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ALUMNI QUARTERLY - winter 2008
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Home > McGill News > 2000 > Summer 2000 > Newsbites

A dazzling donation

Richard Tomlinson, PhD'48, paid a two-day visit to McGill at the end of last month. An unassuming emeritus professor of chemistry from McMaster, he's not someone you'd pick out in a crowd. But that's just what people were doing by the time he caught the train back to his home in Hamilton, Ontario.

Tomlinson came to McGill to take part in the announcement that he was making a donation of $64 million to the University -- the largest single gift from a graduate in the history of higher education in Canada. The gift comes as $4 million in cash and the remainder in stock in Gennum Corporation, a company which Tomlinson helped found and which is the world's largest manufacturer of microchips for hearing aids and one of the largest producers of chips for digital signal processing equipment for television. Discussions between McGill and Tomlinson went on for some time as the parties considered how best to allocate the funds. Tomlinson, meanwhile, had become a very successful investor, so the value of his gift kept increasing while the talks continued.

"It wasn't such a large donation when I started to make it," he joked. He told the audience that one of his high-tech stocks had returned a forty-fold profit during the past year. "I don't need all this money," said the 76-year-old scientist who lives simply and is known to be extremely frugal.

At the press conference a beaming Principal Bernard Shapiro said, "We are dazzled not only by the size of the gift, but also by its scope and imagination which will benefit a host of priorities. Dr. Tomlinson has single-handedly changed the University."

The donation will create six fully funded academic chairs at $2 million apiece, including the first ever for Macdonald Campus. Named for the benefactor's brother, George, PhD'35, and his late sister-in-law, Frances Fowler, PhD'36, the chair will be in forest ecology. In the course of his research career, George Tomlinson made significant contributions to the study of acid rain and other environmental issues related to forestry.

As well, more than 40 endowed fellowships of $15,000, $20,000 and $25,000 will be created for graduate students, effectively increasing McGill's competitiveness in this area by 25%, and $4 million will be injected into scholarships, allowing McGill to offer 40 more per year.

Funds will also be used to expand digitization in the libraries to improve service and preserve some key holdings; to create the Tomlinson Teaching Project in the Faculty of Science, aimed at promoting high-quality teaching and integrating information technologies; and to establish a fund which will support young surgeons in their clinical research.

These choices reflect Tomlinson's belief that "it's not the buildings that make a university great, it's the people." He later added that "the future of the country depends on the people. You've got to get the people up to snuff."

The people of Montreal certainly seemed to appreciate Tomlinson's investment in their future. By the time he made his way back to his hotel that evening, reports of his gift had appeared on local supper-hour news broadcasts. People stopped him in the street to shake his hand. And the next day, as Tomlinson walked through Central Station to his train, travellers and commuters recognized him and stopped to offer a spontaneous round of applause.

Streetfest snowed in

Despite a ridiculous April snowstorm forcing festivities indoors to the ballroom of the Shatner Building, organizers of this year's Streetfest pronounced it a resounding success. The annual party welcoming graduating students to the Alumni Association saw 500 students turn out for free beer and hot dogs.

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