University President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Robert Campbell was recently featured in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal. The following feature from November 8, 2014 is reprinted with their kind permission.
Mount Allison University recently topped Maclean’s university rankings for the 18th time (and eighth year in a row). Dr. Robert Campbell is the institution’s 14th president and is currently serving his second five-year term.
Who were your heroes growing?
Growing up, I admired the Montreal Canadiens, the Beach Boys and Lester Pearson.
What do you treasure most about New Brunswick?
I love the total lack of pretence in a province where one can easily and comfortably be oneself.
Which living New Brunswicker do you admire most?
I am a fan and admirer of Mrs. Margie McCain. She is a strong and engaged family and community person, who has taken the opportunity to bring public attention to and policy action on challenging social issues like addiction and mental health, early childhood development and family violence.
Which dead New Brunswicker do you admire most?
John Peters Humphrey – one of Mount Allison’s most distinguished students was from Hampton. Both his parents died of cancer and he lost an arm in a childhood accident. He went on to a distinguished legal and human rights career, and is best known as the author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What other New Brunswicker has had Nelson Mandela unveil a commemorative plaque in his honour?
What’s the toughest job you’ve had?
Years ago, I led a consultation process to consider turning an all-boys school into a co-ed one in Ontario. A close second was chairing the review committee that examined Canada Post for the federal government. The mail and the weather are equal topics of engaged Canadian conversation. But I worked in a nickel-copper mine in northern Canada when I was a teenager, and every job has looked pretty good since then.
If you could go back in time, when would you go?
It would be difficult to declare a better time and place than postwar Canada, as we have had unprecedented socio-economic opportunities and have not had to experience wars or serious economic or social devastation. That said, it would have been wonderful to have experienced the excitement of the 18th century, when the impact of the Enlightenment culminated in democratic transformation and the rise of science and reason.
Is there one particular place on Earth that you enjoy the most?
I did my graduate work in London, England, and, despite family-generated competition from Amsterdam and New York, it remains my number one destination for book stores, theatre, rock music, art galleries, architecture, neighbourhoods – and my beloved West Ham United. That said, we go to Mabou, Cape Breton, every summer.
How do you relax?
I start days with a run and a swim, which sets a mental and physical equilibrium for the work day. I read 30 to 40 novels a year, particularly when travelling. I listen to my iPod, which has a 15,000-song library, which I expand weekly. We watch good cable TV series (my all-time favourite is The Wire, followed by Breaking Bad and Deadwood). And we travel abroad whenever the opportunity arises.
What’s your biggest disappointment?
I wish that I had had greater facilities in languages and in music. I love music and wish that I could play an instrument. And I am embarrassed that I am not terribly fluent beyond my mother tongue.
What trait do you admire most about yourself?
Stamina. I think that most important things in my life have required playing the long game: extended hours, hard work, a willingness to face challenges and long odds, bouncing back from failure and disappointment. I admire muckers and worker bees, who are willing to dig in and to endure.
What trait do you despise most in others?
A lack of empathy. I feel that we should all listen up a lot more to what others are saying and try harder to understand what makes people tick and what is going on in their lives.
What bothers you most about New Brunswick?
At the risk of sounding political, it strikes me that there are far too many people in the province who are in avoidance mode about the economic, social and demographic challenges that we face.
What’s your favourite food?
I love spicy food – Indian, Thai and Szechuan Chinese – which I have taught myself to cook. I also like comfort food, like chicken pot pie, goulash, shepherd’s pie, which have been standards in our household. But my day always begins with hot porridge.
What is your favourite New Brunswick city: Fredericton, Saint John or Moncton?
This is a question that is bound to get me in trouble. I enjoy all three cities very much, for different reasons. Our “new” favourite city has become Saint John, as our fourth child has just recently been offered a job by Ernst & Young in that culturally alive city, which is so interesting historically and architecturally.
What’s the greatest misconception people have about you?
My position presents me as a bureaucrat and administrator, a role I am honoured to have, and I hope that I am doing a reasonable job. But my real profession has been in the classroom and the archives, as a teacher and researcher, who has published 10 books.
What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I was in a Saturday morning queue at the grocery store with my young children, when a fellow shopper said “Hello Professor Campbell,” after having seen me on a political telecast earlier that week. I was momentarily proud to be recognized in front of my kids, when I was told it was “easy to remember a face with a nose like yours.”
What’s your happiest moment?
Sitting in the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador watching the Netherlands demolish Spain 5-1 at the World Cup? Seriously, my happiest moments have been being married to Christl Verduyn and having and raising our four children; this has been sheer joy for 30-plus years.
When is it OK to tell a lie?
Well, it’s never advisable in the TJ Salon Q&A!
What would you like God to say to you when you get to Heaven?
“Campbell: I accept your statement that it was not as bad as it looked….”
Can you share a secret with us?
I have been a devoted viewer of Coronation Street since the late 1970s.