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Vol 39  No 15
June 7, 2007


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Friday, May 25, 10 a.m.

Oration honouring Miller Ayre


Dr. Miller Ayre

Business tycoons and media barons rarely get good press, in fact, they often get too much press, even from their own newspapers.
So who in their right mind would want to be associated with men who have achieved celebrity in the volatile, high-risk worlds of business and publishing?

We all know the frightful fates of the American businessman and publisher, the Harvard educated Citizen Kane, a.k.a. Randolph Hearst, the British publisher and politician, Robert Maxwell, and our very own Canadian media lord, Conrad Black: one died alone in his California castle, mumbling about Rosebud, one mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night from his luxury yacht, and his body was found floating in the Atlantic Ocean, and one, once the toast of the Canadian and British elite, is now banished to Chicago and betrayed by his closest friends.

Mr. Chancellor, despite these ominous examples, let me reassure you about the right-minded nature of your Senate. I mean the Senate of Memorial University, not that crowd in Ottawa.

Miller Haldane Ayre is indeed a celebrated businessman and publisher. He was also educated at Harvard. He also delights in building, boating and friends, and has many toys and gadgets, but here, fortunately for us and him, the comparisons end. Miller Ayre’s success, singularity and survival come from his grounding in this unique society.

To reverse Tolstoy’s remarks about families – every happy family is happy in its own way. Miller is from a distinguished family of men and women who have a long record of service and sacrifice to Newfoundland and Labrador. Four of the men in his family gave their lives for their country in the Great War. Janet Miller Ayre, whose family name he bears, challenged the laws prohibiting the rights of women to practice law. His grandmother, Agnes Marion Miller Ayre, a conservationist, published a book on the bountiful wild flowers of this province. Olga, Miller’s mother, and his aunt Vera, devoted much of their lives to our charitable and educational organizations. His father, Lewis Ayre, built province-wide businesses and Miller, against the odds, established businesses in mainland Canada. Mr. Chancellor, it is no accident that Miller and his sister, Penny Rowe, have both received the Order of Canada in recognition of their contribution to our country. When the 16th century poet, Robert Hayman, spoke of the sweet Aires of the province, he was just a little ahead of his time.

But, Mr. Chancellor, I have to be careful in my use of these epithets of praise for Miller’s reputation as a quizzical man is legendary. No other man, except perhaps yourself, Mr. Chancellor, uses such wit to skewer the over-blown conceits of public speakers. Miller’s talent for deflationary wit, the sardonic one-liner delivered with a dead-pan demeanour, is something else he inherited from his family. Nevertheless, all the world speaks of Miller’s high intelligence, his strategic thinking, his drive for excellence, his life-long loyalty to friends, his unexpected acts of generosity, and his dedication to this province as a strong force within Canada. All these qualities have been called upon by the leading national, economic, business and cultural agencies of our country. Whether advising governments on public policy, acting as a fulcrum between the editorial and advertising groups at The Telegram, advancing the interests of the National Theatre School and the School of Business Administration at Memorial or mastering bridge, golf, tennis, and tiddly winks, Miller Ayre is serious about his drive for excellence.

Nevertheless, Mr. Chancellor, Miller is much more than the sober-suited, statesmanlike figure you see before you. Many here today are old enough to remember the mustachioed, long-haired Miller in the heady days of the Newfoundland Renaissance in the 1970s, the time of the coming of age of our political and artistic life. At that time, the ill-informed and insulting attacks by Greenpeace on the seal harvest were countered by Codpeace, the society Miller founded. The purpose of Codpeace was to protect little Tommy, Connie and Cuddles Cod from “the voracious, rapacious, and unprovoked attacks of the savage seal.” Codfather Miller caught the attention of the world’s press, using his wicked, satirical wit to expose the sensationalist rhetoric of the celebrity seekers of the day. There were membership cards, bumper stickers and buttons. There was even a Codpeace song, unfortunately not recorded by Paul McCartney.

This talent to amuse, this delight in radical subversion, though, is allied to a deep seriousness. Only Miller can mimic his cherished friend’s mannerisms in a funeral oration, then rush home, shave his legs and appear in an inflatable tutu at a party at The Telegram, then change into a business suit and show up at Memorial to coach our business students to become the best in Canada. He may never have said, You’re fired, to them, but they feared and respected his judgements more than any mainland CEO. Though Miller can act foolishly, like Churchill, he knows that a joke is a serious thing.

Miller Ayre is a Touchstone for his much-loved family and the people of this province for he has, in his time, like Kipling met . . . . with Triumph and Disaster and treat[ed] those two imposters just the same.

So I ask you, Mr. Chancellor, to confer on this most cerebral, pragmatic and paradoxical of men the highest honour this company of intellectuals can give. Though he might prefer a codpiece, emblazoned with Memorial’s coat of arms, I ask you to give him the hood, signifying he is now a doctor of laws, honoris causa.

Dr. Annette Staveley
Deputy Public Orator

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