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President Davenport Says Goodbye

The University's Tenth President Bids Farewell to Alberta's Big Sky and the People Who Live Under It

On 27 May 1994 members o f the University of Alberta community gathered on campus to thank Paul Davenport for his contributions to the University and to wish him well at the University of Western Ontario, where he will assume the presidency this summer. The following is the text o f the remarks that Dr Davenport made at that event.

As you can well imagine, I am more than somewhat at a loss for words. I am deeply touched by the attendance here today of so many dear friends, by the kind things said about me, by the memories of the good times and hard times that have welled up inside of me at the words of each of our speakers. My response will be chaotic, but it will come from the heart.

It has been my great pleasure and honor to serve as your President over the last five years. I have been able to commit myself wholeheartedly to an institution and to values I believe in profoundly, and to work among people who share my beliefs. No person can ask for anything more.

I am here today with my family: my wife Josette, and our children, Eric, Leslie, and Audrey. As I look back over the last five years, my most profound regret is the time I could not spend with them, my most profound gratitude is for their understanding and encouragement. The greatest burden has been carried by Josette, and to her I express my heartfelt thanks. Eric will begin university next year in Ontario or Montreal, and Leslie may well pursue her ballet career in Montreal. Audrey was suggesting last weekend, to her father's delight, that after arriving in London she may take up serious training in basketball.

To express my gratitude to those outside my family, I thought at first of trying to thank individually the people at the University and in the community who recruited me and worked with me over the last five years: John and Pat Schlosser, Tevie and Arliss Miller, Louis and Marcelle Desrochers, Dennis and Doreen Erker, Francis and Harriet Winspear, Suresh Mustapha, Randy Boissonnault, Gloria Ford, Ellen Schoeck, Gene Lechelt, Ray Lemieux, Juliet and Rowland McMaster, David Schindler, Peter Smy, Lorne Tyrrell, the vice-presidents, the deans. It didn't work. The names kept coming and coming, in a flood of memories of all the people who have given me advice and new ideas, who have inspired me through their own commitment to excellence and to the University. There is no way to order those names or to produce anything but a hopelessly partial list.

But thank goodness you know who you are, and what is vital is that you be aware of the profound gratitude that Josette and I feel toward each one of' you. You welcomed us into your hearts and your homes five years ago, you guided and supported me at the University as we faced the harsh budgetary realities of the 1990s, you worked to establish the University's national leadership in using selective budgetary choices to support our academic priorities. You worked to make a reality of those principles that are set down in our Degrees o f Freedom strategic plan: excellence, selectivity, accountability. You also reacted to the events of last summer with a courage and integrity that I will never forget.

You will forgive me if I pay special tribute to the team that I have work with over the last several years. First and foremost, the vice-presidents: John McDonald, Martha Piper, Lois Stanford, Glenn Harris, and John McConnell, who have shown an extraordinary commitment to the University and to me during a period when together er we faced severe budgetary restraint, combined with periodic challenges to our authority. Their remarkable performance under difficult pressures will serve as an example to me long into the future. In that respect, they should stand here for all those at the University with whom I have worked over the last five years: the faculty, staff, and students who have been so generous with their time, their advice, and their commitment.

Two weeks ago my daughter Leslie danced in the province-wide competitions at SUB and won a gold medal, as did one of her best friends. After a celebratory dinner with the two families, I found myself in a half-joyous, half-melancholy mood, driving to the International Airport at 10:30 to catch an overnight flight to Ottawa. As is my wont, I took the country roads south of Ellerslie, which are largely unpaved and go through peaceful flat farming country with an occasional home or church.

I stopped at an intersection and found myself staring at the twilight in the west. And I realized that the big sky, so strange and wonderful five years ago, had become my sky, that the area under that sky had become my home, and that I was going to miss the big sky, and the beauty of the river valleys and the mountains of Alberta. More painfully, I understood then as never before that I was going to miss most of all the people who live under the big sky, those who are here today and so many others, people who befriended me and my family five years ago, who have worked with me through the good times and the bad to help build and shape the University of Alberta.

Those who live under the big sky are a bold and resourceful people, confident dent in the future, willing to take risks and work hard, and committed to caring ing for the less fortunate in our society. Don't ever lose those qualities, and don't ever forget your friend Paul, who will be thinking of you from his new home in the east. I will miss you, each and everyone.

Published Summer 1994.

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