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Oration honouring Eric David Morgan

Newfoundlanders are well known for our love of colour – in the vibrant hues we paint our houses, in our rich language, in our brilliant tourism ads – but, nowhere is colour more evident than at this ceremony today.

Look around. You are surrounded by those bedecked in gowns so colourful as to leave a peacock in awe.

But one person stands out: no one is more resplendent than our honorary graduand, Eric David Morgan. It has never been more appropriate to use such brilliant colours to adorn an honorary degree recipient. Because today we honour a scientist for whom colour is at the core of his work.

David Morgan is world renowned for his accomplishments in the use of chromatography, a technique whereby mixtures are analyzed by separating them into layers, often coloured, and which translated from the Greek means, "to write in colour."

During a scientific career of over 50 years, David Morgan has invented many new ways to use chromatography; to expose the sex lives of insects; to identify the molting hormone of the desert locust; and to isolate a natural insecticide. Even now, in his so-called "retirement," scholars from as far away as Brazil come to work with him on the morphology of the stingless bee.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, you know that Newfoundland and Memorial have spawned some of the world's finest thinkers, and, for that matter, some of its most colourful personalities. So, it will come as no surprise to learn that David Morgan is a product of both Newfoundland and Memorial University College.

Although he left Newfoundland to study and work in the U.K., his Newfoundland spirit has directed his life and career. Exploration has always guided his research, and his life choices have emphasized family and happiness over wealth and possessions.

For example, after obtaining his PhD from Oxford where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, he took a position as an industrial chemist in a large corporation – he was pulling in the big bucks. But he missed working with students – even his wife noticed that he was not content – so he forfeited his lucrative salary to join a rather new, entrepreneurial university in the U.K., Keele University, where he could balance his research with his commitment to students.

While much of his research is considered groundbreaking, one project in particular led not only to a new branch of chemistry, but was directly related to Labrador. One day an archeologist approached David with a pungent, waxy sample of butter that had been buried in a bog at Red Bay. David used chromatography to date it to a 16th century Basque whaling station. Since then, archeological chemistry has been used to analyze such things as mittens found in the frozen Arctic.

He believes that his Newfoundland spirit has contributed to his ability to build his own house in England, and his lifelong satisfaction with growing his own vegetables and raising his own chickens.

And, he has always been generous in supporting Memorial University: He was an original trustee for the Harlow campus and served on the Harlow board for almost 30 years. Every few years David Morgan would bring his wife and daughters back to Newfoundland to visit. He would drop in on old friends, and would like nothing more than to pack a lunch and end up on a beach for a mug-up.

But there was one special place that would captivate David Morgan every time he came home, a place where he would go and spend hours upon hours.

And where, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, was this place?

Was it the Anglican cathedral, where as a boy his rich young voice filled the choir stalls of the mighty church? No; only a short visit.

Maybe it was Bishop Feild College where he could revisit the stage where he performed in theatrical productions and won debating competitions.

Or perhaps, it was the Parade Street campus of Memorial University College where he is still remembered for his meticulous lab work; it has been said that when he was a student at Memorial, there was no greater predictor of success in a science course than having young Morgan as your lab partner.

Yes, he would visit all these places, but there was one further final destination, beckoning him ... it was ... Canadian Tire.

Yes, Mr. Vice-Chancellor every visit to Newfoundland included a lengthy excursion to Canadian Tire. Here the world-famous scientist would roam the aisles, purchasing items not available in England, even going so far as to procure a screen door and ship it to England.

When a friend jokingly suggested that he might open a Canadian Tire franchise in England, he paused and said, that's not a bad idea. He pursued the notion, but it was not to be. Had the answer been different Mr. Vice-Chancellor we might be here today to recognize a native son who brought Canadian Tire to England.

But Canadian Tire's loss is science's gain.

David Morgan has spent his career advancing the use of chromatography and using these techniques to study bees and locusts, bog butter and frozen mittens and to develop environmentally friendly insecticides.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, for his colourful contributions to science and for bringing great credit to our province and to Memorial, I present to you for the degree of doctor of science, honoris causa, Eric David Morgan.

Dale Foster,
University orator