News Release

REF NO.: 177

SUBJECT: Memorial University announces honorary degree recipients for spring and fall convocation

DATE: April 7, 2011

           Memorial University has announced the names of the individuals whom it will salute with honorary doctorates at spring and fall convocation ceremonies in 2011. Memorial will present degrees honoris causa to 12 accomplished people during nine ceremonies to be held in St. John's and Corner Brook this year.
            During spring convocation, honorary degrees will be awarded to UN envoy Stephen Lewis (to be conferred at Corner Brook); writer and researcher Patrick O’Flaherty; musician Sandy Morris; biochemist and insect specialist E. David Morgan; molecular biologist Sidney Altman; author and thought leader John Ralston Saul; fisherman and community organizer Donald Best; philanthropist Elinor Gill Ratcliffe; and professional communicator and community bandleader Edsel Bonnell.
            During fall convocation ceremonies, honorary degrees will be awarded to civil servant David Vardy; author Kevin Major (to be conferred in Corner Brook); and linguist and encyclopedist David Crystal (biographies of all honourees follow below).
            Honorary degree recipients are chosen by the Senate, the university's academic governing body, after a very careful examination of the grounds for their nomination.
            The honorary doctorate degree is designed to recognize extraordinary contribution to society or exceptional intellectual or artistic achievement.
The awarding of honorary doctorates, an important feature of Memorial's convocation, serves to celebrate both the individual and the university, as well as to inspire graduates, their families and guests.
            Memorial’s spring convocation ceremonies will take place on Friday, May 13, at the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook, and from Tuesday, May 24, to Friday, May 27, at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's.
            Fall convocation is scheduled for Oct. 7 in Corner Brook and for Oct. 21 in St. John’s.
Biographies of honorary graduands
(Photos are available at www.mun.ca/marcomm/newsphotos.php)
Sidney Altman
For his role in the development of molecular biology and its implications for modern medicine, Sidney Altman will receive an honorary doctor of science degree at the 3 p.m. session of convocation on Wednesday, May 25.
One of the central players in changing science's understanding of the role of RNA in biology, Dr. Altman began as a student of nuclear physics at MIT before he went on to study biophysics at the University of Colorado from which he obtained his PhD in 1967. He followed this by postdoctoral work at Harvard and as a research fellow at Cambridge.
It was at Cambridge that he worked with scientists like Francis Crick who, with James Watson, launched our knowledge of DNA. There, with the clock running out on his fellowship, he conducted a successful experiment on precursor-tRNA which eventually led to the discovery of catalytic RNA and ultimately to the Nobel Prize. His observation that RNA is active in chemical reactions, fostered thinking about an early RNA world.
Dr. Altman wants to use RNA enzymes to inactivate the expression of target genes in drug-resistant bacteria and hopes to be able to use specially-made RNA enzymes to block gene expression in certain genetic defects.
Edsel Bonnell
For his service to his community as both a bandleader and in public relations, Edsel Bonnell will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws at the 3 p.m. session of convocation on Friday, May 27.
In essence a man with two careers, Mr. Bonnell has excelled at both. 
Fifty years ago, Edsel Bonnell was the first person in Newfoundland to become a professional public relations consultant, winning numerous national awards, becoming in 2002 an honorary fellow of the Canadian Public Relations Society and, in 2005, a life member of the same organization.
From 1989-96 he took these skills into government where he served as chief of staff and senior policy advisor to Premier Clyde Wells, chairing both the Economic and the Social Strategic Planning Groups.
In musical circles he is best known for his role as founder and leader of the Gower Youth Band. This began in 1973 with the support of Gower Street United Church but it was intended to be — and has remained — non-denominational.
Educated at Memorial University, Mr. Bonnell has been recognized for his community service work in being named St. John's Citizen of the Year (1984), a Member of the Order of Canada (2001) and was inducted into the Hall of Honour at the St. John's Kiwanis Music Festival (2004).
David Crystal
In recognition of his long and important role in language studies, an area in which Memorial has distinguished itself, David Crystal will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree at the fall session of convocation on Oct. 21.
Prof. Crystal, who was Memorial University’s inaugural George M. Story Lecturer in 1999, is an encyclopedist and a noted linguist. A man impatient of the academic world's small battles, he enters fully into public debates regarding language matters, including controversies over hybridized language, prescriptive grammar and, most recently, texting.
He received his secondary schooling at St. Mary's College in Liverpool and studied English at University College London.
As author or editor, he has been involved in the production of more than 100 books including the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1987), the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (1995), and the New Penguin Encyclopedia (2003).
Donald Best
For his sustained and effective leadership of his own community which has served as a model for outport survival, Donald Best will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the 3 p.m. session of convocation on Thursday, May 26.
At a time when the failure of resource-based industries threatens the survival of whole regions of Newfoundland and Labrador, it is worth recalling earlier responses to such threats.
In the 1960s the saltfish industry, the economic mainstay of most outports, was in its last days -- and so were those outports -- for the government, seeing them as constant and unproductive drawers of funds, had set about consolidating them in the process known as resettlement. 
Many capitulated, closed and moved. Fogo did not and part of the reason was the resistance of people like Don Best. A fisherman, Mr. Best was one of the founders of the Fogo Island Improvement Committee which bred the Fogo Island Co-operative which today is the largest employer on the island.
He had been a member of the town council since 1958 and was its mayor in 1966. When the co-operative was established in 1967, Mr. Best became a board member and, in 1976, president for eight years during which the co-operative recovered from a serious slump.
In the early days Mr. Best also worked with Memorial University’s Extension Services, not only to establish the co-operative, but also to assist the National Film Board on their internationally-famous community development work now known as the Fogo Process.
In recent years he has been involved in the preservation of his own fishing premises and of the Anglican Church.
Stephen Lewis
For his contributions to Canada and his role in effecting social change internationally, Stephen Lewis will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree during the Grenfell Campus session of convocation on Friday, May 13, at 10 a.m.
One of the most visible Canadians on the world scene, Stephen Lewis has had an extraordinary career. As leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, he, for a time, made that party the official opposition in the Ontario legislature and drove the Conservatives so hard that they brought in progressive legislation.
His standing as a man of principle was likely what led Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to appoint him Canadian Ambassador to the UN in 1984.
However, it was in his role as special UN envoy for AIDS that he has had the greatest impact, bringing to the attention of wealthier nations the plight of people in Africa -- and bringing to the attention of African and other world leaders the fact that AIDS cannot be ignored.
He is the board chair of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which is dedicated to turning the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and he is co-founder and co-director of AIDS-Free World in the United States.
A Companion of the Order of Canada, Stephen Lewis attended the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia, and is currently distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University in Toronto.
He holds 32 honorary degrees from Canadian universities and in June 2010 he received an honorary degree from Dartmouth College in the United States.
Kevin Major
For his writing and for his contributions to Memorial University, Kevin Major will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree during fall convocation at the Grenfell Campus session on Oct. 7. 
Mr. Major is a graduate of Memorial University and taught school in Newfoundland for a number of years. In 1976, he took a leap of faith in himself: he quit teaching to become a full-time writer.
This was very risky for a Newfoundlander at that time because, while a supportive local publisher had appeared (Breakwater, which published Major's anthology Doryloads in 1974), there were few writers to serve as models.
Surviving on substitute teaching he wrote a novel for young adults, Hold Fast, which won three awards, including the first Newfoundland Governor General's since E.J. Pratt, and was nominated for two others.
Following these accolades, he wrote six more novels, all of which won prizes. His first adult novel, No Man's Land, was published in 1995. He recast this drama, set during the First World War battle at Beaumont Hamel, as a play in 2005 for Rising Tide Theatre and it has been a staple of that Trinity production company's repertoire ever since. He has also written books for young children (the much-loved House of Wooden Santas among them), been involved in the production of art books with people like Anne Meredith Barry, an operetta (Anne and Seamus) and a history of Newfoundland and Labrador entitled As Near to Heaven by Sea. He has also been engaged in fostering art in the community as chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Competition. For Memorial, his alma mater, he has served as artist in residence and, subsequently, conducted tours to Beaumont Hamel for Memorial alumni.
E. David Morgan
One of Memorial University’s own graduates who has had a distinguished career in science, E. David Morgan will receive an honorary doctor of science degree at the 10 a.m. session of convocation on Wednesday, May 25.
Starting at Memorial University College in 1946, Dr. Morgan completed his degree at King's College and Dalhousie University, winning the Governor General's Medal as well as the Rhodes Scholarship in 1950.
Following his D.Phil. studies at Oxford, he took a position with the National Institute for Medical Research from 1956-59 and then moved to work with Shell Chemical.
In 1966 he went to Keele University in the U.K., then a comparatively new and innovative university, to work on insect pest control and on insect pheromones.
He has published more than 300 papers during the course of his career and, despite the fact that he retired in 1995, written or co-authored 30 papers and a book since 2002.
In 1989 the Chromatographic Society gave him its Jubilee Medal for his contributions to the development and application of chromatography, a set of laboratory techniques for the separation of mixtures.
Sandy Morris
For his broad-ranging contributions to Newfoundland music, Sandy Morris will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree at the 7:30 p.m. session of convocation on Tuesday, May 24. 
A figure ever-present but often overlooked in the productions in which he appears, Sandy Morris is a guitarist of exceptional skill. Those who work with him will tell you that he is the factor that makes a production work, whether he is there as musical director or merely as accompanist.
He has been the foundation of many significant shows (live or on television) and of numerous CDs for the last 40 years. Starting out in the late 1960s as a performer on CBC TV's long-running All Around the Circle, he composed and performed in the NFB production Children of Fogo and played for the Philadelphia Cream Cheese — a legendary band from the time led by the late Noel Dinn.
Long associated with the CODCO troupe, he was involved as composer, lead performer, music director for their highly-successful television shows The Root Seller, WGB (Wonderful Grand Band) and CODCO.
Mr. Morris studied English at Memorial University.
Patrick O’Flaherty
For his scholarship, his contributions to Memorial University, the community and the country and for his very significant role in the development of Newfoundland and Labrador studies, Dr. Patrick O'Flaherty will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree at the 3 p.m. session of convocation on Tuesday, May 24.
Dr. O'Flaherty’s literary criticism of the work of Samuel Johnson is still well regarded today more than 30 years after it was written.
His interest in literary history grew out of an anthology of observations of Newfoundland by travellers, clerics and public officials and produced, in 1979, his pioneering study of Newfoundland writing: The Rock Observed.
There is little question that this book opened the door on studies of the literature of Newfoundland and Labrador, fostering the development of courses, theses and the republication of many neglected texts (thereby providing material for the then-nascent publishing industry).
He took this further when he proposed the establishment of the journal, Newfoundland Studies. Now 25 years in existence, the first five of which he served as co-editor, the journal has presented significant scholarship in a wide range of disciplines to an audience both within and without the academy.
In the last decade he has been engaged on a major work, a three-volume history of Newfoundland and Labrador of which two volumes appeared in 1999 and 2005.
This was all done in a career that included being head of the Department of English at Memorial, chairing and writing a major report on arts policy in Newfoundland and Labrador, serving on the Canada Council, the National Library Advisory Board, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, helping to found the Writer's Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador, and being a frequent contributor to the local and national press.
Dr. O’Flaherty received his bachelor of arts and master of arts from Memorial and a PhD from the University of London.
Elinor Gill Ratcliffe
For her generous contributions to all manner of cultural and social causes and for reshaping the nature of philanthropy in Newfoundland and Labrador, Elinor Gill Ratcliffe will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree during the 10 a.m. session of convocation on Friday, May 27.
Among the categories of those upon whom Memorial University confers honorary degrees are the philanthropists -- those who give to good causes, including the good cause of Memorial University.
Ms. Gill Ratcliffe has been involved in philanthropic activity for more than 30 years but has, since 2006 and the establishment of the Gill Ratcliffe Foundation, been a major figure in the provincial social and cultural scene.
Giving to enterprises as local as the George Street Soup Kitchen or as wide-reaching as The Rooms, she has had a major impact on local philanthropy in that where she gives, others are likely to follow.
Her $1-million gift to The Rooms – the province’s archives, art gallery and museum – will see the development of a major exhibit on the social history of Newfoundland and Labrador.
She supported the Daffodil Place cancer treatment residence in St. John’s and the Vera Perlin Society, as well as international organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International and UNICEF.
Her half-million dollar gift to Memorial University in 2010 enabled the establishment of the Jarislowsky Chair in Culture Change.
John Ralston Saul
A writer and thinker unbound by the restrictions of discipline or doctrine, John Ralston Saul has given Canadians the opportunity to rethink their identities. For this and for his contributions to Canadian society, Mr. Saul will be awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree during the 10 a.m. session of convocation on Thursday, May 26.
Having completed his PhD at King's College, London, and worked with Maurice Strong in the establishment of Petro-Canada, John Ralston Saul embarked on a new career in 1977 -- as a novelist.
He wrote five novels, of which The Paradise Eater won Italy's Premia Lettarario Internazionale. And then he became an essayist, addressing a series of contemporary issues in Voltaire's Bastards (1992), The Doubter's Companion (1994) and The Unconscious Civilization (his 1995 Massey Lectures and winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction).
These all deal with the need to consider human values in a world increasingly governed by a self-centred individualism. His recent books have applied these observations to more specifically Canadian issues and have been put into practice through his involvement as president of International PEN (the worldwide association of writers) and as co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.  
David Vardy
For his significant and dedicated service to the government and people of Newfoundland and Labrador, David Vardy will be awarded an honorary degree during fall convocation on Oct. 21.
A constant presence in the councils of the government for the last four decades, Dr. Vardy can be seen as Newfoundland's quintessential public servant.
Having lectured in economics at Memorial, Princeton and Queen's, and served in the federal Department of Finance, he joined the provincial government as director of economic policy in 1972 and, by 1975, was deputy minister of planning and priorities.
In 1978 he was appointed clerk of the Executive Council, a post he held until 1985.
In 1983 he also took on the responsibility of finding a new operator for the Corner Brook Mill and, after a long and intensive search, succeeded, thereby ensuring a future for this mainstay of the western economy.
In 1985 he took over as president of what was then known as the Fisheries College, helping to transform it into the Marine Institute.
Returning to government service as deputy minister of fisheries in 1987, he then became chair and CEO of the Public Utilities Board from 1994-2001.
In 2001-02 he was the Channing Fellow at Memorial and, subsequently became a major player in the development of the university's Public Policy Research Centre into the Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development.
Dr. Vardy holds a BA and a B.Comm. from Memorial, an MA from the University of Toronto, and an MA and a PhD from Princeton University.

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