Bonnie Patterson: Reflections on Leadership, Life and Losing a Friend

There are times when one gets to welcome a new member to a family or organization with great excitement and expectations and there are times one gets to reflect with great sadness, on the departure of another.

This week is marked with bitter sweetness in that regard, as we say goodbye to a remarkable woman, exemplary academic leader and a true friend of students and the Council of Ontario Universities’ family. Dr. Marilyn Rose was a very fine person, and we are profoundly saddened to learn of her sudden passing. Marilyn, a professor and former Dean of Graduate Studies at Brock University, was an important part of the COU community for more than a decade. She was deeply committed to the university sector and showed that commitment through the time and energy she devoted to numerous roles beyond Brock – a member of the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies (OCGS) and its executive committee that she chaired for a term, on Council as Brock’s academic colleague, six years on COU’s Executive Committee and co-chair of the Academic Colleagues’ group to mention but a few. Marilyn also served on the COU Task Force that recommended a new quality assurance process for university graduate and undergraduate programs in Ontario that ultimately led to the current Quality Assurance Framework in the province. And, she served as a founding member of the Quality Council that provides oversight to that Framework. We will miss her unfailing sense of humour, her true graciousness and professionalism.

And, this week is also a time when I officially get to welcome my successor as COU’s next President and CEO. As a young member of the family would say, “how sweet.” I am thrilled to welcome David Lindsay who will start a few months from now on January 1. David brings a wealth of public policy experience and a proven track record in the leadership of public sector and member organizations. Currently, he is President and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada and prior to that held several Deputy Minister positions in the Government of Ontario from Energy and Infrastructure, Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, to Natural Resources, Tourism and Culture. He also brings a good understanding of our sister institutions in the college sector having served as President and CEO of Colleges Ontario. He was founding President of the Ontario SuperBuild Corporation responsible for infrastructure planning for the provincial government and was President and CEO of the Ontario Jobs and Investment Board following a period as Principal Secretary and Chief of Staff to the Premier of Ontario. We are pleased that David has accepted this role and I look forward to a smooth transition with him through the fall.

These two events cause me to pause and reflect on just how much our lives are enriched by the people we meet and have the opportunity to work with. It also causes reflection on just how much has changed over the years within our member institutions and how much will change in the future. It makes me reflect on just how much leadership matters, and the profound difference individuals can make when they seize opportunities to make a difference for our students and our society.

It is a privilege to be asked to continue in my role as President and CEO of COU until the end of this year, providing leadership within an organization that makes a difference to public policy in this province and gives a voice to Ontario’s 20 publicly assisted universities and all that they do to enhance the economic, social and cultural well-being of communities they serve. With this last six-plus years at COU, the second time around in the job, it means I will have served the university sector and its students for just over 40 years. With moments of bitter sweetness, by far it has been a sweet ride.