Outgoing Chancellor leaves big shoes to fill

Outgoing Chancellor Richard Pound shares a light moment with Principal Heather Munroe-Blum at Convocation. / Photo: Owen Egan
Outgoing Chancellor Richard Pound shares a light moment with Principal Heather Munroe-Blum at Convocation. / Photo: Owen Egan

Richard W. Pound has made remarkable contribution to McGill

By Doug Sweet

“He shoots from the hip, but he’s got good hips to shoot from. Smart hips.”

In seeking perspective on the contribution Richard W. Pound has made to McGill, there is perhaps no better place to turn than the University’s irrepressible imp, Architecture professor Derek Drummond, who has worked with Pound for decades, has slandered him freely in countless podium introductions and has remained a close friend of the family nonetheless.

In an interview laced with anecdotes that cannot be printed, affectionate recollection and obvious admiration for a remarkable man and his equally remarkable career, Drummond talked at length about the outgoing Chancellor of McGill University, who will preside over his last Convocation tomorrow having sent, by rough estimate, more than 20,000 young graduates off into the wider world beyond the Roddick Gates.

Pound, 67, has served two full five-year terms as Chancellor and a five-year stint before that as Chairman of the Board of Governors. He has also served as a past-president of what is now the McGill Alumni Association, as a former chair of fundraising groups and an active chairman and member of the University’s

Athletics Board.

When his term ends June 30, he will be replaced by longtime McGill/MUHC champion Arnold Steinberg, who will be formally installed at fall Convocation in November. The shoes Steinberg will fill are indeed large.

Pound, of course, is better known nationally and internationally as former Olympic swimmer, an outspoken member and former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and former chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whose public crusade against illicit drug-taking by athletes garnered

headlines, controversy and action around the world.

On top of all this, he worked as a partner at the Stikeman Elliott law firm and wrote a number of books; some on tax law, some biography.

So what has Dick Pound meant to McGill?

“You know,” Drummond said, as the conversation turned uncharacteristically serious, “he’s played so many roles at the University that he’s meant many things to many people at different times.

“Whenever the Alumni Association asks him to go and visit the Hamilton branch or the Windsor branch – whatever the branch is – to speak at one of their events, he always finds time to be able to do so. He’s just

gone everywhere on their behalf and still does today.”

Pound, he said, is aware of the power his celebrity outside the University brought to his work on behalf of the University.

“It was Dick Pound the IOC member and Dick Pound the WADA chairman that drew, that was of interest to our alumni, more than the fact that he was Chancellor of the University, probably,” Drummond said.

“Then when he moved to the Board of Governors (1986) and to the job of Chairman of the Board (1994), that was a critical difference in that then he was involved not with the Association, but with the administration of the University, the senior administration.… As Chancellor, he became more of a figurehead… but in this case, because he had been Chairman of the Board, I think he was involved in a lot of the meetings with (Board Chair) Bob Rabinovitch and the Principal, so he continued to have an ongoing advisory role on the major issues facing the University.”

The imposing-looking robed figure sitting on the big chair at Convocation isn’t the real Dick Pound, Drummond suggested.

“He really looks extremely stern and probably humourless, although all people have to do is listen. If they get close enough to hear what he’s saying all this time, he is a very funny man, with a tremendous sense of humour. What you see is not what you get. … But he has a presence– he looks like a Chancellor – I guess he has a presence that impresses people, but that’s not who he is.

“On the other hand, I can say he does not suffer fools gladly, by any stretch of the imagination. He can sniff bullshit out a mile away, and comment on it in a very pithy manner. He’s outspoken to a fault; we all know

that. He says what he thinks and luckily what he normally thinks is very sharp.”

Pay attention to his mutterings, Drummond said.

“Under his breath come the mutterings. You always have to pay attention to the mutterings, because in the mutterings you find the real Dick Pound.”

Whether muttering or speaking plainly to the press or to the University’s senior administration, Pound has never minced words. Drummond sees that as a valuable contribution to the University.

“He’s been anything but a Yesman. He questions them (senior administrators) like a lawyer, he’s not afraid to criticize … never publicly of course. I’m sure he’s never afraid to criticize things that are going on because he’s very outspoken. The same Dick Pound you see quoted in the paper – I’m sure they have no problem finding out what he’s thinking about what they’re doing.”

Drummond spoke at length about the important place student athletics has had in Pound’s heart, and the way in which participating in athletics has shaped many major contributors to the University. His combining of athletics with a solid academic career is probably the basis for his incredible time-management skills and self-discipline demonstrated today, Drummond said. And, in a brief interview, Pound made repeated reference to sport and the Olympics as going hand in hand with his commitment to the University.

Drummond had sussed out precisely why someone so busy in so many other fields would find so much time, week after week, month after month, to devote to his alma mater.

“It’s an attachment to an institution that was very much a part of our formative lives, and we owe back,” said Drummond, who was at McGill at the same time as Pound, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “But it goes beyond that. He enjoys it. There’s no question he enjoys it. He’s proud of the work he’s done here, he’s proud of the institution and so I guess it’s part personal satisfaction he gets out of doing it, but more so that he believes very much in the importance of McGill and that he does have a role that would help

forwarding its well-being and its reputation.”

Pound concurred. He listed two drivers behind his commitment to McGill.

“One is I really think I owe McGill a lot of what I’ve been able to do and what I’ve been able to become and if you draw from that well, I think you have an obligation to put back as much as you took out,” he said.

And then there is the way McGill mirrors the Olympic experience. McGill, Pound said, “has always been an institution like the Olympics, where you realize that you’re not just competing with Montrealers or Canadians, you’re competing against and with the entire world – and that’s been the Olympic stuff.

“You start off as a kid and you want to be the fastest in your class and then you want to be the fastest in the school and then, you know, in the city, in the province and so forth, and eventually you say, ‘how can I do against the whole world?’ And McGill has always done that and the Olympics have always done that.

“McGill has done extraordinarily well against the whole world.”

Pound has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, Gretta Chambers, in terms of the depth of commitment to the job of Chancellor and that has changed the job, Drummond suggested.

“The job of Chancellor now has become far more demanding simply because of the example that both he and Gretta set.”

For Pound, this week’s Convocation ceremonies have been a wonderful occasion, just as they always are.

“As I said when I got installed, I’ve gone from being terrified I wouldn’t get one degree to giving out thousands of them.”

It’s hard to imagine Pound terrified of anything, but as he prepares again for the robed rituals that are the highlight of the academic year, no imagination is required to see the depth of the commitment he has to the

University and its well-being.