Through creativity, innovation and strategic planning, Shaun and his team at Heddle Shipyards are growing and revitalizing shipyards on the Great Lakes.
When it comes to the marine industry, Shaun Padulo ’07 is no stranger and already has a great deal of experience under his belt. Working in and around ships has long been a passion of Shaun’s. He spent his summers in Grade 11 and 12 working as a deckhand on tugboats sailing the Great Lakes. He continued working his way up during his university years, moving to the front office of McKeil Marine Limited in Fleet Operations between 2003 and 2012.
Prior to joining Heddle Shipyards in 2017, Shaun spent five years in the marine and offshore contracting sectors. He lived and worked in the Netherlands, working for the Dutch firms Dockwise Shipping B.V. and Boskalis Offshore B.V. While at Dockwise, Shaun honed his skills and gained experience in logistical management and transportation and installation of offshore production structures. He then moved to Houston, Texas and, working for Boskalis Offshore B.V., he focused on offshore installation projects, decommissioning projects, and subsea inspection, repair and maintenance projects.
Since Shaun joined Heddle Shipyards, the company has seen tremendous growth. He assumed the role of President, a position he currently holds, in 2018. Heddle Shipyards is the largest Canadian ship repair and construction company on the Great Lakes, which are key arteries for the shipping of grain and other important resources destined for other parts of Canada and the world. In the past three years, they have tripled in size, with shipyards in Hamilton, Port Weller in St. Catharines and Thunder Bay. In November 2020, Heddle made headlines with the announcement of a new agreement between Heddle Shipyards in Ontario and Seaspan in Vancouver. The agreement will bring new jobs to the Hamilton, St. Catharines and Thunder Bay shipyards and will create ‘tens of millions of dollars in economic activity in Ontario.’1 In addition, Heddle won a major $12M Coastguard project that will bring additional people onboard and provide long-term employment at the Port Weller Dry Docks. When Heddle took over the Port Weller Dry Docks in 2017, it was a shadow of its former self. After three years of extensive capital expenditures for repairs and reimagining the shipyard, while at the same time completing over twenty successful projects, the Port Weller Dry Docks has a bright future ahead. As Shaun says, “It isn’t a matter of if we will build vessels again in Port Weller, it is a matter of when.”
Shaun credits the unique leadership team at Heddle for its growth and success. A progressive, dynamic and diverse group comprised of veterans and young professionals, they are invested in comprehensive maritime policies and procedures and skill development, including virtual reality training, 3-D mapping and robotics. In order to mitigate or avoid traditional boom-and-bust cycles, the company has focused on multi-year projects and working with the government on long-term recurring projects. This includes work with commercial operators whose ships move grain and other resources up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy. While the current pandemic has certainly had its challenges for large shipyards, Shaun is proud to note that Heddle has remained fully operational throughout, investing significant resources on health and safety measures for its employees.
The company, which was founded in 1987, has become the largest operator of shipyards in Canada. The partnership of entrepreneurs, Rick Heddle and Blair McKeil were instrumental in the early expansion and vision. As philanthropists themselves, they laid the groundwork for much of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program. The company offers a matched gift program encouraging employees to volunteer their time in addition to donating funds to charitable activities. Heddle is also committed to helping fund charitable projects related to education, the environment, the military and the communities where Heddle has facilities. As an example, Shaun notes that Heddle proudly sponsors SWIM DRINK FISH, a non-profit organization that focuses on connecting people with the tools to safeguard local waters as ‘everyone has a right to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.’2
Shaun attended Ridley from 2002–2007 and is an alumnus of the University of British Columbia, McMaster University and Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. He holds a Master of Science in Maritime Economics and Logistics.
When Shaun reflects back on his five years at Ridley, he feels that the foundational skills he learned — skills like respect, excellence, service, and professionalism — are ones that he uses every day. He has many fond memories of the teachers and coaches, in particular Mr. Filion, Commanding Officer of the Cadet Corps and Mr. Milligan, his Grade 8 form teacher. As Mr. Filion remembers, ‘Shaun was a great student, involved in so many aspects of school life — football, hockey, rugby and cadets. He was team captain for football and rugby and Regimental Sergeant Major in the Cadet Corps during his senior year.’ Shaun’s best friends are ones that were created during his time at Ridley and many of his business relationships can be linked back to his Ridley connections. He is an active alumnus and volunteer, serving on the Board of Governors Finance, Audit and Human Resource committee since September 2020. Just prior to the pandemic and lockdowns, Shaun was the guest speaker at the Cadet Mess Dinner in January 2020, where he told students to ‘never stop dreaming and to reach for the stars.’
Looking to the future, Shaun is excited that Heddle is focused on future growth, and continued revitalization of shipyards with the vision to build large ships again in Ontario. We look forward to following the growth and development of shipbuilding right here in our own backyard.
1 The Hamilton Spectator, November 12, 2020, article by Kate McCullough.
But with so many new books in the marketplace, how do you know what to read? We can help with that!
Each summer, as part of Ridley’s ongoing commitment to flourishing and personal growth, our stalwart leader, Headmaster Kidd, curates his aptly titled Headmaster’s Reading List—a short programme of transformative texts that captivate and inspire while also supporting our flourishing and wellbeing initiatives.
This year, Headmaster Kidd solicited suggestions from members across the Ridley community and narrowed the list down to these five electrifying titles:
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain
In her latest masterpiece, Susan Cain, author of the bestselling phenomenon, Quiet, reveals the power of a bittersweet, melancholic outlook on life, and why our culture has been so blind to its value. Here, Cain employs her signature mix of research, storytelling, and memoir to explore why we experience sorrow and longing, and the surprising lessons these states of mind teach us about creativity, compassion, leadership, spirituality, mortality, and love.
As an accompaniment, Cain has also included a special Book Club Kit, which includes a letter from the author, discussion questions, writing prompts, a list of takeaways, and a Bittersweet playlist!
Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion by Dr. Wendy Suzuki
Hundreds of millions of people suffer from everyday, low-level, non-clinical anxiety. Popular science suggests that this persistent anxiety is detrimental to our health, performance, and wellbeing. But what if our preoccupation with avoiding anxiety is costing us something? What if we could learn how to harness the brain activation underlying our anxiety and make it work for us, turning it into superpowers?
In Good Anxiety, Dr. Wendy Suzuki unpacks the cutting-edge science that will help readers channel their anxiety for positive outcomes—accelerating focus and productivity, boosting performance, creating compassion, and fostering creativity—transforming our understanding and experience of everyday anxiety forever in the process.
How People Matter: Why It Affects Health, Happiness, Love, Work, and Society by Isaac Prilleltensky and Ora Prilleltensky
Mattering, which is about feeling valued and adding value, is essential for health, happiness, love, work, and social well-being. We all need to feel valued by, and add value to, ourselves, others, co-workers, and community members.
How People Matter shows not only the signs, significance, and sources of mattering, but also presents the strategies to achieve mattering in our personal and professional lives. Using research-based methods of change to help people achieve a higher sense of purpose and a deeper sense of meaning, this book equips therapists, managers, teachers, parents, and healthcare professionals with the tools needed to optimize personal and collective well-being and productivity and explains how promoting mattering within communities fosters wellness and fairness in equal measure.
Rest, Refocus, Recharge: A Guide for Optimizing Your Life by Greg Wells, PhD
In a 24/7 world, it can be a real challenge to get proper rest and give your mind and body the opportunity to fully recharge.
In this new book, Dr. Greg Wells outlines how small changes in the way you rest, refocus and recharge can help you improve your mental health, prevent illness and deliver optimal results, offering simple and practical techniques that you can easily incorporate into your existing routine.
Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn by Barbara Oakley, PhD, Beth Rogowsky, EdD, and Terrence J. Sejnowski, PhD
Neuroscientists have made enormous strides in understanding the brain and how we learn, but little of that insight has filtered down to the way teachers teach. Uncommon Sense Teaching applies this research to the classroom for teachers, parents, and anyone interested in improving education. Topics include:
Strategies for keeping students motivated and engaged, especially with online learning
Helping students remember information long-term, so it isn’t immediately forgotten after a test
How to teach inclusively in a diverse classroom where students have a wide range of abilities
Drawing on research findings as well as the authors’ combined decades of experience in the classroom, Uncommon Sense Teaching equips readers with the tools to enhance their teaching, whether they’re seasoned professionals or parents trying to offer extra support for their children’s education.
Great teachers see themselves as great learners—and they see learning through the eyes of their students. That’s why our dedicated faculty and staff are thrilled to dive into this list, so we can model curiosity, intellectual humility, and a zest for lifelong learning for our students. But also, because reading is great fun!
We encourage all in our community to read along with us, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on these fascinating titles!
We live in divided times, and our world is more polarized than ever before. While social media platforms today allow us to communicate instantaneously and effortlessly anywhere in the world, they have engendered a new crisis, ironically, of communication—the effects of which we could not possibly have anticipated.
At present, the prospect of communicating across divides—political or otherwise—seems an impossible task. As our lives become increasingly isolated and insular, we feel more distant from our friends and neighbours, and from the world at large. The American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt offered a poignant assessment of our contemporary social affliction in a recent article for The Atlantic: “We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.” Yet, recent data published by Gallup reveals that our society was more cooperative, with intergroup relations perceived nearly twice as positively, only ten short years ago. So, how can start to bridge our modern divide and begin to heal collectively, as a society?
Professor Irshad Manji (University of Oxford) proposes a simple, yet satisfying, answer: by learning to communicate with each other—again.
Last year, Ridley College joined the growing ‘moral courage community’ by partnering with Professor Manji’s non-profit Moral Courage College (MCC), an organization that empowers and works with institutions, including K-12 schools like ours, to engage in honest diversity work rather than simply rushing to adopt the trendiest framework out of fear of appearing unresponsive.
In September 2021, we invited Professor Manji to host a series of virtual workshops with students, faculty, and staff to teach us about moral courage and set out on a path together, as an institution, to develop the skills to engage constructively about contentious issues without sowing division.
Of course, Professor Manji is no stranger to Ridley College. As many in our community will no doubt recall, she was the inaugural speaker in our MGI-Gordon Distinguished Speaker in November 2005 during the tour for her controversial second book, The Trouble with Islam Today, which had been released the previous year. Seeking a dynamic speaker who could spark discussion and debate around big ideas, she fit the bill perfectly and, as with her latest visit, she certainly did not disappoint.
This year, however, Professor Manji returned to Ridley in a new capacity—as our first Global Leader in Residence, sharing her wealth of knowledge and insight with our students, parents, faculty, and staff, as well as some of the intimate biographical details that inspired her to establish the Moral Courage Project.
Before joining the University of Oxford’s Initiative for Global Ethics and Human Rights, Professor Manji served for many years as a professor of leadership at New York University. Prior to that, she held a number of positions under Canadian New Democratic politicians—as a legislative aide, press secretary, and speechwriter—while somehow also finding time to moonlight as the host of a television program about queer issues and author multiple New York Times bestselling books, most recently, Don’t Label Me: How to Do Diversity Without Inflaming the Culture Wars, published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019.
But despite her many accolades—including Oprah Winfrey’s Chutzpah Award for “audacity, nerve, boldness, and conviction”—Professor Manji remains completely authentic, wholly unpretentious, and down to earth. She moves fluidly between registers from session to session, deftly navigating a spectrum of big—and often controversial—topics in a way that is engaging and memorable, masterfully modulating her message to command the full attention of her audience, whether comprised of Kindergarteners, teens, or adults over 50.
Stepping out onto the Mandeville Theatre stage in person for the first time in nearly two decades, she addresses the packed crowd on Monday morning with humility and grace—virtues she credits to having her proverbial butt kicked in the early years of her career. “I wanted to change the world without recognizing that I had to change myself,” she reflects.
“Back then, the voice in my head told me if you don’t fight back, your opponents won’t know that you mean business. […] But this was the biggest mistake I ever could have made because it made my critics more rigid in their thinking and made my sympathizers question my sincerity.”
But this change did not come easily. After nearly a decade of “digesting toxic energy,” experiencing clinical depression and panic attacks, she collapsed just moments before the biggest interview of her life. Then, her doctors presented her with an ultimatum—either she quit her book tour, or they quit as her doctors. “It was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” she explains. “My body was trying to tell me something, but I was not listening. Then my body showed me who was boss.”
Today, she is no longer the incendiary, confrontational figure who “used to walk on stage with her metaphorical fists clenched, ready to punch back at her opponents,” but instead, strives to be a thoughtful and respectful adversary to those with whom she disagrees—a power she claims is entirely within reach for those who are willing to “speak truth to the power of their own egos.”
Drawing on the principles of neuroscience and positive psychology, she started the MCC to help educators and leaders communicate and develop relationships across divides by learning to modulate their emotions in situations where they are forced to confront difficult, often emotionally charged, issues. This instinct to fear and lash out when we are confronted with views different from our own, and the related impulse to subdue this perceived threat by labelling others, is a fundamental part of how we are wired, she explains. However, letting our emotions—primarily fear—guide us tends to produce only fast, often temporary, fixes that only deepen existing tensions and polarization.
“Instinctually, we are always scanning for threats. When we perceive them, the primitive region of our brains—the amygdala [part of the Limbic System]—starts to take over. […] When we disagree on subjects that we feel passionately about, our brains make us believe others are attacking us. We perceive disagreement as an existential threat. But in reality, we are only experiencing mere discomfort.”
In those decisive moments, we are forced to make a choice. We can let fear overtake us and become defensive—usually at the expense of being heard by our opponents—or we can choose to listen, which requires us to acknowledge and respect the singularity of the individual we are facing, despite our initial instinct to reduce them to a set of labels.
“There is no shame in categorizing,” she continues.
“The trouble with labels is not that they exist, but the baggage that goes with them. But we must remember that we are also owners of a more evolved part of the brain. Rather than letting emotion bully cognition out of the picture, we must find a way to let cognition and emotion peacefully co-exist.”
A problem arises only when we let our assumptions—and our emotions—take the wheel and shut down rather than engaging with our opponents as equals. In these moments, we deprive others of their humanity by reducing them to caricatures rather than engaging with them as our equals with complex thoughts, opinions, and emotions, at which point, Manji emphasizes, “social justice becomes anti-social, and justice is reduced to ‘just us.’”
True justice, she counters, manifests when we recognize that individuals who belong to the same demographic group are not identical, and we are impelled to create space for that individual to express their unique point of view.
“I am a Muslim. But does that mean that I think like every other Muslim? Not all Muslims think alike. And if that’s true of marginalized groups, it is also true of the so-called straight white guy. […] If you’re going to [make the conscious effort to] know me, [rather than] ofme, you are going to engage with me, not make assumptions based on this or that label.”
So, how do we outsmart the limbic system which causes us to react this way? The answer might surprise you: take a deep breath. “We must give our bodies the time and oxygen to transition from this hyperemotional ego brain to the more evolved pre-frontal cortex […] where cognition and emotion can cohabit and coexist,” Manji claims. This is not to say we need to banish emotion. “Good luck trying,” she scoffs. Rather, it is coming to the realization that our biggest obstacle is not the other person, but our own egos.
“By lowering our emotional defences, we are using our power wisely to motivate the other to follow in our footsteps,” she explains. But unfortunately—in the age of cancel culture and reactive social media platforms—many social justice advocates and educators have lost sight of this noble ambition.
As governments, businesses, non-profits, and other institutions around the world continue to direct considerable effort and resources to creating or revising DEI or JEDI mandates, Manji emphasizes the need for creating organizational cultures that respect and encourage a diversity of viewpoints, which she suggests is both a cornerstone of our pluralistic, liberal-democratic way of life. Recent events show, however, that this way of life is increasingly threatened by a creeping homogeneity driven by a fear of appearing ineffective, behind the times, or worse—prejudiced.
“There is a tendency to frame free speech as antithetical to social justice and social justice as contradictory to free speech. You can have one or the other but not both. I’m calling B.S. on that. You must have both.”
In response to changing tides, administrators in K-12 and higher education have deployed various “inclusion efforts” and “inclusion training” programs over the last decade which Manji claims have only “inflamed the culture wars” and fuelled an “us versus them” mentality—usually in service of “speaking truth to power,” a slogan that Manji partially takes issue with.
This statement, and the term “moral courage,” she explains, are usually attributed to the same source—former U.S. Senator, Robert F. Kennedy, who was an advocate for the civil rights movement and fought against corruption before his tragic death in 1968. When we are called upon to “speak truth to power,” we are being asked to take a moral stance on an issue and stand up for what is right, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular, or our position might be perceived as unnecessarily critical or offensive. But in our current climate of “us against them,” Manji claims, “the way we speak truth to power matters as much as the truth we think we are speaking.”
“Speaking truth to power is not enough. We must appreciate that we have power. Moral courage today has to mean speaking truth to the power of your own ego, even as you are speaking truth to powers external to you.”
One of the key tactics deployed by the civil rights movement that ought to be leveraged by today’s educators and social justice advocates is the capacity to educate one’s emotions. She explains:
“During the civil rights movement, facilitators of activism taught young people to educate [their] emotions. If you simply lash out, you are not going to make your point in a way that motivates the other to hear you. These moments spent so much time building resilience and antifragility. We have lost that today.”
Doing moral courage work today, therefore, requires learning to master our emotional defences so we can productively communicate and develop relationships across divides. Doing so, she explains, permits us to overcome our all-pervasive us versus them mindset so that we can begin to work co-operatively to build cultures—organizational and otherwise—that reject shaming and labelling and champion free speech, diversity of expression, and diversity of viewpoint. For educators, this means rejecting fear and putting these skills to work in their classrooms to create and cultivate respectful spaces for open dialogue and debate. But it also means teaching students to respect the plurality of forces at work in each of us and begin to view themselves and others as more than individuals or a set of labels—but as “plurals.” Only plural, Manji explains, “accurately captures all sentient beings [and suggests] that there is so much more to any of us than meets the eye.”
This responsibility will not fall squarely upon faculty members. In the fall, Professor Manji will be virtually leading an exciting new club, “We the Plurals,” which is open to all students between Grades 7 and 12 who are 100 percent committed to the cause. The club will teach students to recognize themselves and each other as plurals, teach them to educate their emotions and equip them “with the skills to engage across lines of difference, disagreement and mutual disgust”—skills that Professor Manji notes are increasingly in demand in our global society.
Members of our faculty and staff will also enroll in Professor Manji’s Moral Courage Mentor Certification Program in the coming months to become certified Moral Courage Mentors. This program, which she bills as a “Moral Courage boot camp,” teaches participants to “finesse [their] moral courage skills, boost [their] confidence to teach those skills to younger people, and meet fellow aspiring Mentors.” At the conclusion of the course, all participants will receive a certificate issued by the University of Oxford and be equipped with the skills to teach Moral Courage both in the classroom and in communities beyond. We encourage parents and students to consider enrolling in the course as well to help us extend our Moral Courage teachings beyond the classroom.
As we continue to advocate for and define our individual approach to cultivating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion on campus, we remain committed to empowering our diverse community of learners, fostering global competency, and providing a safe space for healthy debate on global issues. Above all, Ridley College is a place where everyone belongs and finds a home. Equally, we reject the chilling modern tendency to respond to intolerance with new, sometimes greater, forms of intolerance.
We are so grateful to Professor Manji for her kindness and profound insight, and we look forward to working with her in the future as we continue to integrate the teachings of Moral Courage into the essential foundation of our learning community.
Retired VP Sales at RIM Don McMurtry ’82 knows playing in the tech industry is a full contact sport—and players need to be quick on their feet. Now, the Ridley Board member offers his take on the competitive sector and shares how strong communication and giving back have been fundamental aspects of his life.
If during the early 2000s you found yourself scanning the room for a flashing notification light, tapping happily on a tiny keyboard, or feeling phantom alerts in your pocket for the first (but not the last) time, chances are you’d jumped on the BlackBerry train—and we’d garner a guess you quickly became addicted to BB Messenger too.
The wildly popular device that dominated the market (and infiltrated our culture) had been in the works since researchers at wireless data tech developer Research In Motion (RIM) found a way to not only receive messages on a pager, but to send them back. From there, it was only a matter of time before RIM launched the first BlackBerry, a wireless handheld computer capable of email, browsing and paging—and addictive enough to soon earn it the nickname, “Crackberry.”
And if you’re unfamiliar, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that it wasn’t born in Silicon Valley; RIM was based in nearby Waterloo, Ontario—and Ridleian, Don McMurtry ’82 was its Vice President of Sales, joining the company in 1993 just as the wireless data market was emerging.
As we chat earlier this summer, Don comes across as thoughtful, down-to-earth and distinctly outdoorsy—he canoes and kayaks and it would seem he’s happiest pitching a tent in the most remote parts of Canada. On dry land, Don’s also passionate about running, occasionally still nostalgic for his days on Ridley’s track and harriers teams and running down the country roads near campus.
Originally from Fort Erie, Don followed his brother John ’78 to Ridley in 1979 when their parents decided he should improve his university prospects. Soon after settling into Gooderham House, Don discovered the computer lab, and he laughs that being viewed as a computer nerd minimized competition for a scarce resource; at that time, only three other students had any interest. When he returned for Grade 12, Don brought along his own computer; by then, learning to programme had become an obsession—one which led him to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York.
Don started classes at RPI a bit early, taking the opportunity to dabble broadly in introductions to philosophy, medical ethics and metaphysics, and he was soon on the lookout for a research project. “I had a broad interest in science from a young age,” he says, “and almost everyone at Rensselaer was studying either engineering or science. There were endless opportunities to explore new ideas and technologies.” The next summer, Don was hired as a database developer by a professor in the chemistry department. The research work would last throughout his time at the school.
When he returned to Canada, Don moved to Waterloo, where he spent three years working as a Product Manager before accepting a job running sales and marketing for a nearby communications manufacture. But as his new ‘early-stage’ employer struggled to put additional financing in place, they kept delaying his start date, and Don took matters into his own hands. He contacted a few of the Waterloo-based companies listed in the local technology guide, and soon found himself deep in conversation with RIM founder, Mike Lazaridis. Don walked out with a job offer.
“I hope the pandemic will encourage more kids to build a deep appreciation and fascination for the methods and tools of science and engineering. Regardless of what career path someone takes, this is an incredible opportunity for parents and educators to help young people see how science and engineering are woven into all of our lives.”
It really was a no-brainer. Inspired by the exciting potential of wireless data, Don quickly dropped the other—higher-paying—offer and started working for co-CEO Jim Balsillie as RIM’s first salesperson. “You gotta skate with your head up,” Jim warned; the tech industry was highly competitive and required its players to be agile and to relentlessly innovate—those who slowed, suffered defeat. Within a few years, Don became VP Sales and helped the company launch the BlackBerry in 1999. It would create an entirely new category of product for network operators; until that point, the market had been dominated by Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia (at times referred to as ‘The MEN’).
“That first year, we didn’t spend a dollar on advertising,” Don remembers, “but we had a very active PR campaign and gave out a lot of free demonstrations, making it easy for customers to test our product. Initially, we didn’t have ‘sales’ people; we had ‘wireless email evangelists.’ Wireless email revolutionized how people could conduct business and manage their lives.”
As the BlackBerry took off, Don marvelled at how the small device changed users’ day-to-day routines: the senior executive who slept with it under his pillow so he could wake in the middle of the night and reply to emails from his colleagues in Japan; or the CIO of a Fortune 100 company who could be at her child’s Little League game while attending to corporate responsibilities—and that was before you could browse the web or make phone calls. During the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, the portions of the U.S. government that had deployed BlackBerry were more resilient and productive, results that substantially accelerated its adoption in many government organizations.
“BlackBerry wasn’t the first wireless email solution,” explains Don, “but it was the first that connected you to your existing company email address and it was transformational because we made it very easy to adopt—we could gain users without working with the IT department, which became a common strategy for all of the cloud-based software platforms that have emerged in the last twenty years.”
The initial wireless network had limited coverage compared to what we now enjoy, but BlackBerry used it efficiently, and battery life was nearly two weeks. As they expanded onto cellular networks around the world, RIM helped operators to retain or acquire new customers. From the start, the company had known it would need an enormous scale of distribution and plenty of strategic planning went into making those powerful partnerships.
Don retired from RIM in 2006, but a year later, armed with millions of subscribers and an agreement to distribute BlackBerry smartphones in China, the company was worth a whopping $68 billion, making it the most valuable in Canada. Users hopped cheerfully from the Curve to Bold model (a resolution jump that matched Apple’s iPhone), and subscriptions kept on rising.
Over the next few years, however, Google and Apple made headway fast. Google was building its own platform and operating system and Apple had learned to play hardball after it had lost the PC battle to Microsoft—and it sure wasn’t about to repeat the mistake in the smartphone wars. And though RIM tried valiantly to pivot, purchasing new software systems and rolling out stores, models, apps, and tablets—even changing the company name to BlackBerry in 2013—things never did bounce back. Hindsight points to hasty engineering choices and the competition dumping billions into technology that RIM was slow to match. Leaders stepped down, staff was cut by the thousands and BlackBerry eventually exited the phone-manufacturing business altogether.
“Momentum is a really important thing,” Don remarks wryly. “The computer industry has always been a fascinating place to play. But it’s a full contact sport; everyone is trying to put everyone else out of business. And when the whole industry plays by those rules, it moves incredibly quickly—because if you don’t, you get crushed.”
Today, BlackBerry is competing for the software systems that run the current and next generation of cars—which are themselves becoming ever more mobile communication devices.
Don still lives in Waterloo with his partner, Andrea, his time spent in nature and working as a self-proclaimed ‘voluntrepreneur’ (a term he coined to describe his entrepreneurial approach to volunteer work).
Conservation is a large part of his focus. Don has served on the boards of Ontario Nature and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). “I once heard it said that there are three causes for acting unsustainably: greed, ignorance and desperation,” he says. “For most people, our unsustainable behaviour comes from a lack of understanding or from lacking the capacity to monitor how the countless things that we depend upon impact our natural world. I think of conservation organizations as businesses that I pay to make sure our local, provincial and federal governments are meeting the ecological needs of the plants and animals that cannot speak for themselves.”
He has also served on the Ridley’s Board of Governors since 2016 and has been Chair of the Advancement Committee since 2020. When asked where his penchant for service comes from, Don recalls his grandparents and parents always volunteered their time and resources to community service organizations, and his university education was paid for largely by an endowed scholarship. In turn, he created a scholarship at RPI which helps undergrads conduct research each year. Don has a system in place to keep track of organizations who are doing good work, and looks to fellow members of Ridley’s board who inspire him as they seek to fill in society’s gaps—like Ridley’s Scott Paterson ’82, who’s not-for-profit, ComKids provides underserved children with computers and teaches digital literacy.
“Being a volunteer is a good way to expand your compassion for others in society and to increase the number of communities you are involved with,” Don suggests. “The best not-for-profit organizations help their supporters participate in something of substantial value—they create a sense of community.”
“Exploring what is interesting and important to you beyond your career leads to many opportunities to contribute in your communities—and I say communities in the plural because we all develop a diversity of associations which are each a unique community. Helping those communities flourish by volunteering your skills, your time and your financial resources will expose you to even more communities that will enrich your life and others.”
Since 2007, Don has also been volunteering with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), which was founded by two engineers who’d graduated from the University of Waterloo and sought to solve complex, system-wide challenges. Right away Don knew they were doing something big. “I liked their approach to helping young people (especially engineers) develop their capacity to make substantial changes to public policies that were perpetuating poverty in the world,” he explains, positing that EWB has delivered the biggest return on investment of any charitable donation he’s made. The organization has shaped several impactful changes to Canadian public policy, unlocking millions of dollars per year that help businesses around the world build their local economies, and has mentored a long list of social entrepreneurs along the way.
“Two words,” Don replies when asked what advice he can offer fellow science enthusiasts and voluntrepreneurs. “Study people. Studying how people communicate and make decisions is as essential as air—if you can’t do it then your career will suffocate.”
That focus on communication really is key—no matter your sector. “When I was young, I naively though I only needed to have the best or most innovative idea but being able to communicate well with others is absolutely essential,” Don advises. “The computer industry encompasses a huge breadth of careers now. Technical innovation and scientific discoveries almost exclusively rest on collaboration with colleagues. Managers will fail if their teams aren’t working together to create great products and deliver valuable services. And entrepreneurs will never see their ideas prosper if they can’t influence the opinions and desires of customers and investors.”
After the past year-and-a-half, which brought with it both stories of inspiration and harsh societal lessons, Don is more determined than ever to support the initiatives that will help move society forward. “The most simple and profound marvels in our lives are due to an enormously interconnected network of ideas and innovations,” Don says, hoping the pandemic will encourage students to build a deep appreciation for the methods and tools of science and engineering. “This is an incredible opportunity for parents and educators to help young people see how these are woven into all of our lives.”
And as the world shifts shape into something new, whether he’s paddling through Canadian landscapes or working with the causes he hopes will protect them, you can be sure Don is thinking of ways to keep reaching out. Communication, ever widening, only increases our ability to understand the complex issues facing our world, making global outreach possible, strengthening our relationships and organizing our day to day lives. It’s a good thing, and one he’s watched happen before.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.
Head of Consumer and Brand Marketing at Google Hong Kong, globe-trotter Nancy Ting ’94 knows innovation and new technologies really can make the world a better place—and she’s focused on bringing them to market. We checked in with the impressive alumna to see what’s next in tech and ask what advice she has for those who want in.
Whether you’re checking in on Gmail, down a virtual rabbit hole, or asking your Google Home to convert ounces to grams, there are few of us whose lives haven’t been touched by the online powerhouse. More than 3.5 billion searches are conducted on Google each day—that’s 40,000 per second—and it accounts for over 92 per cent of all global internet searches. Somewhere along the way, Google even co-opted our language, switching silkily from noun to verb. “Google it,” has become a go-to phrase, regardless of which search engine you’re on.
“Climb the mountain not so that people can see you, but so that you can see the world.”
So after a year where we spent more time on screens than ever before, we spoke with alumna Nancy Ting ’94, Google’s Head of Consumer and Brand Marketing in Hong Kong, who works for the company that, literally, has all the answers.
Nancy started with Google after moving to Hong Kong in 2010 where she now lives with her seven-year-old daughter. Though her role keeps her busy, Nancy makes sure to prioritize their time together, playing tennis and golf and, most recently, picking up skateboarding.
The alumna graduated from Ridley in 1994, alongside her brother Newton. Their parents had sent them to Ridley to broaden their perspectives; Newton lived in Merritt South and Nancy moved into Gooderham House West. Though it was her first time living away from home, Nancy quickly settled in, recalling fond memories of learning Caribbean dancing from her roommate Philice Davis ’94, her mentor, Mrs. Williams—the first female pilot in St. Catharines—and gathering with the rest of the GWest girls at the home of their House mother, Mrs. Close, she called her ‘second home.’ Nancy still keeps in touch with classmates via social media and catches up with some of them right in Hong Kong.
“I’ve always wanted to solve problems to make the world a better place, so I decided to pursue an engineering degree. I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to programming circuit boards in four years! So never be afraid to pursue disciplines that seem daunting. If you have the passion, there is always a way.”
After graduation, Nancy attended Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, where she studied Electrical and Computer Engineering. “I’ve always wanted to solve problems to make the world a better place, so I decided to pursue an engineering degree,” she explains. “I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to programming circuit boards in four years. So never be afraid to pursue disciplines that seem daunting. If you have the passion, there is always a way.”
Nancy may not have known exactly what the end goal was at the time, but accruing a strong, transferrable skillset enabled her to work toward what she did know she wanted: to make a difference and be able to travel.
“Having a background in science and maths helped me land jobs and projects in different parts of the world,” she says. For Nancy, living in new places is an exciting way to get to know people from different backgrounds and cultures, and it enables her to appreciate different points of view. She’s lived so far in Toronto, London, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, San Francisco, and Beijing.
“The challenging part is that one needs to re-establish one’s social circle,” she responds when asked how she settles into a new spot. “But I’ve found that if you follow your own interest, be it music, yoga or sports, you’ll be able to establish new circles pretty easily.”
The key, she adds, is to be willing to try something new. For example, when she was living in New York, Nancy was drawn to comedy, so she joined improv classes at Upright Citizen’s Brigade. It was an opportunity to meet people outside her work environment—and to have a good laugh while she did it.
That willingness to explore and try new things served Nancy well as she built her career, which has taken several unexpected turns along the way. Nancy’s first job was in Toronto as an eCommerce programmer at IBM, where she programmed internet applications from eCommerce websites to mobile apps to internet banking. Two years later, wanting to learn more about business, she moved to New York and worked for Deloitte Consulting as a strategy and management consultant. She also pursued an MBA at MIT, gaining skills in areas like accounting, finance and marketing and switched industries, becoming an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Next, Nancy started her own company, Mode Republic, a user-generated magazine which showcased international fashionistas’ daily outfits. The magazine offered a ‘Shop This Look’ feature so you could shop for similar items from online stores.
But it was after moving to Hong Kong that Nancy was offered a position on Google’s marketing team, and she started out doing working for the Ads business in Greater China. “Working for years in different industries and functions, only reinforced my passion to use technology to make the world a better place,” she says. “Google is a company that’s constantly innovating, and it encourages employees to explore new positions and geographies every few years.”
Two years ago, she switched to B2C marketing, and now looks after products like YouTube, Google Play, Google Classroom, Android, and more. “Marketing is a great mixture of arts and science,” she remarks. “We focus on quantitative data analysis as well as identifying true user insight—then we come up with creative campaign ideas and bring them to market.”
The pandemic certainly affected how consumers and businesses alike use technology—a steady progression toward online options was sped up out of necessity, and traditional businesses recognized an urgent need for digitization. As foot traffic was reduced, small businesses were forced to build websites, up their social media game, and figure out digital ads so they could still be found. And, what’s more, they needed to deliver their products and services via those online channels.
“Wellbeing has different definitions for people. It’s important to go through the exercise of making it clear to yourself what makes you happy, what wellbeing means to you. Then you need to openly communicate that to your boss, your co-workers, your family—especially what is your ‘non-negotiable.’”
And it wasn’t only commerce that was affected; day-to-day life still relies on digital tools, be they for work, remote learning or entertainment which, as Nancy notes, brings with it tremendous opportunities in all areas.
Those opportunities mean that roles like Nancy’s are incredibly busy, so of course we have to ask how she manages her time and keeps on top of her own wellbeing—juggling motherhood, managing marketing for a company that’s constantly churning out new products, and tackling the year’s tougher realities like remote work and school.
“Wellbeing has different definitions for people,” she replies. “It’s important to go through the exercise of making it clear to yourself what makes you happy, what wellbeing means to you. Then you need to openly communicate that to your boss, your co-workers, your family—especially what is your ‘non-negotiable.’”
For Nancy, it’s important that she keeps healthy and spends quality time with those who matter. The pandemic was an opportunity to get in shape and keep her immune system strong, and she’s worked over the past months to focus on eating well and exercising. “I turned my biological age back to 25-years-old!” she laughs.
With days filled with meetings, she also sets aside time where she turns off and just focuses on her work, and makes it clear to her colleagues that being there for her daughter—particularly in important moments—is her ‘non-negotiable.’
“It certainly helps that I love what I do for work,” Nancy says. “Even when I have some spare time, I’d be reading about the tech industry or the latest innovations. I’d recommend young Ridleians strive to land a job in a field that aligns with their passion as soon as they can. When your work is something that you enjoy, the wellbeing challenge is significantly reduced.”
“In the coming decades, there will be job titles we’ve never heard of before. Equipping yourself with strong foundational skills in math, science and coding will better prepare you for exciting new job options.”
As students look ahead to their own careers, many of them considering jobs in the tech industry, Nancy recommends they equip themselves with strong foundational skills—like math, science and coding—that will give them plenty of room to pivot when required and to move around.
“In the coming decades, there will be job titles we’ve never heard of before,” she advises. “Those foundational skills will prepare you for exciting new options. And don’t worry if you aren’t good at these things now. I failed Maths and Physics in Junior High. The turning point for me was at Ridley when I had amazing teachers who helped me understand how things work. Seeking great mentors and information will help you to master the latest knowledge—you just need to be inquisitive and invest the time and effort.”
It’s sound advice. As opportunities expand, and with them, our ability to connect with and impact others across the globe, Nancy is the perfect example of someone who has approached her career with a strategically open mind and adventurously open arms. And as we conclude our conversation, each a world away from the other, connected only by a few of clicks, she leaves off with the words she’s always lived by: “Climb the mountain, not so that people can see you, but so that you can see the world.”
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.
Ridley students and employees spent the past year connecting largely via Microsoft Teams, so we just had to sit down with longtime MS expert, Jeff Bell ’88 to talk tech. Now, the alumnus shares his take on the future of work—and how Microsoft kept us clicking during a global pandemic.
Jeff takes our call from his home office in Seattle, Washington. “Well, it wasn’t a home office until a year ago,” he explains practically, looking out at the Olympic Mountains, “it was our guest bedroom. But that’s the way the world has changed.” Like many of us, Jeff, too, has been working from home during the pandemic.
Back in 1991, the numbers minded Ridleian took on a summer internship at Microsoft. At the time, Jeff was working on an adaptation kit for companies to put MS-DOS 5.0 in their handheld devices (which he nods to as an essentially early ancestor of the iPhone). His officemates were busy working on Windows 3.1 and employees one door over were tackling applications. Jeff returned to Princeton University that fall to finish up his senior year, then moved out to Seattle as a fulltime Microsoft employee.
“There were always people who worked remotely—we just tended to ignore them. Now we’ve all been that remote person for the past year-and-a-half, there’s that much more awareness of how to make it work for everyone.”
He’s worked there ever since, challenging the ‘Bay Area stereotype’ that people in tech tend to hop from company to company. Over the years, Jeff’s been able to move within the organization and dive deep into a variety of projects that speak to his skills and interests, including type and typography; digital rights management; digital payments and wallets; tools for early e-commerce; and eBooks and ePub standards. And if, like us, you love the ‘Save as PDF’ functionality in Office Suite, you can thank Jeff—he led the small team that worked with Adobe to add it as a built-in feature.
Today, Microsoft employs more than 175,000 people worldwide, and Jeff is an expert on Microsoft 365 subscriptions. The quick pace of technology means they’re always rolling out new features and waiting for customers to renew can be a real drag—for creators and consumers alike. But with people now automating everything from music to razors to poultry, a simple subscription ensures users will always get their mouse on the most current iteration.
“Think of Netflix as an example,” Jeff explains. “If I were to buy a hard disk or a chip with all the shows on it, but it doesn’t update itself with anything, how exciting is that? People producing a new show would have to wait for viewers to upgrade their Netflix or buy a new TV.”
“In the software world, we’ve long had this challenge—we’d build all these great new features we really like, but our customers were still using this thing from five years ago that they’d buy new only when they’d buy a new PC. We want to get the updates to everyone faster, and if we can help make that easy, we can give everyone a better experience and a better product.”
“There are a whole lot of paths to being successful. There are smart people everywhere and it takes a lot of people—and a lot of types of people across the board—to deliver products in tech.”
Since March 2020, discussions of secure, collaborative products and ‘work-from-home ergonomics’ have taken on new life as employees perch at kitchen counters, occupy dining room chairs and hunch over coffee tables.
Though we may have had to keep an eye on our steps, many of us were undeniably lucky to be able to work remotely during a time when the world, in large measure, shut down. Technologies like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet kept us connecting, celebrating, and producing.
MS Teams saw a huge uptick in users over the pandemic, and was one of the fastest growing apps, adding a whopping 95 million users in 2020. More than 500,000 organizations worldwide now use it as their default messaging platform, including over 183,000 educational institutions.
Though he may be working from home these days, for Jeff, connecting virtually is old hat. “At some level, that’s how my old world was. I spent two years where my manager and immediate team actually sat in Dublin, Ireland,” he recalls. “And Microsoft is a decent-sized campus. When I’m working with the commerce team or the payments team and they’re a 10-to-20-minute shuttle ride or walk away, you meet with them on Teams. So much of my work was done on Teams and via email already.”
Microsoft has been thinking about the future of hybrid work for years. One of the projects Jeff worked on, now nearly a decade ago, was meeting technology and hybrid meetings, with the team considering such things as collaborative notetaking. “We didn’t end up solving the problem at the time, but we made a little headway,” he muses, “and the world moved on. But there’s certainly an interest in watching how things played out once everyone had to go virtual.”
And in many ways, Jeff’s been in on the experiment, as his own family learned to operate remotely this past year—which included everything from the logistics of virtual orchestra to scrambling to find a Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing. Jeff lives in Seattle with his son, Andrew, who’s going into Grade 12, and daughter, Elizabeth, who will be entering Grade 10. His wife, Anna, a lawyer by training and a former JAG officer, is a romance writer. Though there was certainly some trial and error in the day-to-day, the pace slowed for everyone; a smaller stride meant more frequent video calls with Jeff’s Ottawa-based parents, his extended family in Alberta, and his sister, alumna Jensa Morris ’90, who’s now a doctor based in Connecticut.
He’s also continued to keep active in his downtime, golfing throughout Seattle’s long season and still serious about running—he’s run 20 marathons to date, a passion which goes back to his days as a harrier at Ridley.
Jeff came to the Lower School over Christmas in Grade 7, having started French immersion earlier that year and wanting a different kind of education. A conversation with family connection Reverend Hunt soon led the young whiz to Ridley—and, once there, Jeff never looked back. He spent the next seven years as a day student. In Lower School, he played cricket, soccer, squash, tennis, and hockey. When he transitioned to Upper School, now a student of Merritt South, he focused on playing hockey and competing both as a harrier and on the tennis courts. He was a Cadet sergeant, a House Prefect, and received both the TR Merritt Matriculation Gold Medal and the Governor General’s Medal.
Jeff’s impressive skills in mathematics were known widely, so it was of little surprise that he sought a future career in engineering. “There are lots of domains in which you can solve problems, but I was strong in maths and sciences,” he remembers. “Engineering just felt like a place where there are always fun problems to solve and good tools for doing it.”
It was simply a question of where. Jeff was in Grade 12 and applying to Ontario programmes when his teacher, Brian Martin approached him and asked if he’d considered any American schools. He hadn’t, thinking those kinds of plans were years in the making. But it was a late decision which paid off; Jeff got in his applications just under the deadline and was accepted to the engineering programme at Princeton University.
“It used to be fashionable to talk about how everyone should be fluent in coding—and the expectation of numeracy and comfort in data modelling might sound equally dated in 20 years. But right now, it feels like the easiest people to work with are the ones who can have a conversation about the data.”
What comes across as he talks about his work, however, is that it’s clearly about more than math alone (though he certainly spends his time deep in the numbers): Jeff is essentially a storyteller, contextualizing the data and using it as a tool to gain insight into what consumers are doing (or aren’t), how the business is working (or isn’t), and what’s going to be good for both. What impact are we having? Are we touching people at scale? How can we build the right thing?
“That fluency is almost more valuable than code,” he agrees, “It used to be fashionable to talk about how everyone should be fluent in coding—and the expectation of numeracy and comfort in data modelling might sound equally dated in 20 years. But right now, it feels like the easiest people to work with are the ones who can have a conversation about the data.”
And after the past year-and-a-half, the data has a lot to say. Today, Microsoft’s signature problem-solving efforts continue as a workforce contemplates its return to the office. How do workers use the chat function? How do things function when half the meeting’s attendees are remote? Is the chat channel more visible to those who are remote—and is it then ignored by those in the room? As we all inch closer to a new working model, mock-up solutions are popping up across the Microsoft campus. Their teams have been busy learning from what we’ve been doing these past months—and envisioning what a hybrid future might look like.
“I think we’ll get to a place where we have more of a recognition of those who are remote,” Jeff predicts. “There were always people who worked remotely—we just tended to ignore them. Now that we’ve allbeen that remote person for the past year-and-a-half, there’s that much more awareness of how to make it work for everyone.”
“I have a lot of appreciation for the data scientists; the best ones are artists who understand the numbers and do a great job of storytelling and making sense of the world, making sense of the work we do.”
And, notably, these changes bring with them important conversations about diversity, accessibility, and opportunities to broaden the hiring pool. “While Redmond and Seattle are lovely places, we don’t need to move the whole world here,” Jeff points out practically, citing his organization’s recent hires who will be staying put. “There are smart people everywhere and tons of opportunity. In tech, it takes a lot of people—and a lot of types of people—to deliver products.”
Speaking with Jeff, you can’t help but be excited by what’s to come, knowing these technologies will only expand our reach across both office and globe. And though we’ve each had to pivot over the course of this pandemic, to park our cars and watch our work clothes hang in our closets like question marks—we are the lucky ones. There’s plenty of promise in the ‘new normal,’ status unknown, even as it’s still coming into focus.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.
Alumna, Alex Clark talks good policy, giving back—and how she’s bringing opportunity to a new generation of entrepreneurs.
If you spent a good part of the past year seeking small business gems on social, listening for the comforting sound of the delivery truck, or contemplating the items in your virtual cart, you’re in good company. With consumers bereft of their bricks-and-mortar go-tos, online shopping hit an all-time high during the pandemic—and it looks like it’s here to stay.
“Consumers over the pandemic embraced online shopping, wanted to support local businesses, and cared about the ‘about us’ stories more than ever before. My hope is that this continues. More voices, more power in the hands of the many and not the few … we’ve rediscovered the online version of Main Street and it’s exhilarating.”
“More voices, more power in the hands of the many and not the few—we’ve rediscovered the online version of Main Street and it’s exhilarating,” she explains earlier this summer. “If the government can use the momentum we’ve seen through this pandemic around supporting entrepreneurship, we could have a much more diverse, interesting and stable economy moving forward.”
It seems Alex has always been keen to bring fresh talent to the table—and that means fighting for good policies; finding innovative ways to expand reach; and providing opportunity to those who, historically, were often overlooked.
“If the government can use the momentum we’ve seen through this pandemic around supporting entrepreneurship—bringing them to the table and addressing the real barriers—we could have a much more diverse, interesting and stable economy moving forward.”
“Looking back, I was able to leverage my education, my network and even life experiences to get me through the door,” she shares. “It’s an advantage to have one of those, let alone all three, so I’ve always believed in finding ways to allow more people to participate that otherwise couldn’t.”
It’s a community mindset she comes by honestly. Her grandfather, Old Ridleian Ian Reid ’44 and grandmother, Margot instilled its importance in their family; both received the Order of Canada in recognition of their community service.
Alex is part of a long line of Ridleians: her grandfather, Ian; uncles, Tim ’78 and Ross Reid ’71; aunt, Sarah Cameron ’84; and sister, Jillian Clark ’03 all attended Ridley. When she was 16, Alex decided to turn her focus from competitive tennis and considered where to spend one final, adventurous year—and, having listened to plenty of Ridley stories around the dinner table, Alex knew the school would check the right boxes. She enrolled for the 2005-06 academic year.
“Some of this [service mindset] comes from self-awareness of opportunities I’ve had that are not available to everyone. Looking back, I was able to leverage my education, my network and even life experiences to get me through the door. It’s an advantage to have one of those—let alone all three—as you go through life and your early career, so I’ve always believed in finding ways to allow more people to participate that otherwise couldn’t.”
And from the moment she arrived on campus, she made the most of it, serving as captain of the First Girls Rugby team, House captain of Gooderham West (she’s held on proudly to her House ring), and assistant captain of the then newly formed JV Girls Hockey team, which she helped create. “It was a bunch of us that had never played hockey—most of us had never learned how to stop on skates. The boards absorbed a lot of our momentum!” she remembers. “But by the end of the season, we were a dream team. I was surrounded by these badass women who just wanted to have fun and compete.”
The arts soon came calling, too. Alex played Béline, Aragon’s fortune-hunting second wife in the Upper School production of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade Imaginaire). “A special dedication to my grandfather,” Alex wrote in her sunny Acta entry later that year, “without him blazing the Ridley trail, I worry I would have missed this influential year … Thank you, Ridley for opening your doors to me and welcoming me into the family.”
Though Alex left after graduation to pursue a degree in Political Science (first at University of British Columbia and then Carleton University), she kept in touch with her peers in the years that followed—and the Ridley family afforded her some new connections along the way.
These days, Alex lives in Ottawa with her husband, Jarett and their eight-year-old dog, Boomer. When we spoke in June, she and Jarett were expecting their first child and predicting life would soon be busier than ever—and that’s certainly saying something. The proud alumna currently sits on the leadership board of the Women’s Training Camp with the Ottawa REDBLACKS and is on the Board of Directors for Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women and helps them to re-enter the workforce. And as Shopify’s VP of Strategic Initiatives, her day job keeps things hopping as well.
Knocking down barriers to success seems to have always been at the core of her career, which from the start has followed an impressive path. Alex started out in politics, working for the Liberals when they were the official Opposition under Michael Ignatieff. Following that, she took what she learned and applied it to helping businesses navigate the system. She spent the next five years working with global clients across all sectors, developing their strategic communications and stakeholder plans, and lobbying on their behalf.
But in helping these companies, it never did feel quite like herwin, and she wanted to have more of a direct impact. Alex transitioned in-house at Microsoft as their Director of Corporate Affairs, dividing her time between Vancouver and the company’s headquarters in Seattle—and ultimately working with the B.C. government to build the Centre of Excellence.
“Failure is part of the journey and will only make you a better entrepreneur if you take the time to learn from it. Never skip over understanding why something failed. As we say at Shopify: Failure is the successful discovery of something that did not work.”
That’s when Shopify came calling. “It was a no brainer for me,” she laughs good-naturedly. “A Canadian company supporting small businesses and they have a slide in the office?!”
Though an admittedly excellent selling feature, the company sure boasts more than a slide. If you’re still unfamiliar with the popular online platform, Shopify provides independent business owners with ecommerce and point of sale features to help them start, run and grow their business. More than two million merchants from over 175 countries use it—and they’ve created 3.6 million jobs and contributed $307+ billion in global economy impact.
In 2016, Alex joined Shopify’s team as Director of Policy and Government Affairs, creating the company’s first Global Affairs team and advocating for policy ensuring governments around the world remove barriers for entrepreneurs to be successful.
“It was a unique time for tech and government,” she recalls. “Government is accustomed to a dynamic with the private sector that’s based around value exchange. But if you were like Shopify five years ago, you historically had never needed government—but quickly they were showing up in your backyard making crucial policy decisions, while not always fully understanding the unintended consequences of those decisions.”
As ‘innovation’ became the new buzz word across the country, with solutions being drawn up around everything from attracting talent to supporting young businesses, it became clear that Shopify needed a seat at the table. “That’s what I came to solve,” Alex explains. “It was less about lobbying and more about education.”
From that role, Alex was asked to become Chief of Staff to CEO, Tobias Lütke. She moved deeper into the business, working alongside the Executive team as Shopify went through an exciting period of hypergrowth. Their workforce doubled each year, global expansion took off and their merchant base now sits at over two million. This past year, Alex took on her current VP role, which covers Shopify’s Corporate Development and the SHOP app; she’s also advisor to the Executive team and CEO.
But her passion for small business doesn’t end at their office door. In recent months, Alex co-launched Backbone Angels, a collective of ten active angel investors who invest in women and non-binary founders. These angels—all women who bring years of experience in everything from legal to UX to marketing—prioritize investments in Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour led companies who deserve the capital and support to build the companies of the future. Alex is a founding partner.
“We realized our collective experience was incredibly powerful and by launching ‘Backbone’ we’ll be able to support more companies. We’ve spent most of our careers on the front line of entrepreneurship,” Alex says. “We know the story of the journey and the individual matters just as much as the final product.”
“The future is for the makers.”
More people are choosing entrepreneurship, she posits—and it’s paying off. In the past months they’ve reviewed hundreds of decks, met with founders and have invested in some exciting companies. But though there’s plenty of hope for a new generation of entrepreneurs, there’s work to be done; the pandemic shone a spotlight on the vulnerabilities we have as an economy.
“Canada can sometimes be referred to as ‘laggards’ when it comes to technological adoption,” explains Alex, “and some of that became painfully obvious when we didn’t have the right systems in place to address the needs of individuals and businesses through this pandemic. Businesses that survived were those that quickly shifted to online because now you could no longer depend on your brick-and-mortar store for foot traffic, and you needed to expand to a larger or global market.”
“The silver lining of this is that we’re seeing small businesses doing really well because they removed the dependency of in-person,” she adds.
Now, it’s all about using that momentum to bring those entrepreneurs to the table to address what are some very real barriers. It’s only through inclusive conversations and good policies that the country will move forward and live up to its potential—and Alex is hopeful. One way to bring about change? People need to get involved.
“Getting involved in politics was once seen as this honourable way to serve your country, and now I think it’s seen as this thankless, dirty job that no one wants. We really need to change that narrative,” she says. “We need people shaping this country that embrace the potential of the future and understand where we’re heading—and we need women.”
As we wrap up our conversation, it seems like the perfect opportunity to ask Alex if she has any advice for Ridley’s young entrepreneurs. “It’s really hard,” she replies. “Expect to fail…a lot. But recognize that failure is part of the journey and will only make you a better entrepreneur if you take the time to learn from it. Never skip over understanding why something failed. As we say at Shopify: Failure is the successful discovery of something that did not work.”
So, good reader, following a year filled with uncertainty but lined with the silvery promise of something new, go forth and find your passion—whatever that may be—and go for it. And while you’re deciding, hit ‘buy’ on that shopping cart.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.
“The past has walked these very halls, strode across this campus, each Ridleian contributing in important ways to the Ridley of today, the Ridley of the future. It’s why change—born of both necessity and innovation—nods respectfully to our roots; they are the basis from which we grow.”
Through the gates, across sprawling lawns and stately buildings, the unmistakeable prints of Ridleians are everywhere, generous marks of hope that go back more than 130 years—back to when Ridley was simply an idea, and then later, as it became so much more.
The darker moments from our past have often led to periods great giving and innovation, and this year is no different. As our community rouses from a global pandemic, we turn toward a new moment in time, filled with thoughts of fresh ground, fresh plans. We do so, in part, by celebrating our past, those moments when, faced with difficulty, Ridleians looked determinedly ahead.
This year marks the hundred-year anniversary of the Memorial Chapel, the beating heart of campus that stands in honour of those lost to the Great War. In 2021, it’s a spiritual hub that welcomes students of all faiths, providing comfort and instilling values and purpose. The year also marks a century since Gooderham House was built, a dormitory which was intended to house boys old and new. Now, Gooderham bustles with the bright laughter of flamingos and crocodiles, girls who are poised to become the empowered women of tomorrow. What hasn’t changed, however, is that both Chapel and Gooderham House are still about gathering, about community, strength and, importantly, coming home.
The Memorial Chapel
Following the First World War, Ridley’s mood was confident, secure. It had won a high place in public regard and had established itself as an institution that was ready to go on to greater things. Canadian attitudes toward higher education were quickly changing, and the demand for place at Ridley grew each year. Expansion was in all minds as new applications rolled in—and Gooderham House and the Memorial Chapel were the most notable items in the school’s enlargement.
At the end of the First World War, alumni had proposed a chapel in honour of those Ridleians who had lost their lives. It was a cause close to their hearts and by the spring of 1919, nearly $50,000 had been raised to support the build. It was simply one more piece of evidence that the school had matured: it had its own martyrs to mourn and to honour, its ideals and traditions fixed firmly in place.
Ridley Chapel in the morning,
Incarnation fresh and pure
Of those souls who, this life scorning,
Fought to make the issue sure.
Ridley Chapel, hallowed dwelling
Of the spirit of the dead:
We have made you as a temple
For the sacred flame they fed.
There was a sense of urgency as the building went up, with Old Ridleians pressing the architects and builders to complete the work efficiently. It would seem they listened; a cornerstone ceremony was held on June 4, 1921, and construction neared completion by the spring of 1923.
While the Chapel was being built, services continued to be held in the Prayer Hall in School House—and the last of the services held there meant a lot to the students. Knowing they would soon move to the newly designated space, on the second-last Sunday, Mr. Griffith recalled all the humbler rooms which had served as chapel since 1889: the Springbank Sanitorium’s reception room, the dining room of the old Stephenson House, and the Prayer Hall in the new school building on the Western Hill. Moving forward, the latter would be known as the Assembly Hall.
The Memorial Chapel stood apart when complete, a majestic stone monument that served as a symbol of spiritual Ridley. Architects, Sproatt and Rolph, were awarded a gold medal by the American Institute of Architects for their educational and institutional architecture. The citation stated that the chief features of their exhibit were the designs for the University of Toronto’s Memorial Tower and for the “noble Gothic Chapel at Ridley College.”
It was a beautiful construction to be sure, raised in a perpendicular Gothic style, the exterior and interior built of Georgetown stone; with windows, copings and doorways constructed of Bedford. The standing structures were joined by a passageway, starting beside the tall arched entrance. Its interior was striking; grand stones laid on edge; nine mullioned windows carried along the two sides, with small windows in the entranceway, and a large window rose above the altar. At the chancel end, a door led to the vestry, and an organ screen of Bedford limestone lent further beauty.
Seating throughout was solid oak, paired with hand-carved chancel furniture. The ceiling was comprised of warm B.C. cedar, and stained-glass windows added soft translucent colour to the space, their richness reminiscent of the glassmakers of centuries before.
And throughout, there were the memorials. The west window on the south side stood in memory of Ridley’s war dead and other dedicated windows stood in bright solemnity, along with an oak eagle lectern and an archer’s desk, the organ screen, the Chapel Bible, the communion service, an alms basin, and a communion table. Each given in memory, each given in honour of someone who was loved and lost.
For the Chapel dedication, Ridley’s Cadet Corp opened the ceremony, marching into their seats. Behind them, the procession came down the centre aisle, led by the Lower School choir. Then came the officers of the Old Boys Association and the principles, Mr. Griffith and Mr. Williams, who were followed by the clergy. These included Principal emeritus, Dr. Miller; His Lordship the Bishop of Niagara; the Reverend; the Provost of Trinity College; and the rectors of St. Catharines’ churches.
Association President Colonel Douglas Mason OR’01 made the formal presentation of the Chapel to Ridley College, and it was accepted by Vice President of the Board, the Hon. Mr. Justice A. Courtney Kingstone OR’92. Principal Griffith read the names of Ridley’s war-dead in alphabetic order, his voice carrying through the quiet space. The buglers played.
From that point on, the Chapel became the heart of Ridley; it has always evoked great love from our community, which has sought to keep up its care and maintenance. In 1924, an ‘anonymous’ gift was given by Ross A. Wilson, the Cadet Corps Commander and 1917 Mason Gold winner. His gift—intended to reward the governors for their own generosity—was designed to erect a reredos, provide a new organ and pay off outstanding debts from the Chapel build.
The Ridley College Women’s Guild (now Family Guild), which had been organized in 1923, soon ‘adopted’ the Memorial Chapel, with their first project to be the completion of the chancel furnishings. By their second annual meeting, their Winnipeg branch donated a beautiful oak sedilia, the London brand provided cushions, and the Toronto group pledged a chancel rug.
Throughout the 1930s, the Chapel received new additions in memory of various Ridleians who had been lost. The Old Boys presented a prayer desk in memorial to Colonel Thairs. Other additions included a new baptismal font, a water cruet, a stained-glass window, a silver chalice and paten, a glass and cruet for wine, a purple superfontal and bookmarks, and a framed illuminated verse from its author, Colonel the Venerable Archdeacon Frederick George Scott, which reads:
In honour, chivalrous,
In duty, valorous,
In all things, noble,
To the heart’s core clean.
By the 1964-65 academic year, special events were planned in celebration of Ridley’s anniversary. The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Fund had been launched the year before under the general chairmanship of Hamilton Cassels. The project, undertaken by the board, set a target of $700,000 to expand and renovate facilities and provide additional scholarships—it was exceeded by $150,000.
“No school exists in the world where former students display more loyalty to their old school than do the [alumni] of Ridley.” — Principal Griffith
Through their generosity, Ridley’s donors enabled a Chapel expansion, which had been in discussion since the 1940s. Due to space limitations, the Lower School had worshipped separately from the Upper School since the 1930s, and an extension was needed that would be built in absolute harmony with the rest of the structure. Naturally, the job was turned over to Ferdie Marani OR’12, who had, coincidentally, trained at Sproatt and Rolph, the Chapel’s original architects. The seamless expansion was completed in time for the Old Boys Weekend of 1964 and was dedicated by the Bishop of Niagara, The Right Reverend Walter Bagnall.
The 75th anniversary celebration also offered the first opportunity to purchase Chapel pews, and to begin the establishment of an endowment for Chapel maintenance and initiatives. By 1966, the Chapel was providing funds to send Ridley boys to work abroad in local churches as young missionaries—a Ridley version of the Peace Corp and an extension of the school mission to serve.
Around the same time the Chapel was being conceived, governor Ross Gooderham OR’92 initiated a gift of his own: a new boarding house for the Upper School. When his brother’s generous act was reported to board president George H. Gooderham, he quickly exclaimed, “The Gooderham brothers will build your dormitory for you.” Together, the brothers paid the $288,000 needed to build the new dorm, which was completed a century ago, by the summer of 1921. Boys spilled into the residence that fall, which was designed to accommodate 50 students and three resident masters.
Sproatt and Rolph were the architects who took up the project, designing the building in the Collegiate Gothic style. It stood three stories tall, built of red brick with white stone facings. Later that year, the building was formally presented to the school.
Parents, Old Boys and friends of Ridley came from across Canada, converging to celebrate the official opening of Gooderham House. Mr. A. Courtney Kingstone formally accepted the new building on behalf of the board, and Principal Emeritus, Dr. Miller, offered the prayer of dedication. Both Principal Griffith and Principal Williams spoke that day, the former announcing that a wing of the building would be reserved for the Old Boys to use whenever they visited the school.
“No school exists in the world where former students display more loyalty to their old school than do the Old Boys of Ridley,” Principal Griffith proclaimed in his moving address.
“Our school will continue to be dedicated to flourishing and to growth—made possible by the generosity of our community and our collective commitment to tomorrow.”
These buildings remain a place to celebrate and to share. The values for which the Memorial Chapel stands are common to all the world’s great religions. To a new, international Ridley, it remains a shrine, a spiritual place of remembrance and contemplation. Here, students from Upper and Lower School support one another and hold on to tradition. It is a place where community is formed, and where students, families and faculty can come together to pay their respects to those who have come before. Musicians perform, speeches are given, Prefects lead, and alumni are married.
Now long occupied by Upper School girls, the Gooderham Houses are divided by East and West, each filled with its own personality and pride. Each hardworking student makes up the beautiful fabric of our community. Both girls boarding Houses strive for excellence and both lead with compassion and heart.
Today’s residents, in both Chapel and the Gooderham Houses, are a testament to how far Ridley has come, how much has changed over the years. New voices have been brought into the fold, offering diverse and global perspectives. And yet, our traditions and values, our history remain at our school’s foundation.
The past still walks these very halls, still strides across this campus; each Old Ridleian continues to contribute to the Ridley of today and of the future. It’s why change—born of natural necessity—nods respectfully to our roots; they are the basis from which we grow. After all, it is in those spaces in which we grow together, that we’ve always forged our most timeless bonds as Ridleians. And it is why Ridley’s past will always inform its future.
Now, following a turbulent year, we look to our grounds with an eye to expand and improve, to breathe new life into campus. These changes will transform Ridley for the better and will take us sure-footedly into the next century. Our school will continue to be dedicated to flourishing and to growth—made possible by the generosity of or community, and our collective commitment to tomorrow.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.
As we look to our grounds with an eye to expand, we remember that Ridley’s past will always inform its future—and that transformation sends ripples of change, not only across campus, but across time.
In 1919, a young group of architects gathered almost daily at Bloor Street’s Diet Kitchen Tea Room in Toronto, to “complain, plot and dream of a better city.” Fondly referred to as “The Diet Kitchen School of Architecture,” the eclectic group included Ridley’s own Ferdinand ‘Ferdie’ H. Marani ’1912—an up-and-coming architect who would change the cityscape in the years to come.
The son of an instructor at the
University of Toronto’s (U of T) School of Architecture, you might say Ferdie
came by it honestly. For over fifty years, the Vancouver-born, Toronto-based
architect was “amongst the aficionados of the postwar period of Toronto
architecture and city building,” known widely for his Neo-Georgian style. The
geometric, modular aesthetic became the main architecture of the public realm
in the U.K. during the period of the 1920s to 1960s; its influence quickly
reached North America and was soon seen popping up everywhere in the form of
banks, shops, universities and military buildings.
Ferdie founded a succession of
firms credited with the design of hundreds of well-known buildings, from
Ottawa’s Bank of Canada, to the Canadian Forces Headquarters in Washington
D.C., to Toronto’s famous Medical Arts Building, Sheridan College and the CNE
grandstand. And, as you walk the paths of Ridley’s campus, you’ll see evidence
of that classic Georgian style everywhere you look. Because Ferdie was not only
an Old Boy and a Toronto trailblazer—he was also Ridley’s architect.
“I was constantly pestering [Lieutenant-Colonel George Thairs]. I would go into his office one day to ask, ‘When are the uniforms coming,’ then ‘When are the rifles coming,’ then another day, ‘Why not start a Bugle Band?’ and many other questions more ridiculous.”
Ferdie was part of a virtual Ridley
dynasty of Maranis that attended the school. His grandfather, J. Herbert Mason
was responsible for setting up the Mason Gold Medal, still awarded every year,
not only at Ridley, but also at Havergal and UCC. Ferdie, himself, won the
medal in 1912. During his time here from 1901 to 1912, he proved to be a
dedicated student, “a very fair tackler, and one of the hardest workers on the
line” on Ridley’s football team, and a self-proclaimed military enthusiast. He
joined the Cadet Corps the day it formed and was a member for six years,
becoming Captain the year Ridley competed in the Imperial Cadet Competitions at
the Toronto Exhibition.
“I was constantly pestering [Lieutenant-Colonel
George Thairs],” Ferdie laughingly admits in his 1924 In Memoriam for
the Colonel. “I would go into his office one day to ask, ‘When are the uniforms
coming,’ then ‘When are the rifles coming,’ then another day, ‘Why not start a
Bugle Band?’ and many other questions more ridiculous.” But his persistence
paid off: by 1912, Ridley’s first bugle band was formed, “organized through the
hard work and interest of Cadet Captain F.H. Marani.”
Ferdie was studying architecture at
U of T when the Great War broke out, and he left school to enlist with the
Canadian Expeditionary Forces. He became a captain in the Third Battalion of
the Toronto Regiment and was posted overseas, wounded in June of 1916. From
1932 to 1936, Ferdie served his country again as Lieutenant-Colonel of the
Royal Regiment of Canada, and then as Group Captain of the Royal Canadian Air
Force during the Second World War. Colonel Ferdinand Marani was awarded the
Order of the British Empire for his war service in the summer of 1945.
Throughout his life, Ferdie’s
passion for the military remained strong. In 1946, the War Memorial Committee
of the Osgoode Law Society approached the architect who had served his country
so faithfully, seeking his recommendation for a way in which to honour members
who had lost their lives during the Second World War. Ferdie’s suggestion, a
moving memorial by leading sculptor Cleeve Horne, still lives in the lower
Rotunda of Osgoode Hall.
Ferdie served his country again as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Canada, and then as Group Captain of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.
Though he left campus in 1912,
Ferdie never strayed too far from Ridley, and became the Honorary President of
the Old Boys Association. His wife, Constance, was also deeply involved in the
Ridley community, presenting prizes for Sports Days in the postwar years, and
an active member of the then Women’s Guild. Her detailed history of the Guild
not only acted as a tribute to its hardworking women—mothers, wives and sisters
who were also considered “staunch Old Ridleians”—but served as an important
document for the Ridley record. The Guild’s aim, as Mrs. Marani expressed it,
was “to help in making Ridley a greater power for good in our country.”
As you wander the grounds, you’ll
find Ferdie’s trademark Georgian style dotted becomingly across our lush
campus: he led his firms in designing the Lower School (Alumni Hall) in 1926,
remodelled the Upper School (School House) in 1930, and completed Merritt House
in 1932, merging it into the quiet impressiveness of the older buildings. The
distinctive Marriott Gates went up in 1934, their arch an ornamental
wrought-iron over-throw, with the shield of Ridley’s Coat-of-Arms as the
centre-piece, topped by a bishop’s mitre.
In the late-thirties, Ridley turned
to Ferdie to design a new gymnasium, later named for the Iggulden family, in
response to an urgent need for indoor playing space. Built of red brick with
white stone facings, the 1939 build was as good as that of any on the
continent—and it quite literally revolutionized the school. Ridley enriched its
athletic offerings beyond the traditional trio of football, hockey and cricket,
giving way to a wider opportunity to represent the school and develop different
talents; the impressive space also had all the bells and whistles needed to
revive drama. A decade later, The Schmon Infirmary and Memorial Great Hall both
rose up under Ferdie’s watch.
By the 1960s, nearly twenty years
of discussion about expanding the Memorial Chapel turned to action. Due to
space limitations, the Lower School had worshipped separately from the Upper
School since the 1930s, and an extension was needed that would be built in
absolute harmony with the rest of the structure. Naturally, the job was turned
over to Ferdie, who had, coincidentally, trained at Sproatt & Rolph, the
Chapel’s original architects. The seamless expansion was completed in time for
the Old Boys Weekend of 1964.
Over the years, Ferdie’s firms won
multiple awards, including an Honorable Mention at the 1948 London Olympics in
the Architectural Design category, and one of the first Massey Silver Medals
for Architecture in 1950. He was elected as Fellow of the Royal Architectural
Institute of Canada, became a Full Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy,
chairman of the Ontario Association of Architects and a member of the Governing
Council of the Ontario College of Art, serving two terms as Chair—OCAD now has
an award given in his name.
Ferdie Marani was part of an old
age of architecture that’s now gone, “a time in which the mayor phones up
Ferdie or Ron Dick and says, ‘We need a courthouse, University Avenue, OAA
fees, okay, good, click.’” notes Bob Goyeche, a current principle at the firm
Ferdie once founded. “That era changed.” The firm still stands, though it has
since shuffled partners, now less Georgian and more concept-driven and elite.
However, that’s one of the most amazing things about architecture: Ferdie’s
unmistakeable prints are all over this country, its cities and its suburbs, and
all across this campus.
And, as we now look to our grounds
with an eye to expand and improve, to breathe new life into the Iggulden Gymnasium
Ferdie Marani designed nearly eighty years ago, it’s a good moment to remember
that Ridley’s past will always inform its future—and that the transformation of
the gym and surrounding buildings will send ripples of positive change, not
only across our campus, but across time.
To learn more about The Campaign for Ridley, as well as plans for a reimagined campus, visit us online.
This article was printed in the winter issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.
Raised on rowing by Ridley’s best, Jim Butterfield ’70 knows how sport can inspire, support and bring people together. Now, the Bermudian businessman shares how he keeps moving forward—and is giving back to his community.
Jim Butterfield was on the soccer field when Coach Mark Gallop came up and asked if he knew how to row. “I’d only seen rowing in the movies,” Jim remembers. “I knew how to row a dingy; I knew how to row a punt—I had no idea he was talking about something that was 63-feet long. But I fell in love with it right away.”
“I’d only seen rowing in the movies. I knew how to row a dingy; I knew how to row a punt—I had no idea he was talking about something that was 63-feet long. But I fell in love with it right away.”
Until Mark came to Ridley, rowing hadn’t been taken all that seriously. The Englishman had arrived just two years prior and had been busy overhauling the school’s rowing programme. Having rowed at both Hampton School and Cambridge University, Mark knew exactly what a competitive rowing programme entailed.
“The guys would get on a bus and go into Port Dalhousie. One group would go off and have some cigarettes and the others would row, and then they’d switch off,” Jim explains. “Then Mark came in and said, ‘The bus is being sold. If you want to row, you’ll need to buy a bicycle and you’ll need to ride down to the rowing shed and ride back. And don’t be late for dinner.’ Suddenly rowing was demanding.”
As part of his vision, Mark recruited local Olympic oarsman, Neil Campbell who, at the time, was living in nearby Vineland. “You’re a Ridley boy,” Mark entreated the athlete. “We’ve got rowing now. Would you come and coach us?” The rest, as they say, is history. Between Mark and Neil, what had once been a casual pastime soon became a big deal on campus, a challenging sport to which students aspired.
And, Jim quickly became one of them. He had come to Ridley in 1962 when he was just 12 years-old, fresh from Hamilton, Bermuda and following his older brother, George ’57. Jim’s brother, Tom, who was just slightly older than he, was sent to St. Andrew’s College—there was room for only one new Butterfield at Ridley that year, and their parents decided that Jim would benefit from having George nearby.
“I wrote six letters home that first week,” Jim laughs, looking back. “It was a bit shocking and I couldn’t just jump on a train and head back to Oakville or Toronto; I was homesick.”
But Jim soon settled into school, making friends and exploring the athletic opportunities he hadn’t had back home. And he was careful to heed George’s advice. “You’re from Bermuda—they’re going to want to put you in the pool,” he’d warned. “Don’t get in that pool! Take up ice hockey.”
So, Jim tried it all, from soccer to cross country to track and field—politely passing on cricket and football—and, as his brother had suggested, hitting the ice. “I loved ice hockey,” he smiles. “We used to break into the rink at two or three o’clock in the morning and skate until the night watchman kicked us out and sent us back to bed.”
Jim served on Ridley’s Board of Governors for 10 years and was active in the Bermuda community, fundraising, working to connect and rally Ridleians for the Old Boys meeting each year and organizing accommodations for the school’s visits to Bermuda.
But when he got to Upper School and started rowing, the sport took over. “We accomplished a lot, and would have died on our swords for Neil Campbell,” Jim remembers fondly, then the smallest of Ridley’s heavy eight at five-foot-ten. “He was an amazing coach and mentor, an idol for most of us. He would get out of the coach boat and into the heavy eight with us; he’d train with our crew after training with his own Olympic squad, then would show up perspiring in his track suit and say, ‘Ok, let’s get started.’”
Theirs was the first crew to go to Washington, D.C., the first to go to The Royal Henley. Each meet was a success—and their competitors were taking notice. Soon, Ridley became a powerful player in the high school rowing arena, their oarsmen the ones to look out for. Jim went on to win the Neil Campbell Oarsman of the Year.
“Our football coach, Reverend Hunt, used to say to us, ‘Keep your head up and keep your feet going. It was good advice.”
After Prize Day, Jim enrolled in Business Administration at Boston’s Northeastern University, a school known for its strong rowing programme. He ended up rowing in a single, due to his height, and became friends with classmate, Jim Dietz, who was the number one U.S. oarsman at the time. “He became a bit of a coach and mentor,” recounts Jim. “I would just do what he told me to do. We rowed together prior to Munich and he said, ‘Jim, I’m trying to get to the finals’—so I knew where I was going to end up.”
Jim represented Bermuda in the Men’s Single Sculls at the Munich Olympics in 1972—the only Bermudian ever to do so. That same season, he’d casually ‘popped in’ to run the Boston Marathon, showing up without any training or even a registration number. Because he was in such great shape, he ran the race in an impressive three hours, then spent the afternoon training and rowing.
“When I got back to my apartment that evening, I called Ed Pilgrim, Ridley’s headmaster,” Jim shares. “He’d once told us these stories from when he’d ran the Boston Marathon and it had struck me as something that would be cool to do one day. That always stayed with me.”
When Jim returned to Bermuda, its windy weather and big tides soon made it clear that it wasn’t a place to row. Recognizing he’d need to pivot, Jim sent his rowing shell back to Boston and took up cycling, hoping to qualify for the Olympics in Montreal. However, during a rather disappointing trial in North Carolina, he realized that, without a team, he didn’t have a prayer. “I was an individual in a team sport,” he shrugs. “It wasn’t going to happen.”
Debbie would go on to place fourth in the 1985 Boston Marathon and participated in the U.S. Olympic trials. She’s run many impressive races and has become an inspirational figure in distance running, helping to bring women into the sport.
It was then that Jim took up running seriously, training for marathons with his wife, Debbie—who’s an athletic powerhouse in her own right. Back when Debbie had first announced she was going to take up marathon running, they’d laughed. But, inspired by the runners she’d seen in Boston, she soon proved her doubters wrong, training every morning before work. She would go on to place fourth in the 1985 Boston Marathon and participated in the U.S. Olympic trials. Debbie has since run many impressive races and has become an inspirational figure in distance running, helping to bring women into the sport.
It was 1976 when the pair moved back to Bermuda; they enjoyed road running as a couple and understood the sacrifices required to excel. An early morning or late for dinner was easily forgiven, as each pushed themselves to get their miles in for the day.
“Debbie and I were among the first white people doing any sort of road running. It just wasn’t done. People would see us running down the road and yell, ‘Hey! Are you late? Do you need a lift?”
However, their training was proving to push cultural boundaries as well. Bermuda is a friendly, yet conservative place, with a history of slavery and segregation of which its citizens are mindful. In the late seventies, sport was still quite segregated—soccer and cricket were for black athletes and fans, while sailing was for the white population. Road running was one of the ways this divide was bridged, and today sports in Bermuda is very much integrated.
Jim and Debbie earned spots on the board of the Bermuda Track & Field Association and the Butterfields soon became synonymous with running; they were among a group that started the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Club. In the years that followed, Jim ran the Boston, Deluth, New York and London marathons, and competed at the Commonwealth Games.
“[The Hawaiian Ironman] was the result of a guy I knew giving me a magazine. He said, ‘Jim, you’ve gotta read this; these guys are sick. But I didn’t think they were sick—I thought, this sounds so cool, and I started training in earnest.”
As back trouble forced him to incorporate more swimming and cycling into his routine, Jim brought triathlon to Bermuda; he was organizing races as far back as 1979. In 1981, Jim finished the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in seventh place.
In 1999, when Jim turned 50, he cycled 100 miles a day from Irvine, California to Boston, Massachusetts to raise money for P.A.L.S., a cancer care centre in Bermuda. It took him 30 days. Seven years later, he was inducted into the Bermuda Sports Hall of Fame.
Since Jim’s semi-retirement in 2018, Spencer runs Butterfield & Vallis, the family’s fourth-generation food import business. The company was founded in 1918 by Jim’s grandfather, H. St. George Butterfield.
That passion for sports runs in the family: his wife, daughter-in-law, and niece have all competed on the international sports stage, and Jim’s sons are both highly athletic. 38-year-old Tyler is based in Colorado and is a professional triathlete, finishing seventh and then fifth in Hawaii. Spencer, now 40, competes in triathlons in his downtime, and heliskis, wakeboards, and surfs. Since Jim’s semi-retirement in 2018, Spencer runs Butterfield & Vallis, the family’s fourth-generation food import business. The company was founded in 1918 by Jim’s grandfather, H. St. George Butterfield.
That passion for sports runs in the family: his wife, daughter-in-law, and niece have all competed on the international sports stage, and Jim’s sons are both highly athletic.
For Jim, who has worked there for more than forty years, steppingbackhas offered him the perfect opportunity to focus on philanthropic endeavours. It seems that generosity also runs in the family—and Jim comes by it honestly. His grandfather awarded scholarships to four different schools in Bermuda as early as the 1930s.
It’s clear Jim’s service and contributions mean a lot to those around him. He’s widely recognized as a generous leader in the community, who works to improve the social, economic and environmental conditions of his country. He was honoured by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2015.
Jim is modest when speaking about it, however. In a small place like Bermuda, he reasons, it’s easy to see where the need is, and it’s often simple to resolve—whether that means replacing the church’s appliances so they can feed those who need a little help, or rebuilding the living conditions at the Salvation Army—A project Jim completed with fellow Ridleian, Kirk Kitson ’58). Jim is also on the board of the Sloop Foundation—a cause close to his heart that sends at-risk youth out to sea for a week on board a hundred-foot ‘floating classroom.’
“As I’ve gotten older, it feels good to be able to give back, to participate. I look at those Houses—Merritt House and Gooderham House—and I think about those Old Ridleians who gave to the bricks and mortar so that people like us could attend Ridley, could create those great memories and friendships.”
Speaking with this Old Ridleian, it’s clear how sport can serve one’s life in so many positive ways: breaking down barriers, bridging communities and bringing a family closer together. And, as time goes on and goals change, the athlete’s journey might shift, might even go from land to sea and back again—but that demand for excellence, that drive to meet a challenge, never does quite fade.
“Our football coach, Reverend Hunt, used to say to us, ‘Keep your head up and keep your feet going,’” Jim says good-naturedly, as we finish our conversation. It’s a beautiful sunny day in Bermuda, and he’s heading out for a bike ride around the island. “It was good advice.”
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Spring 2021 issue.