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Campus community mourns loss of lifelong friend and supporter Margaret P. Hess

Philanthropist was admired for dedication to student success, lifelong learning, community and heritage
September 12, 2016

A 1981 photo of Margaret Hess when she received an Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Calgary. Photo courtesy University Archives

Margaret Hess, bottom right, in June 2016 at a Faculty of Arts celebration of the university's 50th anniversary. She is shown here with Michael Gibeau, John Yackel, President Elizabeth Cannon, Arts Dean Richard Sigurdson, Brian Moorman and Catherine Avramenko. Photo by Dymphny Dronyk

Margaret Hess, bottom right, in June 2016 at a Faculty of Arts celebration of the university's 50th anniversary. She is shown here with Michael Gibeau, John Yackel, President Elizabeth Cannon, Arts Dean Richard Sigurdson, Brian Moorman and Catherine Avramenko. Photo by Dymphny Dronyk

Margaret Hess at her 100th birthday celebration in May 2016, shown here with Libraries and Cultural Resources staff:  Vice-Provost Tom Hickerson, Annie Murray and Barb Murray. Photo by Tasneem Rahim

Margaret Hess at her 100th birthday celebration in May 2016, shown here with Libraries and Cultural Resources staff:  Vice-Provost Tom Hickerson, Annie Murray and Barb Murray. Photo by Tasneem Rahim

She was a visionary leader, philanthropist, mentor and lifelong friend of the University of Calgary. Everyone who knew her would agree that Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess was fiercely passionate about lifelong learning, preserving our cultural heritage and providing opportunities for students to achieve success.

On Sept. 2, 2016, Hess passed away in Calgary at 100 years of age.

Earlier in the year, the Downtown Rotary Club dedicated its lunchtime meeting on her birthday, May 3, to celebrate the milestone. Her influence extended far beyond the university. Hess had a vision for her community as a whole, and she dedicated her life to achieving it. 

Hess was an adjunct geography professor in the Faculty of Arts and former University of Calgary senator. She received an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the university in 1981. She went on to establish the Margaret P. Hess Graduate Scholarship in the Faculty of Arts and became a key supporter of the Chancellor's Club, which benefits first-year undergraduate students.

"The university extends its deepest sympathies to the family and many friends of Marmie Hess," said President Elizabeth Cannon. "Her generosity strengthened our university in countless ways and we are eternally grateful for her friendship and her profound impact on our institution. She will be greatly missed."

Hess was instrumental in bringing the Arctic Institute of North America, originally housed at McGill University, to the University of Calgary in 1975. The university's Archives and Special Collections houses the Margaret P. Hess Collection, a resource of national cultural significance that includes thousands of books, pamphlets and manuscripts on a wealth of subjects: history, art, anthropology, archaeology, western Canada and the North, aboriginal studies, the fur trade, nature, botany, crafts and geology.

"In her life as a learner, scholar, collector and curator, it was evident that she had an eye for beauty and a mind for knowledge," said Annie Murray, associate university librarian for Archives and Special Collections. "As a librarian, I am often searching for resources for students and, more often than not, the ideal source originates from Margaret Hess. Her books and collections have been the backbone of many research projects."

Hess is an Officer of the Order of Canada and Honourary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. She received Rotary International's Paul Harris Fellowship, the YWCA Women of Distinction Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award and the Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Calgary. In 2005, Hess was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Tom Hickerson, vice-provost (libraries and cultural resources), met Hess a decade ago when he first came to Calgary. "Marmie Hess has been a treasured friend of mine and a respected mentor. Her knowledge of Canada is encyclopedic, and she knew many of the nation's leaders personally. But her heart was in Calgary and the West. Being with her, one felt that you were experiencing the very spirit and essence of life on the prairies. She was unforgettable, and she will not be forgotten."

A funeral service and reception will be held on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 starting at 11 a.m. at Christ Church, 3602 8th St. S.W., Calgary, Alberta. A burial service will take place immediately after at Union Cemetery. Condolences messages may be forwarded through McInnis and Holloway Funeral Homes.