Meet the Champions
These mentors, advocates and donors never lose sight of the academic potential, financial needs, and mental health of the young stewards of our future — our students.
Eric and Diane Axford
One of the most remarkable aspects of philanthropy is the way it puts a spotlight on a person’s often unexpected passion. Recently retired, Eric Axford, BA’87, was executive vice-president of Suncor. He is highly respected in the energy sector, which might lead one to assume that that’s where this deeply engaged alumnus might get involved at his alma mater. Rather, he and his wife, Diane, made an Energize gift to the Faculty of Social Work to elevate hands-on teaching and learning experiences.
Determined to help spark positive change in our community, Axford served on the board for Wood’s Homes for nearly a decade. While he is savvy and driven around advancing sustainable energy solutions, his face lights up when he talks about bridging the gap between research and community — and how empowering the next generation of clinical social workers can make a difference to individuals and families. The Axfords’ gift puts a simulation training program into the Faculty of Social Work, enabling students to learn and practice in a “real,” but safe environment in the area of children’s mental health.
Through UCalgary’s collaboration with Wood’s Homes, the Axfords learned about, and leapt at, this unique opportunity to help strengthen the program and develop counselling leaders of the future. The centre and its accompanying technology position UCalgary as a national leader in simulation as a practical tool to educate students to work in challenging situations.
With enormous variety and reach, Jenny and Hy Belzberg’s involvement at UCalgary since its inception has changed the way we think, read, listen, create, and approach people and culture. Frequent donors to UCalgary, the Belzbergs supported Israeli studies and Canada-Israel academic exchange initiatives on campus dating back to 1985 (they also helped pull off an incredible coup for the library, securing iconic author Mordecai Richler’s papers for a collection held at the Taylor Family Digital Library). Following the passing of her husband, Hy, in 2017, after 68 years of marriage, Jenny, Hon. LLD’02, turned her attention to again reviving Israeli studies at UCalgary. Her gift created the Dr. Jenny and Hy Belzberg Scholar in Israeli Studies Endowment within the Faculty of Arts.
Jenny was motivated to give by her experience that Israel is often misunderstood and vilified. “There’s a need for Israeli professors to speak the truth about our homeland,” she says. “Yes, it’s a country with a lot of problems, but also a lot of greatness, a lot to be proud of, and it needs to be better understood.” This fall saw the appointment of the program’s first postdoctoral fellow. It’s a milestone born out of hope, love and a passionate desire to connect people and community, here and around the world.
Wayne and Eleanor Chiu
Widely accepted as the business model for the 21st century, social entrepreneurship combines business success with meaningful purpose to benefit others. Eleanor, BComm’85, and Wayne Chiu, one of Calgary’s most forward-looking, community-minded power couples, offer a more succinct definition of this new movement toward economic change: “Social entrepreneurship is doing good by doing well.” Indeed, the model pivots on selling products or services to solve social problems. The Chius, who met in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada in 1982, founded the highly successful homebuilding company Trico Group and, later, established the Trico Charitable Foundation in order to extend the reach of their remarkable desire and capacity to support people by strengthening community. Tireless volunteers whose generosity has created change at UCalgary, the Calgary Food Bank, Boys & Girls Clubs of Calgary, and many other local organizations, the couple’s values — Trust, Respect, Integrity, Community and Opportunity — inspired the acronym that became both their company’s name and their personal road map for how to live well. In 2019, the Chius made a $5-million gift to establish the Trico Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Centre at the Haskayne School of Business to support unique student experiences including community-based learning, internships, curriculum and research. The centre is empowering a new generation of innovation leaders learning to use business principles to address social challenges.
“Elegance” is perhaps often the first word that comes to mind when people first meet Mavis Clark, BEd’72, MEd’82. The second might be “passion.” The third and fourth? “Resolute” and “visionary.” Clark has long been UCalgary’s most driven and articulate educator, volunteer and advocate for lung cancer research. When her husband passed away from the disease, she committed herself to breaking the stigma associated with lung cancer, and to helping improve its survival outcomes via increasingly robust research.
A former university senator, Clark was a teacher and administrator with the Calgary Board of Education for more than 30 years. Her energetic and generous involvement with the Cumming School of Medicine and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre helped establish the Lung Cancer Translational Research Initiative dedicated to advancing lung cancer research, increasing funding and treatment options. In honour of her husband, she created the Paul Clark Lung Cancer Fellowship, which supports postdoctoral students in the field of lung cancer research. Clark’s dedication, philanthropic giving and unrelenting optimism have helped change the narrative around a disease that has long needed more attention. She’s a force and a treasure and, indeed, a game-changer.
Joanne Cuthbertson and Charlie Fischer
As individual community leaders, philanthropists and members of the Order of Canada, Joanne Cuthbertson, BEd’73, Hon. LLD’11, and Charles Fischer, BSc (Eng)’71, MBA’82, Hon. LLD’04, have long been celebrated in their respective fields (she as an education advocate and Chancellor emerita; he as a respected business leader). Together, they were an exemplary and spirited force of idealism and courage as they bettered our city in myriad ways. Sadly, Fischer passed away this year. Cuthbertson’s unwavering commitment to taking action on a broad range of initiatives related to education, children’s health, the arts, and ethical business practice in Calgary and beyond continues on, as does Fischer’s extraordinary legacy of positive change. Among their many gifts to UCalgary — including the creation of spaces and services that directly benefit students — was their vision for, and ongoing support of, the Scholars Academy. Developed as a community for top students, the Academy provides mentorship, practical guidance and critical goal-setting assistance to one of this university’s most ambitious cohorts. Cuthbertson and Fischer’s lasting gift inspires confidence in students to soar higher than they might have imagined they could.
Dr. Lori Egger and Steve Laut
A practising psychologist in Calgary for more than 20 years and a triple alumna with arts and science degrees and a doctorate in psychology, under her belt, Dr. Lori Egger, BA’87, MSc’90, PhD’94, is as committed to the mental health of our community as she is to the education of the future professionals who will diagnose, counsel and guide health and wellness approaches here and around the world. In 2017, Egger and her husband, Steve Laut, BSc (Eng)’79, made a $3.5-million gift to establish the state-of-the-art University of Calgary Psychology Clinic as a valuable resource for students, and for those who need care. “This clinic is important to us because it provides affordable mental-health support to anyone in Calgary, regardless of their background, income or circumstance,” says Egger. The in-house space, open to the community, empowers excellence in learning, supported by mentorship and innovation that enriches and accelerates access to real-life therapy settings. It’s a visionary investment in student learning, and an act of compassion and optimism for the entire community.
At 15, she started university, made the varsity field hockey team and was awarded one of the most prestigious renewable scholarships on campus. Still not yet 30, Carolina Romeo, BSc (Eng)’13, is that rare combination of being dazzlingly successful, yet genuinely humble in her outlook. Born in Argentina, Romeo immigrated to Canada as a child and took to academics with ease, even skipping a couple of grades in junior high. The youngest in her cohort by far, she was certain that engineering was for her, and has never looked back. Her receipt of the Chancellor’s Scholarship — funded by Chancellor’s Circle donors —fueled her confidence and validated her choice to enter such a challenging field at a young age. As well, she says, “my parents weren’t in a strong financial position, and the scholarship made it possible for me to go to university.”
Romeo has maintained many of the valuable connections she made as a Chancellor’s Scholar, and was recently inspired to join the Chancellor’s Circle as a donor, to ensure the award’s robustness and longevity. “The Chancellor’s Scholarship had such a positive impact on my life — it was a huge factor in helping me be able to get through school, and I want to make sure other students get the same experience I had,” she says.
The 2014 Brentwood tragedy that saw five young people, all UCalgary students, senselessly lose their lives was an unspeakably heartbreaking event. But it also inspired an outpouring of compassion and generosity in finding ways to help keep students mentally healthy and supported. Earlier that same year, Calgary rancher and businessman John Simpson, Hon. LLD’05, had pledged an undesignated $5 million to the Energize campaign with an eye to enhancing previous Simpson Family gifts in sports medicine and to the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. When the tragedy occurred, Simpson was immediately moved to help UCalgary find a better way forward to helping students with difficulties they might face from the challenges of post-secondary life.
In striving to help young adults build personal resiliency, he invested in and helped create the concept of UCalgaryStrong — a dynamic, campus-wide initiative aimed at equipping students with skills to become grounded leaders able to cope with the stress of student life. As Simpson puts it, “A community that thrives through co-operation and collaboration while looking out for one another is a better place for everyone to live and learn.” His generosity has not stopped there — in 2019, he created the Simpson Centre for Agricultural and Food Innovation and Public Education. The new centre will advance research around public policies that strengthen and support the growth and sustainability of agri-food and agri-business, particularly in Western Canada
Just months into UCalgary’s transformative Energize campaign, Calgary entrepreneur David Werklund, Hon. LLD’12, put our Faculty of Education on the map with the largest-ever gift from an individual to a Canadian education faculty. You’ll forgive us for turning to an overused descriptor, but his $25-million gift was, indeed, a game-changer. More than simply inspiring the faculty to become the Werklund School of Education, his support quite literally changed the way education is taught at this university by making available new technology, enriching student scholarships, developing international teaching exchanges, and establishing a fund for undergraduate conferences and research. An Alberta farm boy turned global industry leader, Werklund’s brand of philanthropy is rooted in personal, meaningful change that brings out the best in future teachers. “Through the Werklund School of Education, I would like to see teachers given tools to help them truly connect with their students,” he once said in response to the inevitable question: why give your money to a teaching program? His vision was clear, and the result is a Canadian powerhouse of excellence in teaching and learning.