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Graduates with honour

Convocation ceremony

By Jeff Green

A well-known U.S. civil rights advocate, a valiant survivor of the Second World War’s atomic bomb, and a vocal supporter of this province’s fishery lead an impressive list of individuals who will receive honorary degrees from Memorial University during spring convocation next month.

Memorial will present honorary degrees to nine outstanding individuals during ceremonies in both St. John’s and Corner Brook.

The honourees include:

  • former Land and Sea producer, director and writer David Quinton, who will be honoured during convocation at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College;
  • fisheries activist and decorated athlete Gus Etchegary;
  • Second World War atomic bomb survivor John Ford;
  • Irish businessman and politician Walter Kirwan;
  • scholar and geographer David Lowenthal;
  • retired teacher and Salvation Army Officer Gladys Osmond;
  • public servant and arts supporter John Perlin;
  • civil rights activist and survivor of the sinking of USS Truxton Lanier Phillips;
  • and Aboriginal leader and advocate Mary May Simon.

Honorary degree recipients are chosen by the Senate, the university’s academic governing body, after a very careful examination of the grounds for their nomination.

The honorary doctorate degree is designed to recognize extraordinary contribution to society or exceptional intellectual or artistic achievement. The awarding of honorary doctorates, an important feature of Memorial’s convocation, serves to celebrate both the individual and the university, as well as to inspire graduates, their families and guests.

Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook will hold its spring convocation ceremonies at the Pepsi Centre on Friday, May 16. Meanwhile, convocation runs at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s from Tuesday, May 27 to Friday, May 30.


Augustine (Gus) Etchegary

For his contributions to the fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, St. Lawrence native Gus Etchegary will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at spring convocation.

Mr. Etchegary had a distinguished 41-year career with Fishery Products Ltd. Joining the company in 1947, he worked his way through the ranks to be appointed as executive vice-president in 1984, a position he held until his retirement in 1988. A long-time fisheries advocate, Mr. Etchegary is a former Canadian commissioner to the International Commission of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries and the North Atlantic Fishery Organization (NAFO). He participated in a number of fishery negotiations including the signing of a fisheries bilateral agreement between the USSR and Canada with Romeo LeBlanc. Mr. Etchegary was also responsible for the formation of the Save Our Fisheries Association in 1971 to bring the attention of the federal and provincial governments to the serious decline of fish stocks adjacent to Canada’s east coast.

Since his retirement, he has volunteered for a number of community activities including acting as an adviser to the Coalition of Churches, which was formed in 1992 to highlight the serious problems facing rural communities in the province following the 1992 cod moratorium.

Despite his very busy schedule, Mr. Etchegary also finds time for another one of his passions – soccer. He has been involved with soccer associations all across the province for over 60 years and on May 7, 2007, he became the first Newfoundlander to be inducted into the Canadian Soccer Association Hall of Fame.

Mr. Etchegary will receive an honorary doctor of laws at the 3 p.m. session of convocation on May 29.

John Ford

For his determination to survive and to commemorate the war in the Pacific and its victims, Port aux Basques native John Ford will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Mr. Ford was enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1940 and, after basic training in England, was posted to Singapore. Taken prisoner by the Japanese in March 1942, he was placed in a prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki. During his incarceration, he and his fellow prisoners suffered brutal treatment at the hands of their captors.

When the American forces dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Mr. Ford witnessed and survived the explosion. He was rescued and returned to Newfoundland to resume his employment with the Newfoundland Railway; he retired in 1976.

Since that time, Mr. Ford has ceaselessly lobbied for the rights of veterans and is a very active member of the Royal Canadian Legion. He has provided valuable contributions to Legion activities and initiatives including the Annual Poppy Campaign and both the Caribou Legion Pavilion and Manor. For 25 years, Mr. Ford has appeared at Remembrance Day ceremonies where he speaks of the horrors of war and lobbies for world peace.

The Royal Canadian Legion presented him with the Meritorious Service Medal with Palm Leaf, the highest award granted to members. In 2006, he was honoured with a Minister of Veteran Affairs Commendation for his contribution to the care, well-being, and remembrance of veterans.

Mr. Ford will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the 10 a.m. session of convocation on May 29.

Walter Kirwin

A former senior civil servant in the Irish government, Walter Kirwin will receive an honorary degree for his role as an architect in the Irish peace process and his contribution to strengthening the links between Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Kirwin was a senior member of the Irish government’s negotiating team in the multi-party negotiations on Northern Ireland that led to the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement and the British-Irish Agreement on April 10, 1998. As secretary general of the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation,

Mr. Kirwin was, according to former Taoiseach John Bruton, responsible for bringing together the various parties involved in the Northern Ireland conflict.

He is also being recognized for his work in the development of the Irish-Newfoundland Partnership aimed at strengthening ties between Ireland and Newfoundland. Mr. Kirwin put the original memorandum of understanding in place, and most recently as Memorial’s Coracle Fellow, has continued to broaden this relationship. Of particular note is his involvement with the very successful Festival of the Sea and his role as the organizing force behind development of the Irish Newfoundland Field Studies Centre at Tilting.

Mr. Kirwin is a native Dubliner who holds a first class honours degree in economics, politics and statistics from the National University of Ireland, a M.Sc. in strategic management (public sector) from Trinity College, Dublin, and a diploma in economic planning from the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands.

Mr. Kirwin will receive an honorary doctor of laws at the 10 a.m. session of convocation on May 30.

David Lowenthal

For his significant and sharply-written contributions to a major re-perception of the past, Dr. David Lowenthal will receive an honorary degree at spring convocation. Dr. Lowenthal is currently a professor emeritus with the Department of Geography at the University College London.

Born in New York City, Dr. Lowenthal holds a BS from Harvard (history), a MA from University of California Berkley (geography) and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin (history). He was Regents’ Professor at Davis in 1973 and a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of Washington in 1988. In 1998 he was Memorial University’s Henrietta Harvey Distinguished Lecturer.

Holder of Fulbright, Guggenheim and Leverhulme fellowships, Dr. Lowenthal was given the University and Professional Publication Award in the United Kingdom and the Historic Preservation book prize in the United States.

His George Perkins Marsh, Prophet of Conservation was shortlisted for the British Academy Book Prize in 2001 and currently he has two books in press.

He is best known for his magisterial The Past is a Foreign Country (1985), a book that looks at our attitudes to, and relationship with, the past as they have developed over the course of history. In 1996 he took a wry, but equally encyclopaedic look at the whole heritage movement in Possessed by the Past: The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, forcing those who worked in the field to reconsider their certainties.

Dr. Lowenthal will receive an honorary doctor of letters at the 10 a.m. session of convocation on May 27.

Gladys Osmond

From working the counter of the Manuel Family Bakery in 1941, to receiving the Canadian Forces medallion for Distinguished Service in 2006 from Gen. Rick Hillier, Capt. Gladys Osmond is a well-known and loved humanitarian.

She is best known for her inexhaustible and altruistic letter writing to men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces, which she has been penning tirelessly for the past 21 years. For her efforts, she will receive an honorary doctor of laws.

Her career as a teacher and officer began in Monkstown in 1944. She settled in Peterview in 1947 where she raised five children. After her husband’s death in 1980, she began working with the Evangeline Centre in Toronto – a refuge for the homeless, psychiatric outpatients and battered women. She retired and returned to Newfoundland in 1988, settling into Springdale’s Valley Vista Long Term Care Facility.

But when a chance arose to write to the soldier son of an old friend, the Granny Brigade at Valley Vista was formed – an initiative which sent hundreds of thousands of individual letters, postcards and notes to Canadian soldiers.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s former Lieutenant Governor Edward Roberts traveled to Springdale in 2004 to present Capt. Osmond with the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award.

She will receive her honorary doctor of laws degree at the 3 p.m. session of convocation on May 27.

John Crosbie Perlin

For his contributions to arts and culture and the community, St. John's native John Crosbie Perlin will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

John Perlin was educated at Holloway School and Bishop Feild College and Appleby College in Oakville, Ont. He joined the family business in 1952.

From 1971-89 he served as the province’s inaugural director of cultural affairs and was the driving force behind the successful development of the network of Arts and Culture Centres.

From 1985-2006 he served as the founding chair of the Quid Vidi/Rennie’s River Development Foundation.

He served as Canadian Secretary to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for her visit to Canada (1990).

He is a Member of the Order of Canada (1999), Lieutenant (1989) and Commander (1990) of the Royal Victorian Order, and honorary life member of the Royal St. John's Regatta Committee, Vera Perlin Society, Newfoundland Society for the Physically Disabled and St. John's Public Libraries Board, and has played a leadership role in countless other community organizations.

He remains active as president of Newfoundland Publishing Services Ltd. and the Perlin Family Charitable Trust. He serves as chair of the Newfoundland East Salvation Army Advisory Board, chair of the Rising Tide Theatre Association Board, honorary chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Drama Festival Society and as Honorary Private Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor.

Mr. Perlin will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the 3 p.m. session of convocation on May 28.

Lanier Phillips

For his resistance to and capacity to rise above repression, Lanier Phillips will receive an honorary degree during spring convocation.

Mr. Phillips joined the United States Navy in 1941, when he was 18-years-old, and was on board the USS Truxton when it ran aground near St. Lawrence on Feb. 18, 1942. He was the only African-American to escape his ship; other black sailors who served with him stayed on board, fearing they would be ill treated by the locals and hoping they would be rescued by the U.S. Navy.

From a crew of 156, Mr. Phillips was one of only 46 survivors. He and other sailors were rescued by the people of St. Lawrence, and Phillips was terrified that he would be lynched. Instead he was taken into a local home, put to bed and cared for by white people. This experience left Mr. Phillips with a new outlook on life, having been treated with dignity and full respect for the first time in his young life.

Though segregationist policies were still alive when he returned to the U.S., Mr. Phillips was no longer prepared to be repressed by them. Despite discouragement and discrimination, he was accepted, trained and became the first African-American solar technician. He got involved in the American civil rights movement and marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King.

Mr. Phillips has since shared his life story with students of all ages. He still carries with him the lessons he learned some 64 years ago in the small town of St. Lawrence.

Mr. Phillips will receive an honorary doctor of degree at the 3 p.m. session of convocation on May 30.

David Quinton

For his contribution to the development of cultural and historical TV and radio programming and documentaries, and his influence on this province’s regionally focused programming, David Quinton will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College’s 2008 spring convocation on Friday, May 16, at 10 a.m.

Mr. Quinton’s documentary and television work reflects the culture, history and socioeconomic profile of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is perhaps best known for his involvement with the CBC show Land and Sea, one of the most successful regional television shows in Canada.

He was also a regular contributor to CBC programming such as the series This Land and Country, Marketplace and other programs under CBC’s Youth Department. His voice was often heard on CBC Radio programming such as the Fisherman’s Broadcast.

Since his departure from CBC, Mr. Quinton has been focused on writing, producing and filming works of his own design. He is no stranger to the west coast of the island, having collaborated with retired Grenfell College professor Dr. Don Downer on the television documentary Letters from Eliza. The documentary told the moving story of a 100-year-old Argentine woman who recounts her experience of exile and family reclaimed.

His grounding in the natural sciences, intimate knowledge of the fishery and special interest in the people and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador combine in his work, culminating in documentaries that are thought provoking, informative and socially motivating.

Mary May Simon

Mary May Simon has devoted her life's work towards gaining further recognition of Aboriginal rights and to promoting the study of Northern affairs.

For her service to the Inuit and her fellow Canadians in a wide range of offices and with great effectiveness for over three decades, she will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree at the 10 a.m. session of convocation on May 28.

Born in Kangirsualuujuaq (George River) in Nunavik (Northern Quebec), she began her career as a CBC producer/announcer. On July 7, 2006, she was elected president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. Ms. Simon was special adviser to the Labrador Inuit Association on the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement from 2004 to 2005. She served as the ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade from 1994 to 2003 and was the Canadian Ambassador to Denmark. She is the first Inuk to hold an ambassadorial position.

Ms. Simon was one of the senior Inuit negotiators during the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution as well as the first minister meetings in the 1980s and the Charlottetown Accord. As circumpolar ambassador she was able to persuade the Russian government to allow Inuit in their territories to become involved in the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

Ms. Simon has gained the respect of many heads of government and international organizations through her diplomacy and firmness of purpose. She has become a respected international adviser on important issues such as the environment, human rights, scientific research and development and peace. She is the author of the book Inuit: One Arctic – One Future.

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