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Portrait of a Fountain

Fred Fountain's chancellor portrait unveiled

- October 26, 2016

Chancellor Emeritus Fred Fountain (left), his family and artist Phil Richards examine his official portrait in the Henry Hicks Building's Lord Dalhousie Room. (Nick Pearce photos)
Chancellor Emeritus Fred Fountain (left), his family and artist Phil Richards examine his official portrait in the Henry Hicks Building's Lord Dalhousie Room. (Nick Pearce photos)

On the walls of the Lord Dalhousie Room in the Henry Hicks Building hang portraits of the university’s chancellors — from its first chancellor, the Right Honourable C. D. Howe (former professor and parliamentarian), through to its fifth, Richard Goldbloom, who occupied the post from 2001-2008.

Now Fred Fountain, who succeeded Goldbloom in the role and served until last year, has joined his five predecessors on the Lord Dalhousie Room’s walls.

Dr. Fountain’s official portrait was unveiled Friday afternoon at a private event with family, friends and university leaders on-hand.

“This portrait will be a wonderful reminder of that support and investment of Fred’s such valued time as our chancellor,” said Dal President Richard Florizone. “Thank you, Fred, for your generosity, your ongoing counsel and your support for Dalhousie University. It is much appreciated.”

A collaborative project

Dr. Fountain’s portrait was painted by Toronto artist Phil Richards. It depicts Dr. Fountain wearing his chancellor’s robes, seated in his office at Purdy’s Wharf overlooking the Halifax harbour. Among the notable features in the painting are a picture of the Fountain Family (Fred, wife Elizabeth, daughter Katharine and late son Alex), a desk prism and compass, and the most stylish socks of any chancellor’s portrait to-date.

Richards, who was on-hand for the reveal, is an accomplished visual artist whose works are dealt out of Toronto’s Mira Godard Gallery. He has painted murals for the Congress Centre and Eaton Centre in Toronto, portraits for the likes of former Ontario premier Bob Rae, and was commissioned to paint a new portrait for Queen Elizabeth II to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Richards described the process of working with Dr. Fountain, similar to most of his portraits, as “a collaboration from beginning to end.”

“He’s got an artist’s eye, and a poet’s sensibility and sensitivity,” said Richards of his subject. “I think, in the end, he really helped me come up with a painting that is both unique in the context of the collection that’s here, but also says something about Fred’s life — his family life, his business life, his work as chancellor. And I think it says something about his kindly, thoughtful and intelligent personality as well.”

A model chancellor

Dr. Fountain, a Dal alumnus (LLB’74), has served as CEO of the Great Eastern Corporation Ltd since 1985. Together with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Katharine (right, with artist Phil Richards), he is one of Nova Scotia’s most prominent philanthropists in a number of areas, particularly in the arts. In Dalhousie’s case, among his many generous donations is the $10-million gift that established the Fountain School of Performing Arts. He also has an honorary degree from the university (2000), serves on the Dalhousie Advisory Committee and is a Member of the Order of Canada (2010).

Dr. Fountain served as Dal’s chancellor from 2008-2015 — two full terms, plus an additional year that he agreed to stay on in the role. (He was succeeded last year by the Honourable A. Anne McLellan; the two were actually classmates at Dal Law together.) Dr. Fountain was so successful as chancellor — which presides at convocation and serves as an ambassador for the university more generally — that when the Board of Governors wanted to establish formal guidelines for the position, they didn’t need to look very far.

“All you had to do was think about Fred,” said current Board Chair Larry Stordy, listing off traits that included commitment to university education, effective communication, integrity and philanthropy. “We designed the qualifications for the chancellor based on Fred.”

Fond memories

As for Dr. Fountain, he was thrilled by the portrait, and had great compliments for Richards as its artist.

“He’s a keen and creative observer,” said Dr. Fountain, describing Richards as methodical, articulate and committed. “He sees the details that both create and articulate the whole… He is committed to creating a painting that can stand on its own.”

Dr. Fountain said he looks back fondly on his time as chancellor, and spoke briefly to his role in Dal’s ongoing story.

“Being chancellor is all about the people — the people that make Dalhousie work, move it from one era to the next. The people on the walls here: it’s nice to be in their company… Together, we form part of a great and ongoing tradition that illuminates the past and opens the future.”


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