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Spotlight on alumni

In the first of four spotlights on the 2012 Alumni Tribute Award winners in this edition and upcoming editions of the Gazette, we feature Tom Mills, the 2012 winner of the Outstanding Community Service award. Mr. Mills recounts his experiences and discusses the importance of giving back in this interview with Gazette contributor Jennifer Batten.

JB: You had a long, successful career in family counselling and you completed four degrees during your time at Memorial. How did you start out on your career path?

TM: After high school I began working in business. I spent some time working for the United States Air Force as a typist, I worked for Imperial Oil and I sold life insurance for a while. I married young, at the age of 21, and by 1967, my wife and I had five children. I was working a lot at night and it was cutting into my family time. Quite simply, I got tired of it. I enrolled in two courses at Memorial at the age of 34, an older student than most. I was driven to complete my studies so I resigned my job and moved my family in with my in-laws so I could study full-time. With tremendous support from my wife and family, I was able to complete a bachelor of arts and later a bachelor of social work, and I got a job as a research assistant in psychology right out of school. And so began my extremely rewarding career in family counselling.

JB: Can you tell me about your community and volunteer work? Why is it important to you?

TM: To me, it's just something that I do. I don't think twice about it. Working with people and helping others has been a big part of my life, informally and formally through my professional career and through the relationships I've formed with people I've met along the way. I've always done what I need to do to help out people I counselled, new Canadians, even neighbours, when the need presented itself.

JB: You have been a strong advocate for multiculturalism and a diverse society. Can you talk about the importance of a multicultural society and what it means to you personally?

TM: Multiculturalism is so important in our community today. I believe we have so much to learn from people with cultural backgrounds that are different from our own. My life has been tremendously enriched by my contact with people from all over the world, right here in St. John's.
I would say that most of the problems in the world today stem from a lack of understanding. We often don't take the time to understand people who are different from us, which to me, is the root of the cause of most of our issues, our conflict, our global problems. If we all took a little time to simply listen to each other, to reach out and help, we'd see that we're really not all that different.

JB: You have four degrees from Memorial that you completed at various stages of your life. Why is post-secondary education important to you?

TM: I believe that the road to success really is through university. We can all benefit from education. The correlation between education and a successful community is very high. And there's always more you don't know. Each course you take, every new piece of knowledge you gain, helps you to do a better job and to help people in the most effective way possible. I first began my studies at Memorial in 1967 and I completed my master of social work in 1992, so clearly education has been a big part of my life. In fact, just last year, at the age of 78, I attended a history class at Memorial. It was quite an experience, sitting there amongst students who could be my grandchildren, but I was interested in the topic and I wanted to learn more. Obtaining better qualifications has, without a doubt, helped me help other people. And higher education has been an important step on the road to success for everyone in my immediate family; between us all we have 12 degrees and counting!