Meet the Energizers
The visionaries, legends and game-changers who drove the campaign—and brought it home
UCalgary is energized by the generosity of people who empower excellence on campus and in our community every single day. These remarkable individuals are champions, game-changers, visionaries and legends who have shaped UCalgary’s success and positively transformed us. They — along with dozens of other Energizers who we’ll spotlight here throughout the year — are the heart and soul of this extraordinary campaign.
The Young Guns
UCalgary’s eclectic donor family proves there’s no such thing as a “typical” philanthropist. These supporters didn’t wait to accumulate a lifetime of experience or wealth before leaping in to support others. Their youth is an inspiring reminder that compassionate action knows no bounds.
It’s impossible to determine the influence certain individuals and families have had, and continue to have, on the breadth and depth of UCalgary’s success. The decades-long involvement of these steadfast, quietly exuberant supporters adds up to far more than the sum of their donations — their vision and dedication has lifted every aspect of this campus, and shaped our city’s future.
Generous investment in new buildings, unique programs and cutting-edge research fuels this institution to excellence. But it’s students who make our world go ’round. These mentors, advocates and donors never lose sight of the academic potential, financial needs, and mental health of the young stewards of our future.
Dr. Chen Fong
Radiologist, professor emeritus of the Faculty of Medicine, member of the Order of Canada and dynamic business leader, Dr. Chen Fong, MD, Hon. LLD’19, is perhaps most proud of the positive mark he has made as a mentor to a new generation of entrepreneurs. Dr. Fong is a co-founder of UCalgary’s Creative Destruction Lab Rockies, launched mid-way through the Energize campaign, and co-chair of
CDL-Rockies' Global Strategy Board. He’s a driving force for strengthening connections, diversifying our economy and elevating excellence in the community — both through his own innovative ventures (he’s the “F” in EFW Radiology and has spearheaded many other startups), as well as by raising funds for health care and academia. Dr. Fong’s inspiring involvement in CDL-Rockies helps students, faculty and community members, alike, sharpen objectives, prioritize resources, raise capital and otherwise successfully translate good ideas and knowledge into commercial enterprises. While having a brilliant mind for medicine and business certainly doesn’t hurt one’s chances for success, Dr. Fong believes the secret to cultivating a robust and future-forward world is, as he once put it: “to hang around with the young people because they have so many bright ideas.”
Six years after it was announced, Geoff Cumming’s gift to UCalgary’s Faculty of Medicine still elicits a double take. At $100 million, it remains the largest single philanthropic gift in the university’s history. Made in honour of his late father, an Ontario physician, the donation forever changed the course of our medical school. Cumming, BA’74, Hon. LLD’16 — a soft-spoken international businessman who divides his time between Canada and New Zealand — is equal parts compassion and vision. With a focus on spurring breakthroughs in brain and mental health, and treatment and prevention of chronic disease, he was determined to dramatically raise the bar on medical research and education in southern Alberta, and propel the medical school to a major player on the global stage (he succeeded — which means we all succeeded). The power and potential of Cumming’s gift has consistently attracted global leaders in medical research to the Cumming School of Medicine. It also opened the renowned International Microbiome Centre and put UCalgary at the forefront of such research; established the Centre for Health Infomatics to advance health-data access and management; significantly improved our understanding of brain function in health and disease through advances in CSM’s Neurotechnologies Platforms; created a program to carve out time and space for critical research targeting precision medicine and public health; and has leveraged millions of dollars in research funding through other partners. Cumming credits his parents for his own striving to spark change in the world. “They always said life should have high purpose,” he says. Indeed, he’s done them exceedingly proud.
Gail and David O’Brien
If you weren’t already convinced of the significant positive impact of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health on research, knowledge-translation and network-building, certainly the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought its immeasurable value into stark relief. Robustly reimagined through a $12-million gift from Gail and David O’Brien, both Hon. LLD’10, the interdisciplinary institute — whose members are appointed throughout the Cumming School of Medicine, as well as in the faculties of law, social work and The School of Public Policy — is dedicated to improving public health and health care. As is the O’Briens’ passion, the Institute is a hub for innovative minds across the health sciences spectrum to advocate for better solutions and models of care, and to generate crucial data to improve health care for everyone. Over the past number of months, Institute researchers have mobilized their scientific expertise to tackle COVID-19; they are assessing Alberta’s preparedness and response policies; studying virus spread-dynamics; seeking to understand the socio-cultural implications of COVID; and studying clinical trial uptakes. It’s critical work that speaks to the tremendous vision — and optimism — of donors determined to create a brighter future for all of us.
Elizabeth Cannon and Gerard Lachapelle
“Geomatics engineer” likely isn’t your first guess of a career match for a young woman growing up in Charlottetown in the 1960s. That was precisely the dream, however, that drew Dr. Elizabeth Cannon,
BSc (Eng)’84, MSc (Eng)’87, PhD’91, president emerita and former dean of the Schulich School of Engineering to Calgary, and kept her here. Dr. Cannon and her husband, Dr. Gerard LaChapelle, PhD — also an award-winning professor emeritus from SSE — met in the 1980s working in the then-new and (still) exciting field of GPS. Together, they have published on and patented dozens of innovations to advance the commercial application of satellite-based navigation systems. Meanwhile, their collective passion for research at UCalgary has always been in step with their desire to empower students to think entrepreneurially; indeed, that’s one of the driving priorities behind the ambitious Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High that Dr. Cannon spearheaded during her tenure as president. Proof of the couple’s commitment to sparking change lies in their establishment of the $1-million Cannon Lachapelle Award in Entrepreneurial Thinking. The scholarship fuels up to four undergraduate students each year in any discipline to explore innovation that builds community and elevates excellence around the world. (Were you expecting anything less from a bold and brilliant girl from P.E.I.?)
Dr. Baljit Singh
He's 10,000 kilometres from where he was born and raised, but it’s an image of his father on the veranda of his house in that Punjab village that serves as a guiding light for Dr. Baljit Singh, DVM. Dr. Singh’s philanthropic motives come from a desire to spark compassionate community-building — the sort of expansive, collaborative vibe his dad cultivates by hosting coffee chats every morning with anyone who stops by to discuss and support positive action. “To this day, my father keeps a half-dozen chairs on the verandah in the village where I grew up,” says Dr. Singh. “That tradition to support efforts and people in the community gave me the focus I carry with me today as a person, as a teacher, as a dean.” His establishment of the Komagata Maru UVCM Travel Award provides financial assistance and promotes understanding of global citizenship through conferences and student activities. “We build better community by learning to understand the world a little better — I wish that for every student.”
After making an extraordinary contribution to UCalgary as dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Singh now serves as vice-president of research at the University of Saskatchewan.
Don and Ruth Taylor
The Taylor name has long been synonymous with UCalgary. The family’s gifts to this campaign, and to previous initiatives, created our 21st-century library, and have dramatically boosted teaching capacity, information technology and the preservation of local history — and physically transforming our campus. The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning alone — just one of their many passions — is not only a spectacular, inspiring piece of architecture but, as intended, it has sparked the development of an extraordinary community that dramatically elevates inquiry-based student learning and teaching research and training, here and around the world. Don, Hon. LLD’07, will recount his own tough time as a young teacher as motivation for his support of this one-of-a-kind program, but his desire to spark lasting positive change quite clearly extends well beyond his own experience. He and Ruth share a passion for preparing and inspiring students — in large part, by ensuring those who teach them are prepared and inspired. More than any walls or windows that the heart behind that drive — their devotion to the enrichment and success of people — that shapes the future of this campus and our community.