The gentle giant: Leader, colleague and mentor: A tribute to Dr. Richard J. Marceau

Oct 25th, 2016

By Jeff Green

The late Dr. Richard Marceau
The gentle giant: Leader, colleague and mentor: A tribute to Dr. Richard J. Marceau

There were times, in the past three years, when Greg Horner would often join his neighbour on his back deck to quietly savour their scenic ocean vista and the awes of nature.

Shortly after meeting Dr. Richard Marceau in 2013, the two became fast friends. They shared stories. Shared meals. And shared laughs at their Conception Bay South homes.

Those are the moments Mr. Horner cherishes most, these days.

His friend – and Memorial’s vice-president (research) – passed away suddenly overnight on Monday, Sept. 26.

“Richard and I would sit on our back decks gazing out over the bay trying to convince each other who appreciated the view more,” Mr. Horner told the Gazette.

“He delighted in the ocean view, sunsets, whales, eagles, and was truly thankful for finding a little slice of heaven here in Newfoundland. I quickly realized how lucky I was to have such an intelligent and thoughtful neighbour to share these moments.”

“We sat out many evenings, discussing many things, and Richard had a way of always making me feel like the smartest one on the deck, but of course that wasn’t true,” Mr. Horner added.

Engineer and academic

Born and raised in North Bay, Ont., Dr. Marceau graduated from McGill University in December 1977. He started his career as an engineer before working as a researcher. After spending 12 years in industry, he began his PhD studies at McGill in 1990, focusing on electric energy transmission. Three years later, he graduated and joined the Electrical Engineering Department at École Polytechnique de Montréal.

In 2001, he became dean of the Faculty of Engineering of the Université de Sherbrooke where he led ground-breaking initiatives in both undergraduate education and graduate research capacity-building. Four years later, he took up his post as provost and vice-president (academic) at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), where he oversaw that post-secondary institution’s growth from 1,800 to nearly 10,000 students, as well as its increase in research activities.

In 2013, he and his wife Sheila moved to Newfoundland and Labrador when he was appointed vice-president (research) at Memorial.

Dr. Marceau embraced life on Canada’s east coast.

‘Counted his blessings’

After a cancer diagnosis forced him to take a leave of absence in 2014, Mr. Horner says his neighbour was even more grateful for the little things in life.

“He was a man with a great desire to feel useful and apply himself to make the world a better place. He understood his nature, he counted his blessing daily and he had great love in his life.”

Community volunteer

Throughout his life, Dr. Marceau also knew the importance of giving back to his community. From 2009 to 2013, he was president of the Parkwood Foundation, one of Canada’s most beautiful National Historic Sites.

He was also dedicated to his career and the advancement of engineering throughout Canada, spending several years as a member of the executive of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE), serving as president from 2012-2014.

Dr. Kevin Goheen, executive director of the CAE, worked closely with Dr. Marceau over the years, as he helped grow the organization.

“He recognized that the CAE required a radical shift in order for it to become more than an honour society,” Dr. Goheen said in an interview from Ontario.

“I watched him persuade a number of individuals stuck in positions that they had held for years, that change was often a good thing. He did this gently but unwaveringly and so we were able to complete major projects on climate change and energy infrastructure and made some radical changes in governance and fellow engagement.”

Research growth

At Memorial, Dr. Marceau was respected for his demeanour and positive attitude.

He worked closely with his office staff, as well as the directors of the units that form the vice-president (research) portfolio.

He spearheaded several important research initiatives, including the creation of the Strategic Research Intensity Plan (SRIP), a roadmap that builds on Memorial’s institutional Research Strategy Framework supporting the university’s vision to be one of the most distinguished public universities in Canada and beyond.

Dr. Marceau was particularly proud of the impact SRIP was having at Memorial, noting in several recent presentations to the university community that the university’s funding from Tri-Agency competitions has increased and that Memorial now has more specialized researchers conducting more specialized research.

He was instrumental in the creation of the university’s new Technology Transfer and Commercialization Strategy and an office dedicated to supporting industrial liaison, technology transfer and commercialization.

He helped establish the Fogo Island Research Fellowship Program at Memorial, created through a unique partnership between the university and the Shorefast Foundation that allows select faculty members to travel to historic Fogo Island for a month-long residency. There, researchers complete the writing of a significant manuscript which disseminates the results of a major research project or complete work on a major work of artistic creation.

Dr. Marceau also played a critical role in securing the largest single federal research investment in Memorial’s history. The federal government announced on Sept. 6 nearly $100 million for the creation of the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), an historic partnership between Memorial, Dalhousie University and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). Dr. Marceau participated in a regional announcement in Nova Scotia and was thrilled with the funding results.

“Today, we witness a historic partnership,” he said during a news conference in Halifax. “A partnership that inaugurates a world-leading university alliance; that blazes new directions in oceans research; that recognizes Canada as an oceans nation; that shows what can be accomplished when Atlantic Canada partners with Atlantic Canada for the good of all Canada.”

“But friends, this is just the beginning,” he told the crowd. “In the words of Prime Minister Trudeau a generation ago: ‘just watch us’.”

Friend and mentor

He was a lifelong learner, encouraging students during a spring 2016 convocation ceremony to “harness the power of your education.”

Dean Strickland knew Dr. Marceau well. Mr. Strickland, a research contracts officer with Research Grant and Contract Services, a unit within the vice-president (research) portfolio, is in the midst of completing his PhD focusing on the entrepreneurial university and commercialization of university research.

Mr. Strickland says that shortly after the pair met in 2013, Dr. Marceau offered his time and knowledge to support his studies and joined his supervisory committee.

“He was so generous with his time and helping to shape and guide me,” Mr. Strickland said. “He engendered such a profound sense of trust and comfort which encouraged me to stretch and grow in my thinking and enriching my perspectives. I treasured every single moment we would sit and talk and discuss our love of academia and our passion for Memorial.”

Mr. Strickland says Dr. Marceau encouraged and inspired him.

“I firmly believe that we are, largely, what others make us and Dr. Marceau has had an enormous impact upon shaping the person and student I am today,” he pointed out.

“Dr. Marceau inspired us to think about research and Memorial in different ways which is a great legacy.  No matter where that journey ultimately takes us, I am so deeply grateful to him for having ignited the spark of both institutional reflection and my own personal reflection. I shall miss him deeply.”

‘A better person’

Back in Conception Bay South, Mr. Horner appreciates his friendship with Dr. Marceau now more than ever. He says he’ll always admire his neighbour and the times they spent chatting.

“Richard was a man of considerable character,” Mr. Horner noted. “There are those who inspire me, but Richard made me want to be a better person.”

Commemoration details

Memorial’s flags flew at half-mast from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday, Oct. 5, to mark the passing of Dr. Marceau. Visitation took place 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. EST and the funeral took place at 1:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Oct. 5, at Weaver Family Funeral Home, 77 Second Street, Campbellford, Ont. Dr. Marceau’s obituary is available online.

Dr. Mary Bluechardt and Glenn Blackwood represented the Memorial community at the funeral service in Ontario.

A celebration of Dr. Marceau’s life, hosted by Drs. Gary Kachanoski, will take place at Memorial’s St. John’s campus on Thursday, Nov. 3

Jeff Green worked with Dr. Richard Marceau as his communications co-ordinator.

Contact

Research

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000