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Chancellor on campus

By David Sorensen

Retired general Rick Hillier made his first public appearance on the St. John’s campus since being named chancellor by Premier Danny Williams in June.
Gen. Hillier attended the employee barbecue on Aug. 28, toured the Marine Institute and met university officials, and spent a second day familiarizing himself with a campus that has changed radically since his student days in the 1970s.

“This is not the same university that I attended,” he said in an interview with the Gazette. “The difference between 1972-1975 when I was here and now is phenomenal and it’s all incredibly positive.”

The Campbellton, Newfoundland, native said he was eager to face new challenges after reaching the pinnacle of his military career. He didn’t expect the first assignment to be at Memorial.

“I failed retirement,” he joked. “Actually, my intent was never to retire, my intent was to leave the Canadian Armed Forces at what I perceived was the right time.”

After stepping down as Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff on July 2, Gen. Hillier spent some time travelling with his wife Joyce, also a Memorial grad, including a visit to the beaches of Normandy that profoundly moved this 35-year military man.

When Premier Williams called, Gen. Hillier said he was intrigued with the prospect of the chancellor’s role. After a discussion with his wife, he decided that it was a good fit.

“It is a chance to put our shoulder behind what’s good about the university and what’s good about the university’s part in our province and our province’s part in Canada and Canada’s part in the world.

“And having been here the last couple of days, we’re absolutely convinced that that was the right decision. We’re delighted to be here.”

He said walking away from the job as Canada’s top soldier was an easy choice – leaving behind his fellow soldiers was another story.

“It wasn’t difficult to walk away from the job as chief of defence staff,” he said. “That appointment was a natural progression and I made the decision to leave at this time because I thought the reasons were all there to leave. Two months after the fact, I’m absolutely convinced I made the right decision.

“Having said that, it was difficult to walk away from my family – the men and women in uniform and their families. I was a soldier, I’ll remain a soldier until the day I die and the fact that I’m not wearing a uniform is irrelevant. My heart rests with them and I will continue to support them.”

In fact, Gen. Hillier sees his appointment as chancellor of Memorial University as part of his commitment to the men and women of the military.

“One of the ways (I can support them) is by accepting this appointment as chancellor of Memorial University, established for what? To make sure that their sacrifice will be remembered in education and the development of our province.”

Gen. Hillier is no stranger to Memorial, although he hasn’t been to the campuses in St. John’s or Corner Brook for some time. He has been involved with Affinity events for the past four or five years and his conversations with alumni and his recent visit to the St. John’s campus and the province reinforced the importance of the university. He said there were three things that stood out.

“I had not realized how transformed Newfoundland and Labrador is as a province. Secondly, (I had not realized) what an important part in that transformation Memorial plays. But thirdly, what a national and international footprint this university has and what an incredible international reputation it has.

“It’s been exciting to get back here. I’ve learned a lot, but I’ve only scratched the surface. I remain in awe of the university, of the passion that people here have for the university, for what they are doing here, and learning and teaching and developing and being a part of Newfoundland and Labrador and part of our place in Canada.”

On July 2, Gen. Hillier handed over his appointment as Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff. His appointment as chancellor was effective July 3. A formal installation of the new chancellor will be held during Memorial’s fall convocation in October. The chancellor is a member of the university’s Board of Regents and the Senate and serves as chairman of convocation. All degrees are conferred by the chancellor.

In making the announcement, Premier Williams praised the general’s commitment to the province.

“We are honoured that Gen. Hillier has accepted this appointment to serve the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular our youth,” said Premier Williams. “His charisma, intelligence and outstanding ability to serve others will be among some of the outstanding traits he will bring to this role. His service to our country has been nothing short of extraordinary and we wish he and his family well as they enter this new phase of this life.”

Gen. Rick Hillier

General Rick Hillier was born in Campbellton, Notre Dame Bay. He enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1973 through the Regular Officer Training Plan program, and graduated from Memorial University in 1975 with a bachelor
of science degree.

He joined his first regiment, the 8th Canadian Hussars, and served with and later commanded the Royal Canadian Dragoons in Canada
and Germany.

Throughout his more than 30-year military career, he commanded troops within Canada, Europe, Asia and the United States, from the platoon to the multi-national formation level. He also worked as staff officer in several
headquarters, including at the strategic level
in Ottawa.

Gen. Hillier was appointed in 1998 as the first Canadian Deputy Commanding General of III Corps, U.S. Army in Fort Hood, Texas. Two years later he took command of NATO’s Stabilization Force’s Multinational Division in

He was appointed as commander of the Army in May 2003 and in October that year was selected as the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in
Kabul, Afghanistan.

In February, 2005, Gen. Hillier was promoted to the rank of Chief of the Defence Staff, the highest ranking position in the Canadian Forces. On April 15 this year, he announced he would retire from that position in July.