ìMcGill has its roots firmly planted in Quebecî
She brings warmth, elegance and intelligence to a volunteer job which requires both the skills of a diplomat, and the organization of an army commander. This September will mark the first anniversary of Gail Johnson's two-year term as President of the Graduates' Society of McGill University. It's been an historic run, to say the least. Johnson is the Society's first-ever woman president, but more than that, she's been in the middle of several major changes, including the renaming of the 138-year-old Society to the McGill Alumni Association/l'Association des anciens de l'UniversitÈ McGill.
ìWe're looking at better ways to communicate what the Alumni Association is, and what it contributes to the University and its graduates,î Johnson notes. ìI see the Alumni Association as the foundation of important external contacts for the University.î Earlier this year, an outside consultant examined the Alumni Association, then graduate David Laidley, BCom'67, prepared recommendations (see sidebar).
Johnson has listened to alumni and their desire to continually learn as well as network with other alumni. She advocates branch events with an educational component. Her mind has been focussed, she says, on the fact that the average age of a McGill alumnus is 32 years old. ìWe have to look at some of the programs, such as the travel programs, and perhaps provide some that are less expensive and time-consuming.î
A mother of three, Holly, Brent and Willa, Johnson has been married for 32 years to McGill Professor Peter Johnson, CertMgmt'76, Director of the Dobson Centre of Entrepreneurial Studies in the Faculty of Management. ìWe came into McGill from different areas, so we teach each other about the University,î says Gail Johnson. Now only occasionally is there non-McGill talk in their home. Johnson first became involved with the Graduates' Society in 1988, before her 25th reunion. In 1991 she was Chair of Reunion Weekend, then served two years as the Society's vice-president before becoming president in 1994. She currently sits on The McGill Twenty-First Century Fund cabinet, is Chair of the Founder's Circle of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, and is a past chair of the board of the ECS School in Westmount. She has been a Westmount City Councillor since 1991.
After one year at the helm, Johnson is ìamazed at McGill's presence globally. McGill has its roots firmly planted in Quebec, but we're one of the few Canadian universities with such extensive ties around the world.î She adds, ìThe Alumni Association has played a large role in keeping those ties.î
As the person who oversees a body of some 110,000 alumni, you might say Gail Johnson is a woman of connections.