When Anne Janice Farray is asked to reflect upon her 40-year (and counting) career at McGill, she talks about “learning, changes, contribution.”
Learning. This is the recurring theme throughout Farray’s narrative. “Learning is an ongoing project for me. I learn every day even if it isn’t formalized,” she says, “It could be minuscule but even the minuscule can have an impact. I’ve always been open to new experiences and new ideas.”
Given her inherent curiosity, it made perfect sense that when she had to choose between three job opportunities in 1979, Farray selected McGill over Canadair and Atomic Energy of Canada.
Farray was fresh out of Vanier College where she had completed her secretarial studies. “I was very interested in Law, but the practical side of me brought me in another direction.”
She worked in MBA office of the Faculty of Management for three years before transferring to the Faculty of Law, a move that she says “was fundamental for my growth and development.”
“I always wanted to do law and this gave me the opportunity to go to seminars and lectures and soak up as much as I could,” says Farray. “I saw Anatoly Sharansky, Irwin Cotler, Julius Grey – so many great speakers. It had a real impact on my development.”
It was during this period that Farray began taking night courses in management, first at McGill and then at Concordia where she earned her BA in Human Resources Management in 1990.
Outside her comfort zone
Farray says many of her most rewarding learning experiences have come when she was challenged to leave her comfort zone.
“I was lucky to have colleagues who always believed I could do more. They would push me,” she says.
Farray is thankful that those same colleagues “felt that I had leadership qualities,” despite her natural shyness. Taking advantage of the professional development opportunities at McGill, she honed her management skills and leadership qualities.
Uncomfortable with public speaking, she joined Toastmasters at McGill to gain confidence. It seems to have worked, as Farray was a keynote speaker at the 2018 celebration of Grenada’s independence here in Montreal. Most recently, for Black History Month, she took the mic at a poetry event hosted by author Nigel Thomas. “I knew I had come a long way because when I was waiting to go on my heart wasn’t pumping like mad,” she says with a laugh.
Farray credits her love of learning and her work ethic to the example set by her great uncle back in Grenada. “He didn’t have a strong academic background himself, nevertheless really emphasized education and working hard at whatever you do,” she says. “He was a builder but he also worked the fields. He believed that, if you put in the work, the land will pay you back.”
Growing and evolving together
Changes. McGill has changed over the past four decades, and so has Farray.
She is speaking from the Institute of Islamic Studies, where she has served as Administrative Officer for the past three years. It is the most recent stop in a long and fruitful career that has seen her do some heavy lifting across campus, including at the Faculties of Management, Law, Arts, Engineering and Education. She has also worked at Facilities Management & Development, the old SEDE office and Human Resources, where she spent the longest amount of time. “I’ve done the tour of the University,” she says with a smile.
“I’ve seen changes, especially in my representative group – a change in Black administrative and support staff coming in, the amount of Black students,” Farray says. “Especially in the professional faculties like Law and Engineering… When I was in the Faculty of Law I remember that in any given year we had maybe one Black student coming in, so maybe three or four in the whole student body. Just watch the Convocation ceremonies now to see how much has changed.”
Farray notes that she knew Adelle Blackett as a Law student, and she wrote an article in a community newspaper about Blackett returning to McGill as a professor.
“I take great pride and pleasure in seeing all that is happening,” she says. “It’s long overdue and it’s a long way from where we should be. But at least we’re moving in the right direction.”
Moving the needle
During her stint at HR, Farray did her part to help move the needle, opening the doors for and supporting qualified job applicants who weren’t white.
“Once, I was recruiting for a position to come into HR. I had tested, interviewed and referred a few candidates. There was a stellar candidate, great background, fluency, test results. Then it dawned on me that ‘Oh my God, they may think that I’m sending too many Blacks,’” she says.
She confided her misgivings to a colleague, who, in return, asked Farray a simple question. Do you feel confident in their abilities? “I said ‘absolutely’ and I never looked back,” says Farray.
Commitment to the community
Contribution. Farray has worn many hats at McGill. A diligent employee, she has worked behind the scenes, helping staff numerous management level and support positions; working on the University Pension Plan; and helping negotiate various retirement and severance packages. She has also served on the organizing committee of McGill’s Black History Month.
While working as the HR Advisor/Assistant to the Dean in the Faculty of Education, Farray spearheaded the effort to award an Honorary Doctorate to the Honorable Jean Augustine in 2009.
Farray was Co-Chair of the McGill Centraide Campaign with Catherine Stace from 2005 to 2008, helping spearhead fundraising efforts to support Montreal’s most vulnerable people. She recalls one Centraide event which had a low turnout.
“We did a lot of outreach and publicity and I was disappointed at first until a man got up to tell his story,” she says. “He had been troubled as a teen. He used to cut himself and had tried to commit suicide on several occasions. But he told us about the counselling he had received from an organization funded largely by Centraide. And he told us that, thanks to that support, this was the first time he was able to speak about his experience.”
“We tend to measure success in terms of numbers, but at that moment, I measured success in him gaining his voice.”
Farray’s contributions extend beyond the Roddick Gates. She was an executive member of the Côte-des-Neiges and NDG Black Community Associations and the Grenada Nationals Association; as well as having served on the Board of Elizabeth House, a local agency that supports young mothers and mothers-to-be who are experiencing serious difficulties adjusting to pregnancy or their role as parents.
As the interview comes to an end, Farray is asked if she has any final comments. She pauses, thinks a while before smiling and saying “I think McGill has gotten the best of me, and I’ve gotten the best of McGill. I paid the piper and, in return, the piper has paid me.”
Farray’s great uncle would be proud.