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February 5, 2004


High honour for English professor
Made to Order

Dr. Ronald Rompkey
Photo by Chris Hammond
Dr. Ronald Rompkey
By Michelle Osmond
A Memorial University research professor has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada, the highest honour for lifetime achievement in this country. Dr. Ronald Rompkey of the Department of English has received the accolade for his work as a scholar of Canadian studies, especially of Newfoundland and Labrador, and as an advocate for the arts and cultural industries.

Dr. Rompkey jokes that he became involved in arts advocacy because of one woman: Mary Tulett. Ms. Tulett, a former executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, asked him to be an external reviewer for the writing competition, and as a result he was appointed to the council and eventually elected its chairman. He hasn’t looked back since and has dedicated part of his career to promoting arts and culture, both provincially and nationally, ensuring also through his work at this university that Newfoundland and Labrador continues to be represented through the printed word.

The Order of Canada was established in 1967 to recognize outstanding achievement and service in various fields of human endeavour. Before being nominated, Dr. Rompkey was well aware that this was the highest honour a Canadian could receive.

“I knew people who had received it,” he said. “When you go to a party or reception and you’re standing in a group of people all wearing the Order of Canada, those little badges are hard to ignore … you can’t earn one like air-mile rewards. It either happens or it doesn’t, but when it does it hits you over the head.”

Dr. Rompkey says he hasn’t really gotten used to the idea yet. “But I feel honoured by it, I must say. It’s exceptional. The other thing I’m pleased about is the response from people. When something like this happens, it’s very pleasant to see people’s generosity.”

The efforts of various arts organizations with which Dr. Rompkey has been involved in raising national awareness of the arts and cultural industries have not been in vain. He notes that being an artist is now an acceptable option for a student. “Arts and culture in our province is getting stronger, but more important, it’s getting more organized, more deliberate than before. There’s more structure to it, and we can take advantage of more national programs. Nowadays, you can train to be an artist and make a living here or elsewhere. The actors and visual artists coming out of Grenfell College and the musicians from the School of Music are as talented as you’ll find.”

Dr. Rompkey credits Memorial University for his achievement and calls it a distinction for the university. “It’s a privilege to work here, where you have all of the services of the university at your disposal, especially the wonderful people at the QE II Library.” He also says the organizations he’s been involved with have brought him to this point. “You can’t achieve something like this by yourself. The people you’re involved with are part of it.”

Dr. Rompkey is well known for his enthusiasm as an advocate for arts, culture and literature. In addition, he is a respected biographer and editor of Canadian texts. “When I came to Memorial, one of the things I decided to get involved with was Newfoundland and Labrador literature and questions of identity. We had certainly done a lot of work in the Department of English since the university was founded. Cultures are partly identified by their documents, their theatre, novels and poems, and we’re accumulating those images. It’s all part of discovering who we are, and the process never stops.”

A native Newfoundlander, Dr. Rompkey holds a master’s in English Literature from Memorial and a doctorate from the University of London. He has just completed a collection of travel literature by French visitors to Newfoundland in the 19th century.

Two other Newfoundlanders with connections to Memorial were also recognized with the Order of Canada: Donna Butt, writer, actor and artistic director of Rising Tide Theatre, and Susan Dyer Knight, Alumna of the Year in 2000.



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Next issue: February 19, 2003

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