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Vol 38  No 15
June 8, 2006


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Address to Convocation

Dr. Roland T. Martin

First let me say how pleased I am to be here with such a wonderful group of proud and happy graduates in commerce, master of business administration, social work and master of social work. You have all achieved important personal and professional education goals, and are ready for the next stages in your individual lives where I am sure you will truly make a difference to your families, your community, and your chosen careers.

It is a privilege to be with the social work graduates. Your school had its genesis in 1963, while I was here at Memorial as a student. It has built a first class reputation for professional education at the bachelor and graduate degree levels, including a long history of internship education that, like the business faculty, adds practical experiences to the students’ programs.

It is especially meaningful for me to be here with graduates from the faculty of business, having been a commerce student, a member of faculty, and a life-long supporter of business education. I am so proud of what Memorial’s business students, faculty and staff have accomplished during the past three decades. Memorial’s business education and co-op programs are respected globally, as evidenced by its recent recognition at the 25th anniversary of the Concordia Case Competition as the most successful team in the history of the competition.

Thank you, Dr. Dale Foster, for being today’s convocation orator and for those creative and colourful words about me! It is truly a great personal honour to be recognized by my alma mater and to receive an honorary doctorate of laws. I used to marvel at the convocation sessions I attended in the 1960s and 1970s when our esteemed English professor, George Story, performed your role with exquisite prose and wit.

Yes, I did say the 1960s and 1970s! I attended Memorial as a freshman in the fall of 1961, at the impressionable age of 16! It is hard to believe that was 45 years ago! I watched Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of former United States President Franklin Roosevelt, one of the best known and most respected women of her day, participate in the opening ceremonies for our new campus. She also received an honorary doctorate. All of the buildings in those days were on the Elizabeth Avenue side: four initial academic buildings, two residences and the dining hall. The university’s total student enrolment that first year was approximately 1,900, compared with almost 18,000 students today in a vastly larger and modern university that includes the Corner Brook campus, the Marine Institute, Harlow Campus in England, and access to first and second years at the College of the North Atlantic.

My Screech Story

Before I get to my main remarks that I have titled, “Making a Difference, That’s What Memorial University Graduates Do,” I have a confession to make. When Dr. Axel Meisen, Memorial’s president and vice-chancellor, came to visit and advised me the Senate had approved awarding me an honorary degree, I thought I was at last being recognized and rewarded for my role in preserving a very important piece of Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture, and I might add, an important source of government revenue.

A little background is required. In 1972, shortly after Premier Frank Moores came to office, his government asked me if I could put together a group of professors with accounting, marketing and management skills and to perform a complete review of the operations of what was then the Newfoundland Liquor Commission. Two of those professors are still involved with the Business faculty; Professors Jim Barnes and Gar Pynn.

Our report resulted in the creation of the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation, with many operational and governance changes. However, one of the most interesting findings had to do with our world famous rum drink, Screech. We discovered that despite decades of bottling, selling and drinking Screech, of various qualities and formulas, no one had properly registered the trademark! Subsequently, lawyers were hired, Screech’s trademark was registered, and it became a legal asset of the Province. It is still bottled and sold by the Liquor Corporation, as I suspect some of you graduates already know!

When Dr. Meisen was outlining the background criteria for my honorary degree, he spoke of public service and business activities. Not wanting to raise doubts in Dr. Meisen’s mind about this collective judgment, I made no reference to my long association with our famous rum drink, including the fact we had named our first sailboat Screech! Can you imagine a world without our infamous “Screeching-in Ceremony” for visitors?

Making a difference

After that colourful personal sidebar, I will now return to the main theme of my remarks.

What do I mean by “making a difference?” What are the major segments of our personal and professional lives where one can make a difference, provide a sense of achievement, and create balance to our lives?

I choose to think of life as being comprised of three main segments:

1. One’s family and friends,

2. One’s professional activities, and

3. One’s community involvement.

In my own case, I have had a number of careers since graduating from Memorial and Western. In fact, it would be fair of you to ask, “Why have you not been able to keep a job?” I have been a stockbroker, university professor, government official, CEO of a several companies, and currently own my own business. I have always been active in community affairs and have served on boards or committees of two universities, various charities, organizations and corporations.

Most significantly, I have been blessed with knowing and working with many individuals who have played very important supportive and loving roles in my personal life, my professional activities, and my social and community interests. They have all truly made a difference in my life.

I would like to make a few comments on several of these individuals, with the goal of passing on to you some of the lessons and rewards I have enjoyed.

My late father James and my mother Mary, who I am so pleased that she is here with us today, have always made a positive contribution to my activities. All of my family has been a consistent part of my life, especially my wife of 39-years, Sue, a Memorial graduate and former professor. Our two children cannot be here today as daughter Catherine had her second baby just last week, while our son David, his wife and our grandson live in Osaka, Japan.

Like it has been for so many families from Newfoundland and Labrador, and increasingly from other provinces, territories, and countries, Memorial has been a very important part of the lives of the Martin family and our immediate relatives. Since my freshman year in 1961, at least 25 family members have attended Memorial University. One whom I would like to mention is my niece Cindy Wall who died of cystic fibrosis two years ago at age 31. Cindy lived an energetic and productive life: a graduate of Memorial, student leader, president of the provincial CF Association, active with the national CF organization and a true inspiration to her family and everyone who met her. She made a difference.

In my own case, growing up in St. John’s and attending Memorial made a huge difference to how my life has unfolded. I thought it would be fun to highlight four individuals who have had a profound impact on my personal and professional life:

1. Howie Meeker, legendary NHL Hall of Fame member, rookie of the year, Toronto Maple Leafs coach and Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster for over 30 years. Howie moved to St. John’s around 1957, and first coached me when I was 12; he later convinced my parents to let me switch high schools in Grade 10 to play on his team at Prince of Wales College, which led to my playing on other teams he coached over a 10-year period. We became good friends, and on one occasion he was guest lecturer for my business policy class on the topic of leadership, a trait he exemplifies. I spoke with Howie a few weeks ago. He is now 82 years old: healthy, happy and still outspoken as he explains how the game of hockey should be played. Howie lives in Parksville, British Columbia, with his wife Leah.

2. Peter J. Gardiner, the first head of what was then the Commerce Department, and for whom the P. J. Gardiner Institute for enterpreneurism is named. Professor Gardiner was unique; a chartered accountant from England who adopted our province, married Janet, and went on the lead a large local family business, Chester Dawe Limited. In our first years of Commerce he was the only full-time faculty member. There were only nine graduating students in our year; and to vividly indicate how things have changed, Peter would look around the accounting class, identify who today’s lucky student was, and with money in his hand to make the purchase, he would say, “Martin, go get me 20 Camels, please!” When I became a licensed stockbroker at age 21, Peter was the first person to call and sign up to be a client. That’s the kind of guy he was, demonstrating confidence and loyalty with his actions. We later served together on the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation Board and were friends until the day he died, at the young age of 49. It was our discussion after Peter’s funeral among several of his ex-students that led to the suggestion to Memorial’s president that an institute for small business be created to honour Professor Gardiner.

3. Moses O. Morgan, former president of Memorial University. As President Emeritus Leslie Harris said at convocation in 1995, shortly after Mr. Morgan’s death, “In the annals of Memorial University of Newfoundland, few names will shine with greater luminance than that of Moses Osbourne Morgan. Nor are there any to claim a more intimate or more influential involvement with the growth and development of this institution.” Mose was Dean of Arts and Science when we were Commerce students. In my second year he called me in after the Christmas Exams, and as only Dean Morgan could put it, “Rollie, this is for your own good. You are being placed on probation for the balance of this academic year with the objective of getting your marks to an acceptable level! So that means no more hockey.” My marks came up, and in my fourth year the varsity team won its first Boyle Trophy, beating Howie Meeker’s Guards Team! The number one fan at those games was Mose Morgan. A few short years later I was a faculty member and Mose was my boss and mentor. After he retired, and I was commuting from Halifax, Mose would pick me up and drive me to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Board meetings, where we were both directors. We were colleagues and friends until his death.

4. John C. Crosbie, Memorial University’s current chancellor, is, in my opinion, our most significant politician in modern history, and has made a huge difference for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and our fellow Canadians. In 1972, Mr. Crosbie, then the province’s finance minister, convinced Sue and me to postpone doctorate studies at the University of Toronto so that I could be seconded from the Commerce Department to the provincial government for one year. I stayed in Finance for five years and we never did get to Toronto! So when John called me in a few weeks ago to apologize for being out of Canada for today’s convocation, he displayed his famous sense of mischievous humour by asking me if I would consider deferring receiving this great honour until the fall convocation when he could be present! With a precedent like the one just outlined, I think you understand why I declined his suggestion! Mr. Crosbie and I have been friends and associates since 1969. I have worked as his special advisor, and as his deputy minister of Finance; we have written articles together; and we worked closely and stubbornly on the fight for the revision of the Atlantic Canada Offshore Accords revenue sharing arrangements. We were both delighted that Premier Williams and Premier Hamm of Nova Scotia were so successful in achieving revised Offshore Accords last year, and the resulting additional revenues for their respective provinces.

These are some of the supporters and mentors that have made a difference to my life. There are other individuals and friends that I wish I had the time to highlight for you. For example, my high school English teacher, famous folklore writer and radio story teller Ted Russell, affectionately known as Uncle Mose of Pigeon Inlet; and Memorial’s first dean of students, Dr. Doug Eaton, who played an important role in my education at Memorial and Western.

How can you make a Difference?

As today’s graduates in Business and Social Work, you will begin, or in some cases continue, your chosen careers at a time of incredible change, challenge and opportunity. My advice with respect to the three segments of life, where each of you can make a real difference, is quite simple:

I. Enjoy your families and friends. Have lots of fun. It is families and friends that make life meaningful.

II. Be a positive and productive member of whatever profession, organization or company you choose to join, and whenever possible take advantage of lifelong learning opportunities. One such opportunity is to seek out a mentor in whatever career you choose. As you have heard from my personal experiences, a mentor can be a former professor, a friend, a coach, a senior colleague, or even a new acquaintance; someone who shares your goals and is willing to listen, encourage and if asked, impact some of his or her experiences and wisdom. A mentor can make a profound difference to your journey.

III. Finally, contribute to your community and play an active role in its development. One organization in particular that needs each of your support and loyalty is Memorial University. It is one of the most important assets Newfoundland and Labrador has had for the past eight decades. The Class of 2006 has a special mission to help ensure Memorial remains strong and united in its mission in the years ahead, because this University represents the heart and soul of every Newfoundlander and Labradorian. Please become active in your Alumni Association. You can make a real difference.

Concluding Remarks

In closing, I am reminded of a piece in our Cap and Gown graduation magazine honouring the memory of one of Newfoundland and Canada’s greatest poets, Edwin J. Pratt. Mr. Pratt had given an address in which he expounded on the functions of a University and its place in the community and the world. Mr. Pratt’s words continue to capture exceedingly well Memorial’s role in our challenging world.

“The mark of an educated man is not his boast that he has built his mountain of facts and stood on the top of it, but his admission that there may be other peaks in the same range with men on top of them, and that though their views of the landscape may be different than his, they are none the less legitimate. It is this acknowledgement of human limitations, combined with honesty of effort and tolerance of the other man’s point of view which makes a University a cultural and civilizing force designed to promote a moral intelligence and an intelligent morality.”

Again, congratulations on your achievements as Memorial’s newest graduates. Thank you for letting me share this day with you. Always enjoy life, and as you “launch forth into the deep” please aim to make a difference.

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