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Educating 'bright, smart, capable people'

President Gary Kachanoski presents Bob Simmonds with a framed caricature as a thank you for his time as chair of the Board of Regents.

By Mandy Cook

Bob Simmonds, the outgoing chair of Memorial University's Board of Regents, says his experience at the helm of the institution's governing board is one for which he will be "eternally grateful."Mr. Simmonds served in the voluntary role of chair of the Board of Regents since November 2008. In October he announced that he was stepping down from the post.

During his four-year tenure, Mr. Simmonds worked with his fellow board members as the group managed the administration and control of Memorial's property, revenue, business and affairs, the role outlined for the board in the Memorial University Act.

As chair, he facilitated changes to the university's governance structure respecting Grenfell Campus and guided the search process that resulted in Dr. Gary Kachanoski arriving at Memorial in 2012 to take on the role of president and vice-chancellor. During that time, the board also streamlined its own administrative processes, and hosted the national conference of university governing boards this past April.

But, it was the presidential search and the evolution of Grenfell that were the accomplishments that most stand out during his term, he says.

When asked about his part in the presidential selection process that he chaired, Mr. Simmonds is quick to mention his fellow board members and the work of the national recruitment agency employed to facilitate the search.

"I was lucky enough to have received advice from a tremendous board, and from our search service, Janet Wright and Associates, and to have a group of absolutely world class-applicants for president," he said.

The praise is returned in kind, and then some, by Mr. Simmonds' colleagues on the board. President Gary Kachanoski offered his thanks to Mr. Simmonds for his "tireless" work on behalf of the university.
"During Bob's time as chair, Memorial benefitted greatly from the considerable skills he brought to our community," he said. "He is a man of great integrity. He has been a tremendous supporter and advocate of the university and higher education in the province.

"Personally, I came to this university under his leadership and his common sense, guidance, passion and unfailing good humour have been invaluable to me and to our executive. We will all miss his contributions and we certainly wish him well as he continues his very successful professional life."

Eleanor Swanson, the board's vice-chair, also extended her admiration.
"Bob is so well respected by all the regents, and he was a great leader for the board and the university," she said.

"His dedication to the job was impeccable.

He was always there to talk with the president, with me, with university registrar Glenn Collins, or Board of Regents secretary Tina Scott. The best interests of the university were uppermost, and he does what he says he's going to do. He could lighten things up – he has a wicked sense of humour and could make fun of himself. We'll also always remember him as a natty dresser."

While Mr. Simmonds' colourful personality and presence will be missed by his fellow regents, he says the feeling is mutual. He says the friendships and achievements that he enjoyed as chair provided a happy, albeit short-term, deviation from his chosen life path.

"I'm far from an academic," he said. "I'm a criminal lawyer. I was given an insight and a participation in something that will last for a long while, in what is the biggest asset we have in Newfoundland and Labrador — our university. I got to meet administrators, academics, professors, students; got the opportunity to see problems that people originally thought were unsolvable, I got to meet people who could solve those problems . . . did we solve them all? Obviously not. Did we solve some of them? Yes. Hopefully we brought Memorial a little farther along to realize its full potential, which is tremendous."

A Memorial alumnus – Mr. Simmonds was awarded the distinction of being top of his class when he graduated from his commerce program in 1976 – he says his educational experience at his alma mater laid the successful foundation of his present-day law practice. He is proud of Memorial, proud of his bachelor of commerce degree and a proud alumnus, he says.

In addition to selecting Dr. Kachanoski as president and vice-chancellor, Mr. Simmonds cites changes at Grenfell Campus as among the most memorable and positive outcomes from his work as board chair. He says the development of the new executive and administrative structure that supported the transformation and growth at the university's campus in Corner Brook has been "instrumental" to the growth of Memorial as an institution.

"The relationship between the two campuses is significantly improved and I think that was all part of a continuum, from the president's search through to the creation of the new senior administrative positions at Grenfell," he says. "I think that was the biggest achievement -- as a group we brought the university farther along. There's a lot more trust, I think. Both campuses realize how they complement each other. I think that's great for the students, who are the most important people at the university."

And while Mr. Simmonds has turned his full focus back to his busy law practice, he did share some final chair-like advice regarding Memorial's future trajectory. He is acutely aware that the province's oil fields and other natural riches are non-renewable resources -- but that Memorial University is a renewable one.

"Many of our resources will be depleted, but what is going to happen if we properly handle our asset, Memorial University -- Grenfell Campus, the St. John's campus, the Marine Institute -- is that we are going to have the best asset Newfoundland and Labrador can ever have. We will have bright, smart, capable people who will be able to handle the crisis and problems that will arise in our society as long -- as we focus on Memorial and how important it is."

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