Q&A with Tribute Award Recipient Dr. Rex Gibbons
It’s been 54 years since Dr. Rex Gibbons, B.Sc.’67, BA(Ed.)’67, M.Sc.’69, left Lumsden, N.L., at the age of 15 and headed to St. John’s for Memorial University. What happened next, he says, was transformational. He began a lifelong fascination with geology and science – later completing a PhD at the famed California Institute of Technology – while also learning the power of education and the importance of giving back. Spanning three decades, Dr. Gibbons has been a tireless Memorial volunteer, serving on alumni committees, helping organize events and, most notably, serving three terms on the Board of Regents, where he was an instrumental figure in guiding the management and administration of the university. Contributor Jeff Green spoke with Dr. Gibbons, this year’s recipient of the J.D. Eaton Alumni Award for outstanding volunteer contributions to Memorial.
JG: When did you begin volunteering with the Board of Regents?
RG: When I returned home from Caltech in 1976 I sought out and served on the MUN Alumni Association. Then, when an election was held to elect six alumni to the board in 1978, I ran, was successful and served a three-year term. I ran again in 2008 and got elected. I did the same in 2011. Memorial has been a big part of my life.
JG: Why is volunteering at Memorial so important?
RG: I believe I owe my career to the education I got at Memorial. Volunteering on the regents and various committees has been a small payback for what Memorial has done for me. I do not plan to stop volunteering just because I have been given this award.
JG: How important was Memorial to your future?
RG: My degrees set me up for my career in geology. When I was close to completing the master’s, my faculty advisor Dr. Steve Papezik said ‘Rex, you cannot quit yet, you have to do a doctorate degree.’ I was ready to work and make money. Dr. Papezik was nothing if not convincing. When Caltech not only accepted me, but offered a tuition scholarship and a research assistantship, he said ‘Rex, you have no choice, you are going to California’. So I did. Without my degrees from Memorial, none of this could or would have happened.
JG: You’ve had a varied career as a scientist, bureaucrat and politician; is there a highlight?
RG: On the day then-Premier Tom Rideout called the provincial election in 1989, I came out of a committee meeting and Scott Chafe was on VOCM Radio with the announcement. The next day, I submitted my resignation and announced I was running for the Liberal nomination in St. John’s West. Another adventure started. I was fortunate enough to win on April 20, 1989, and a few days later was back in my old department of Mines and Energy as minister, where I stayed for eight very fulfilling years.
JG: After politics you worked in the private sector before retiring in 2007. What have you been doing lately?
RG: My wife Marge and I started enjoying our cabin at Windmill Bight (near Lumsden). We also bought a small place in Florida. Six years ago, I took training as an EMR and ambulance driver with the all-volunteer Sun City Center Emergency Squad and am a very proud member of Team Three.
JG: There’s a provincial election on the horizon – does politics ever leave you?
RG: No! In fact, I am campaign chair for Lynn Sullivan in St. John’s Centre. We are going to be very busy for the next few weeks. As long as I live and breathe, politics will be one of my passions. My other great passion will always be Memorial University.
Dr. Gibbons will be honoured during the 34th annual Alumni Tribute Awards on Monday, Oct. 19, at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. Tickets are on sale now.