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Introducing Dal's honorary degree recipients for Spring Convocation 2016

Ceremonies take place May 13 and May 30-June 4

- April 25, 2016

Four of Dal's spring 2016 honorary degree recipients (left to right) the Honourable Mayann Francis, Jan Gehl, Alanis Obomsawin, Dr. David Williams. (Provided photos)
Four of Dal's spring 2016 honorary degree recipients (left to right) the Honourable Mayann Francis, Jan Gehl, Alanis Obomsawin, Dr. David Williams. (Provided photos)

Scientists, scholars, community leaders, inspirational pioneers.

As Dalhousie prepares to celebrate more than 3,000 new graduates at Spring Convocation 2016, the university is also getting ready to celebrate nine outstanding individuals — this May's honorary degree recipients.

An honorary doctorate is the highest honour Dalhousie can bestow. It recognizes individuals who've demonstrated inspirational leadership in, or in service to, society, outstanding contribution to a field or discipline, and/or oustanding contributions to the university.

Spring Convocation ceremonies kick off on Friday, May 13 with the ceremony for graduates of the Faculties of Agriculture and Graduate Studies on the Agricultural Campus. Ceremonies then resume in Halifax on Monday, May 30 and run through Saturday, June 4.

For more information: Convocation website

Across the 16 total ceremonies during that period, eight individuals will be conferred with their Doctors of Laws, honoris causa, from Dalhousie, recognizing their lifetimes of achievement.

David F. Sobey

Business leader, philanthropist and supporter of community projects
Friday, May 13 (2 p.m. ceremony - Truro)

As leader for many decades of the Sobey group of businesses, David Frank Sobey has had an enormous influence on the business community, higher education and charitable causes in Atlantic Canada. Born in Stellarton, Nova Scotia in 1931, Mr. Sobey joined the family business 70 years ago. He worked his way through the company, eventually becoming chairman and chief executive officer in 1986.

Mr. Sobey is a committed philanthropist and supporter of community projects. Through the private David and Faye Sobey Foundation, he and his wife support arts and culture, education and medical research. The foundation has supported many initiatives at Dalhousie, including the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, student scholarships, a research fund for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science and Alzheimer’s research.

Mr. Sobey is past chair of the Board of Directors of the Sobey Foundation and the Frank H. Sobey Fund for Excellence in Business Studies. He continues to sit on these boards and on the board of the Sobey Art Foundation. He holds honorary degrees from Saint Mary’s, Mount Allison, St. Francis Xavier and Cape Breton universities. In 1996, he was appointed a member of the Order of Canada. In 2007, he and his brother Donald became first second-generation inductees into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame, joining their father, Frank H. Sobey.

A former chancellor of Saint Mary’s University, Mr. Sobey received the Friend of Education Award, presented by the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education, in 1999. He became chairman emeritus of Sobeys Incorporated after retiring from its Board of Directors and that of its parent company, Empire Company Limited, in 2015.

Jan Gehl

World-renowned architect and urban design expert
Monday, May 30 (9 a.m. ceremony)

World-renowned architect and urban design expert Jan Gehl once said, “A good city is like a good party. People don’t want to leave early.” Since the early 1960s, Mr. Gehl has been studying how we use public spaces, and working to re-establish human beings as the centre of city life.

Born in 1936, Mr. Gehl earned both Bachelor and Master of Architecture degrees from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. He became a professor of Urban Design at the Academy’s School of Architecture, from which he is now retired, and is a founding partner of Gehl Architects – Urban Quality Consultants.

Mr. Gehl learned through close observation that what people really want from cities is to be near other people. His philosophies for transforming urban public spaces are known as “Copenhagenization,” after the revolutionary work he did in turning that city’s high street into Europe’s longest pedestrian thoroughfare. Mr. Gehl’s work has touched cities all over the world including Stockholm, Rotterdam, London, Amman, Muscat, Perth, Adelaide, Wellington, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Oman and Moscow.

Mr. Gehl holds honorary degrees from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and the University of Toronto, as well numerous international awards. He is an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Planning Institute of Australia, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and the Irish Planning Institute. He has written or co-written six award-winning and highly influential books in the field of urban design.

Professor Emeritus John H.V. Gilbert

Groundbreaking researcher and advocate in speech language pathology and audiology
Monday, May 30 (4 p.m. ceremony)

Dr. John Gilbert’s career has two distinct chapters. In the first, he was a groundbreaking researcher and advocate in the field of speech language pathology and audiology. In the second, he has been a visionary leader in the field of interprofessional health education, pushing forward concepts that are now central to team-based collaborative patient-centred practice and part of health sciences training in universities, colleges and institutes across Canada.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Dr. Gilbert earned his PhD in Speech Science in 1966 from Purdue University in Indiana. As a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, he was a pioneer of using linguistics and psychology as the basis of practice for speech-language pathologists and audiologists. In 1969, Dr. Gilbert founded and led UBC’s School of Audiology and Speech Sciences. He shifted his focus to health policy and services in the mid-1990s as the university’s coordinator of Health Sciences, then founded and served as principal of the College of Health Disciplines. As a world leader in interprofessional education, Dr. Gilbert shares his knowledge at home and abroad to strengthen primary health care and chronic disease management.

Dr. Gilbert was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, and appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2011. Today, Dr. Gilbert is senior scholar at the Dal-hosted WHO Collaborating Centre on Health Workforce Planning and Research and adjunct professor in the Faculty of Graduate Studies, where he supports graduate students in the School of Nursing. He is also professor emeritus of UBC’s College of Health Disciplines and School of Audiology and Speech Sciences.

Alanis Obomsawin, OC

Celebrated filmmaker, artist and social justice advocate
Tuesday, May 31 (12:30 p.m. ceremony)

Alanis Obomsawin is one of the most respected, accomplished and prolific filmmakers in Canada. A member of the Abenaki Nation, her more than 30 documentaries capture the past and present of Aboriginal peoples in Canada, shining a spotlight on the historical and social conditions in which they live.

Ms. Obomsawin started her career as a professional singer, and joined the National Film Board of Canada in 1967. Today, she is one of only three filmmakers on staff. Ms. Obomsawin is also an engraver and print-maker, and her work has been exhibited around the world. In 2008, she was the subject of a special retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in
New York City.

Ms. Obomsawin’s most celebrated film is probably 1993’s Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, about the 1990 Mohawk uprising near Oka, Quebec. Two other films, 1984’s Incident at Restigouche and 2002’s Is the Crown at War With Us? document the ongoing conflict between the government of Canada and Mi’kmaq fishermen over fishing rights. In 2011, Ms. Obomsawin visited Halifax as part of a lecture series at the University of King’s College, and screenings of her films have since been sponsored by the Dalhousie Canadian Students Society, Native Students Association and the Dalhousie Student Union’s Equity and Access Office.

Ms. Obomsawin has won over 100 awards for her personal and filmmaking achievements. She has honorary degrees from Dartmouth College; the Universities of British Columbia, Guelph and Western Ontario; and Trent, Queen’s, Carleton, York, and Concordia Universities. She was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1983 and an officer in 2002.

Mathai Mammen, MD, PhD

Gifted chemist, medical doctor and pharmaceutical industry leader
Wednesday, June 1 (9 a.m. ceremony)

A gifted chemist, medical doctor, and researcher, Dr. Mathai Mammen is the co-founder and former senior vice-president of Research and Development of Theravance Biopharma in California. This pharmaceutical company stands out in its commitment to discovering and developing medicines that answer significant unmet medical needs. Dr. Mammen has called openly for increased cooperation amongst pharmaceutical companies and for regulators to look at new and more collaborative ways of developing drugs and promoting innovation.

Dr. Mammen was born in India and moved to Halifax with his parents and younger sister at the age of three. He grew up in Halifax, and went to Dalhousie to pursue a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Chemistry. He graduated in 1989 with the University Medal in Chemistry and the Governor General’s Medal, then went to Harvard with a graduate scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.  There, he earned an MD and a PhD.

The research for his doctoral thesis enabled Dr. Mammen to develop a revolutionary technology called multivalent drug design. Today, Theravance, the company he founded based on that research, is focused on the development and commercialization of medicines to treat respiratory disease, gastrointestinal disorders, bacterial infections and central nervous system pain. In April this year, Dr. Mammen began a new chapter, joining Merck as a senior vice-president responsible for a number of research areas.

Dr. Mammen has always shown great pride in his affiliation with Dalhousie University. He has been on the Dalhousie Advisory Council since its creation in 2010, and was the Carl C. Coffin Alumni Lecturer in Chemistry in 2006.

Dr. David Rhys Williams, OC

Revered physician, astronaut and outstanding contributor to the arts and science of medicine
Friday, June 3 (9 a.m. ceremony)

Dr. David Williams was chief resident physician in Emergency Medicine at the University of Toronto, Sunnybrook, when he expressed to the chief of his department a burning desire to be an astronaut. It was a bold ambition, but in 1998 Dr. Williams took his first flight aboard the space shuttle Columbia.

Dr. Williams graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from McGill University in 1976 and then continued on to earn a Master of Science and a Doctor of Medicine/Master of Surgery at McGill. Dr. Williams has had a far-reaching impact on the practice of emergency medicine. His strong connection to Nova Scotia and Dalhousie comes from his formative influence on the emergency health system—or EHS—we enjoy today, widely considered one of the world’s best, and on the establishment of the Dalhousie Department of Emergency Medicine.

As an astronaut, Dr. Williams conducted important experiments on the effects of microgravity on the brain and peripheral nervous system. As director of Space and Life Sciences at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, he was the first non-American to hold a senior management position within NASA. Dr. Williams took to the stars again in 2007, this time aboard the Endeavor, to the International Space Station. He has spent nearly 18 hours walking in space—a Canadian record.

Dr. Williams is an officer of the Order of Canada and has honorary degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, McGill University, Queen’s University and the University of Wales in the United Kingdom. Today, he is president and CEO of Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., and adjunct professor of Surgery at the University of Toronto and McGill.

The Honourable Mayann Francis, ONS

Community leader and the province's first African Nova Scotian Lieutenant Governor
Friday, June 3 (4 p.m. ceremony)

The life of the Honourable Mayann Francis is a catalogue of firsts. She was the first African Nova Scotian to serve as Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, the first employment equity officer for Dalhousie University and the first Black woman to serve as assistant deputy minister to the Ontario Women’s Directorate. She was the first woman to hold the position of Nova Scotia provincial ombudsman and the first African Nova Scotian woman to serve as director and CEO of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

As Dal’s first employment equity specialist, Ms. Francis astutely managed the implementation of pioneering non-discriminatory policies and procedures. She has given more than 30 talks and workshops at or on behalf of the university and has served on the board of the Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq Program of the Schulich School of Law. As Lieutenant Governor, she invoked royal prerogative—for the first time in Canadian history—to posthumously grant free pardon to civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond.

Originally from Whitney Pier, Nova Scotia, Ms. Francis holds a Bachelor of Arts from Saint Mary’s University and earned a Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from New York University in 1984. Her many awards include honorary degrees from York, Saint Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent Universities, in addition to a Luminary Award from the University of West Indies. She became a member of the Order of Nova Scotia in 2006. Last fall, the Dalhousie School of Public Administration welcomed her as its first Distinguished Public Service Fellow.

Marjorie A. Lindsay

Philanthropist, volunteer and tireless advocate for engineering education
Saturday, June 4 (9 a.m. ceremony)

As both a philanthropist and a lifelong volunteer, Marjorie Lindsay’s tremendous contributions to the social fabric of Nova Scotia have touched tens of thousands of lives. In the last few years, Mrs. Lindsay and her family have been responsible for some of the most substantial charitable contributions in Halifax, including a transformative 2014 donation in memory of her husband that will make the new John W. Lindsay YMCA a reality.

Organizations that promote inclusion and lifting people up are particularly dear to Mrs. Lindsay. She was a long-time board member of the IWK Health Centre Foundation and made a key 2013 donation to support a new inpatient mental health unit. She is a founding board member of Northwood and a significant contributor to its mental health program, the first established in a long-term health care facility in Atlantic Canada. In 2014, Mrs. Lindsay’s family gave a substantial donation to the new Halifax Central Library to establish the Lindsay Children’s Room. She received the Maritime Philanthropy Awards’ Outstanding Individual Philanthropist Award in 2013.

Mrs. Lindsay has been a stalwart supporter of Dalhousie for decades. She is a benefactor of brain research through the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation and gave a major gift toward mood disorder research. She has also tirelessly supported the Faculty of Engineering. In 2008, she made a critical donation to the IDEA Building Project, which will revitalize the Sexton Campus and provide modern space for students in the Faculties of Engineering and Architecture & Planning to collaborate.

Editor's note: Dr. Sallie W. Chisholm (marine scientist, teacher and environmental advocate) was originally scheduled to be received an honorary degree this June. Unfortunately, due to unexpected circumstances, Dr. Chisholm is unable to attend Spring Convocation. Her degree presentation will be rescheduled for a future Convocation ceremony.


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