Gywn Morgan is hunched over a table where he pays for room and board, pen in hand. He’s pushed his textbooks off to the side so he can concentrate on writing a letter. He wants to get it right. Money has been scarce since he moved to Calgary from his family’s farm near Carstairs so that he could attend university.
The Robert B. Paugh Memorial Bursary in Engineering he just received to continue his university studies will eventually transform his life — and help influence Canada’s economy, as well as alter Calgary’s skyline.
“At present, I’m finding second-year engineering both interesting and challenging, but without some form of financial assistance, I am afraid that I could not continue,” he writes in early February 1965. “I hope to be a chemical engineer and you have brought me closer to my goal.”
Morgan’s handwritten letter to the woman who established the bursary is a pivot on which 50 years of University of Calgary philanthropy turns.
Honouring 50 years of philanthropy
Margaret Clarke is the longest-standing donor supporting UCalgary students, and is the woman to whom Morgan penned his thank you. She established the bursary in 1964 to honour her late husband, Robert.
Every year, two students at Schulich School of Engineering benefit from Clarke’s support — an undergraduate bursary and a graduate student scholarship, each worth $1,000. During more than 50 years, Clarke has helped more than 100 students continue their studies.
She enjoys receiving the thank you letters, which often give her a glimpse into the students’ lives. As UCalgary has grown over the years, so has the range of recipients, with a notable increase in women and international applicants.
What started as a simple gesture to honour her husband with a gift to needy students has lifted some of the country’s best and brightest over financial hurdles. No small feat, given that when Clarke launched the fund, she had no clue as to its magnitude or longevity.
Humble beginnings, far-reaching impact
“When I started this, I had no idea the impact [the bursaries] would have,” says Clarke, now 82. When she began to offer financial assistance to students, she was newly widowed with three children. “I wanted there to be something so that Robert would be remembered.”
Morgan was the very first undergraduate recipient, receiving a much-needed $500 (equivalent to about $3,700 today).
After graduating university with a mechanical engineering degree, Morgan would go on to build Encana Corp. — Canada’s largest energy company, with a stock market value of $60 billion when he stepped down as CEO at the end of 2005. The Bow building for (237.4 m) Encana headquarters would become the tallest skyscraper in Canada outside of Toronto.
“I was in a tough spot,” recalls Morgan, looking back on those years. “In those days, there was no second chance. My parents were prepared to help. I might have tried to get a student loan from the bank, though I wasn’t sure if I could.”
Marking a university crossroads
When Morgan received the bursary, he stood at a crossroads in Canadian university history, as the University of Alberta campus in Calgary was poised to become the University of Calgary in 1966.
“It was during my second year that students started to hold rallies for autonomy in Calgary,” he says. “The following year, Calgary had its own university and now here it is celebrating its 50th anniversary.”
Beyond Clarke’s financial contributions to students in need, her family has contributed to UCalgary’s long history of graduating engineers. Her son, David, graduated from engineering in 1980 and her grandson, Erik, graduated from Schulich in 2010.
Paying it forward
In an elegant twist of fate, Morgan has gone on to pay forward the help that he received from Clarke.
He has established his own bursary for second-year engineering students with his wife, Patricia Trottier. The $25,000 Be an Engineer Bursary, awarded through the Gwyn Morgan and Patricia Trottier Foundation, will be dispersed as a $5,000 award for the first time to a student in the fall of this year.
“The bursary I received as a student has helped to bring things full circle,” Morgan says. “Now Pat and I have our own little batch of letters piling up for bursaries.”