Four exceptional alumni are being honoured for their countless impacts on communities around the globe, individual accomplishments and dedication to their alma mater.
Memorial University today announced the recipients of its 34th annual Alumni Tribute Awards, the highest honour bestowed by the alumni body on Memorial graduates making tremendous contributions at home and around the world.
Alumnus of the Year
Geoff Eaton, BBA’98, is this year’s Alumnus of the Year Award recipient.
Six months after graduating from Memorial at the age of 22, Mr. Eaton was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He underwent extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments and received two bone-marrow transplants, spending 31 days in intensive care and 23 days in a drug induced coma. With less than a two per cent chance of survival, he defied the odds. Following that experience, Mr. Eaton became aware of a distinct gap in the health-care system that is primarily focused on an older generation of patients dealing with cancer.
To help cope with his illness, Mr. Eaton started an email group to share his story. It evolved into Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), a national not-for-profit organization that is the leading support network for young adults with cancer in Canada. To date, YACC has raised more than $8 million through a variety of fundraising initiatives that includes the widely successful Shave for the Brave program. These funds have enabled the creation of unique support programs that are delivered online and in-person across the country. Since its inception, YACC has served almost 1,000 young adults through its deeply transformative retreats and conferences and tens of thousands through web and social programs.
An acclaimed social entrepreneur and cancer advocate, Mr. Eaton is a sought after speaker, sharing his story with more than 75,000 Canadians from coast to coast and has received numerous awards and accolades for his work and volunteerism. These include the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Awards, the 2009 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and his 2014 induction into the Newfoundland and Labrador Volunteer Hall of Fame.
Mr. Eaton has served on a wide range of local and national boards and committees related to cancer advocacy and leadership. He is a dedicated supporter of his alma mater, regularly giving of his time as a speaker at Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration, Faculty of Medicine and School of Nursing.
J.D. Eaton Alumni Award
Dr. Rex Gibbons, B.Sc.’67, BA(Ed.)’67, M.Sc.’69, is this year’s recipient of the J.D. Eaton Alumni Award, which recognizes outstanding volunteer contributions to Memorial.
Following the completion of his PhD in geology at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Gibbons spent two years as a research associate at NASA’s Lyndon Johnson Space Center. He returned to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1976, bringing his expertise back to senior positions in the provincial Department of Mines and Energy for more than a decade. Moving from the role of bureaucrat to politician, Dr. Gibbons served as a member of the House of Assembly for St. John’s West and minister of Mines and Energy and Natural Resources from 1989-97. In 1990 he and then-Premier Clyde Wells signed the development agreement for the Hibernia Project, thereby laying the foundation for the province’s oil and gas industry. After his life in politics, Dr. Gibbons joined the private sector and worked for 10 years in senior positions with the Jacques Whitford Ltd. Group of Companies, from which he retired in 2007.
Throughout his career, Dr. Gibbons has received many academic and industry awards and volunteered on countless boards and committees, including chair of the Avalon Consolidated School Board, director of the St. John’s Board of Trade, chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association and president of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum.
What stands out among many volunteer commitments is his dedication to Memorial University. A constant throughout a long and diverse career has been service to his alma mater. Over the years Dr. Gibbons has been a consistent volunteer for numerous alumni initiatives and committees. Notable among them are his terms as an elected alumni representative on the Board of Regents. He was elected from 1979-82, again in 2008 and then re-elected for a third time in 2011. Considered one of the most significant volunteer contributions Memorial alumni can make, Dr. Gibbons has been an instrumental figure in guiding the management and administration of the university during his three terms of service.
Alumni Horizon Award
Jessica Burry, B.Sc.(Pharmacy)’06, is this year’s Alumni Horizon Award recipient and is being recognized for exceptional achievement by a Memorial graduate under the age of 35.
Ms. Burry’s involvement in humanitarian work began soon after graduating from Memorial’s School of Pharmacy. A position as HIV/AIDS clinical pharmacist with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto would ultimately trigger a passion that has taken her around the world to work with populations in the global south that are compromised by the threat of infectious disease. As a volunteer for the Canada-Africa Community Health Alliance and OHAfrica, she has worked on medical missions to the remote African villages of Gabon, Tanzania, Benin and Lesotho.
From there she began working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and was based in Swaziland, managing supply chains to ensure an uninterrupted supply of medications to patients while collaborating with the Ministry of Health and other global health actors to advance pharmaceutical care. She concluded the mission in 2013; she completed her master of science in infectious diseases degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine the same year.
Following the completion of a short contract with UNICEF in Copenhagen, Denmark, Ms. Burry began working with the International Union Against TB and Lung Diseases based out of New York. That role led to her re-joining MSF and in April 2015 she moved to Geneva, Switzerland, to support their Access Campaign. There she is working as an advocate for the development and provision of quality life-saving and life-prolonging HIV and hepatitis C medicines, for patients in MSF programs and beyond.
In September 2013 Ms. Burry was recognized by Memorial’s School of Pharmacy with its Alumni Achievement Award.
Outstanding Community Service Award
Dr. Jawahar (Jay) Kalra, M.Sc.’72, PhD’76, B.Med.Sci.’79, MD’81, is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Community Service Award.
Born in India, Dr. Kalra immigrated to Canada in 1971 to begin postgraduate studies at Memorial where he left an indelible mark on campus life as an active student leader, organizing events to promote camaraderie and fundraise for local charities.
Since 1985 Dr. Kalra has been a faculty member at the University of Saskatchewan and a member of the medical staff in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Royal University Hospital. In his adopted hometown of Saskatoon, Dr. Kalra is widely regarded as an ardent community builder, committed to issues such as social justice, human welfare and diversity, while inspiring others to build a stronger society. As a cultural ambassador and civic leader, he is a role model for others. He has diligently served in leadership roles with a range of community organizations such as Saskatoon Folkfest, the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon United Way, the Rotary Club of Saskatoon Nutana, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Saskatchewan.
As a pioneer in the Canadian medical profession, Dr. Kalra is a dedicated physician who has gained international acclaim for his role in laboratory medicine reorganization and innovative research. A Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, he has also served as national president of numerous medical associations and scientific societies, attracting high-calibre students and research collaborations. In 2013 he was named one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants and is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, among many other honours.
“The incredible contributions of this year’s honorees underscore the power of a Memorial education,” said Bob Dowden, chair, Alumni Tribute Awards Selection Committee. “Once again, we had an extremely strong slate of nominees from every generation which speaks to the impact Memorial graduates are making around the world. Each of this year’s four recipients have distinguished themselves in their careers and chosen fields and are among a select group of Memorial alumni chosen for our Tribute Awards. I offer a sincere congratulations to each of the recipients and look forward to celebrating their accomplishments at our gala this fall.”
The 34th annual Alumni Tribute Awards ceremony will take place Monday, Oct. 19, at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. To purchase tickets, please call the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development at 709-864-4354, toll free at 1-877-700-4081 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are $125 per person. Table and group rates available; more information is available.