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Oration honouring Donald Samuel Walters

Wednesday, May 27, 10 a.m.

Mr. Chancellor, I introduce to you Donald Samuel Walters, the philanthropic banker.

Chancellor, it has been said that this species – the bankerus philanthropus – does not exist, that sightings are rare. Indeed, Mark Twain described a banker as the very antithesis of a philanthropist when he said, “a banker is a fellow who lends his umbrella when the sun is shining, and wants it back the minute it begins to rain.” But, be sure, this is no oxymoron – Sam Walters is proof of the existence of the philanthropic banker.

And, Sam Walters has excelled as both a banker and a philanthropist. Although now retired, as a banker Sam seized opportunities that were both challenging and that allowed him to work with people. As a young banker in the auditing department in the Nova Scotia office of the Royal Bank, he told his boss “Give me anything you have where I can work with people,” and his boss responded, “Well, we have this job in Newfoundland.” A few days before Christmas, Sam drove to Newfoundland with his wife Eleanor, his daughter Donette, and with Danielle on the way. As he rose to the position of vice-president, he became synonymous with the Royal Bank here in Newfoundland – it has been said that Sam had an RBC Visa application inside every suit jacket pocket, and “Where do you bank?” was Sam’s proverbial reception icebreaker.

Chancellor, this consummate banker is also an outstanding philanthropist. Sam himself might be surprised to hear himself described as a philanthropist – thinking that it only means sharing huge wealth – but when we learn that the word “philanthropy” is derived from the ancient Greek, meaning “to love people” and may encompass any altruistic activity intended to improve quality of life, there is no better descriptor of Sam Walters than philanthropist.

Sam’s philanthropy is rooted in his love of people. For example, the circumstances of a friend’s son inspired him to start the Special Olympics here in Newfoundland and Labrador where he served as its founding president; he has served as honorary campaign chair for the Canadian Red Cross; and he has supported the building of the Easter Seals House in Pippy Park. As a volunteer, he was chair of Operation Online; he has served as director of the St. John’s Board of Trade; and as chair of the St. John’s Port Authority he was instrumental in developing the cruise ship industry for this city.

Mr. Chancellor, this philanthropic banker has been a particularly good friend to Memorial University. He was a major figure in the development of the Royal Bank Virtual Design Centre for distance education; he has provided counsel to countless students as they prepare for business competitions; he has served as chair of the Faculty of Business Advisory Board; and his passion for the business school has resulted in changing the complexion of banking in Newfoundland – whereas at one time the management in the Royal Bank in Newfoundland were “from away,” Sam took it upon himself to recruit from our faculty. Other banks soon caught on, and our graduates can now be found in senior positions of all Canadian banks.

The people that Sam mentored and hired were special to him; it is probably no exaggeration to say that he knew every employee by name and treated them like family. Every Christmas Eve, Sam would gather bank employees into the board room for Christmas cheer and then he would telephone all the friends who had left the bank, putting them on speaker phone so everyone could wish them season’s greetings. And then, as the day wore down and people started to drift home, he would cross the street to Vogue Furriers to buy a Christmas gift for Eleanor.

He has received numerous honours for his volunteer work including the 125th Anniversary of Confederation Commemorative Medal, awarded to Canadians who make significant contributions to their fellow citizens. But those who know Sam best know that his philanthropy is not about awards, it is about doing good. In the midst of Newfoundland blizzards he shovels out the driveways of neighbours who work at the Janeway just in case they need to respond to an emergency; he overwinters palm trees in his garage, knowing that eventually spring will come to Newfoundland; he adopts stray kittens while on vacation in Florida; he was seen in the lobby of the bank taking out his wallet and giving money to a young woman, baby in arms, when the ATM machine did not allow her cash withdrawal.

Mr. Chancellor, for demonstrating to us that this creature, the philanthropic banker is indeed live and well and living in Newfoundland, for allowing us to see that business and philanthropy are wonderful compatriots, and for excelling at them both, I present to you for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, Donald Samuel Walters.

Dr. Dale Foster
University orator