the bucket appeared to him to be attached to its hydraulic arm “by a paper clip.”

But imagining the fallout if he allowed the chancellor to be hoisted to his doom, Campbell decided joining him in the bucket was the lesser of two evils.

“It was a really sketchy-looking proposition,” recalled Campbell, whose fear of heights causes severe vertigo.

“But Dick wanted to see the view from the top. So he gets in the bucket. I’m thinking. ‘What’s going to happen if the bucket tips over and we do considerable damage to our chancellor? Who would have to explain that to the media?’ It would be me. . .so I climbed in the damn bucket and went up, cowering in a corner.”

The commemorative dinner celebrating Currie’s 10 years as chancellor also marked his new role as UNB’s chancellor emeritus. The event was held at the Currie Center on the Fredericton campus.

Campbell said it was always an exciting ride with Currie in the chancellor’s chair, and an instructive one.

When Campbell first came aboard as UNB’s president, the institution was still trying to recover from the effects of the recession, which had plunged it into a financial deficit.

He quickly discovered that Currie – recognized as one of Canada’s top CEOs – was an invaluable resource.

Campbell said Currie told him he had never taken over a company that had not been in distress. He said there are three key strategies that have to be employed: first, the company has to be saved, then it has to be secured and finally it has to grow.

“Save, secure and grow – that advice has served me ever since in terms of what we are trying to accomplish at the university,” Campbell said.

Currie has provided more than guidance over the years.

The business leader, best known for transforming the market value of Loblaw Companies Ltd., has donated millions of dollars for a host of projects at UNB, including more than $20 million to construct the Currie Center and millions more for the Currie scholarship program.

Two Currie scholarship winners, Jessica Yeates and Ryan Brideau, were masters of ceremonies for the night.

Yeates said in an interview she now is a second-year medical resident in pediatrics in Halifax. She said Currie always takes an active interest in the scholarship winners.

“He wants us to be leaders in our communities, whatever that means for each of us,” she said. “He wants us to give back.”

For his part, Currie has said his extraordinary philanthropy is rooted in his lifelong belief in the importance of giving back to one’s community.

He says it was education – he was a Beaverbrook scholar at UNB – that turned his life around.

“The only thing that distinguished me in my lifetime was to get a good education,” said Currie, who grew up in Saint John’s gritty south end.

Currie’s own experiences as a student and a scholar informed his generous support of the four-year undergraduate scholarship awarded to four students every year. The scholarship is worth $50,000 per student over the four years.

Scholarship winners, who typically come from modest backgrounds, get more than money from the Currie award – they get his enthusiastic support and unwavering interest in their lives.

Yeates said it is hard to say if she could have done as well in her studies and made it into medical school had she not been awarded the scholarship.

It lifted the fear of debt and the need to find work from her shoulders.

“Who knows what would have happened had I not won the scholarship,” she said in an interview.

University historian and senior development officer Susan Montague said the chancellor emeritus title bestowed on Currie is “a designation of admiration, respect and honour.”

“It’s a way of indicating that he has gone above and beyond the call of duty,” she said.

A champion of a man
The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
Mon Sep 30 2013
Byline: The Daily Gleaner Editorial

While Richard Currie is now chancellor emeritus at the University of New Brunswick, don’t expect him to fade into the sunset.

That’s just not his style. He can’t help but help.

He is a man with a great deal of insight and experience to offer, and a vast network of contacts and friends that he can count on. He has a talent for taking a down-on-its-luck entity and restoring it to even greater heights.

He sure sounds like the kind of guy we want around, and we’re glad he is.

The man for whom UNB’s gorgeous new athletic centre is named has just wrapped up a 10-year stint as chancellor, and he was suitably celebrated at a dinner last Thursday. Fittingly, it was held at the Richard J. Currie Center.

He was once an undergrad at UNB. Now he begins life as UNB’s elder statesman, so to speak.

UNB historian Susan Montague describes the chancellor emeritus title as “a designation of admiration, respect and honour. It’s a way of indicating that he has gone above and beyond the call of duty,” she said.

That he has. Beyond his $20-million gift of the athletic centre, Currie is also generous with millions in scholarships. But the leadership, direction and support he has given UNB is worth more than any of that.

He has been a constant source of wisdom for UNB President Eddy Campbell. He has been the university’s greatest cheerleader. And we get to keep him and continue to thrive on his direction and support.

Richard Currie, the millionaire philanthropist, was once Richard Currie, the kid from gritty south-end Saint John. His family life was solid and simple – his father worked with his hands as a machinist.

But in that unpretentious Duke Street home, education had a high value, and Richard took that to heart.

“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.”

That’s probably why Currie places such a huge emphasis on scholarships – he readily says it was a good education that changed his life.

But not only does Currie fund scholarships, he forms bonds with his scholarship winners.

“He wants us to be leaders in our communities, whatever that means for each of us,” said Jessica Yeates. “He wants us to give back.”

Yeates is a Currie scholarship winner and acted as an emcee for the gala dinner on Thursday.

Yeates is a second-year medical resident in pediatrics in Halifax. She says the scholarship helped eliminate the need to work during university and eased the stress of student debt, both of which she believes helped her get this far in life.

Such stories must make Richard Currie smile. He was helped along his path with a Beaverbrook scholarship, and he delights in paying it forward, nurturing education for a new generation in every way he can.

UNB is blessed with a champion of a man in its chancellor emeritus.

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.”

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