When the official portrait of Lakehead University's eighth chancellor, Dr. Derek Burney, was recently unveiled he quipped, "It's not every day of the year that you get to participate in your own hanging and live to talk about it."
Derek and Joan Burney are passionate Lakehead supporters who have helped the University take a giant leap forward. This isn't surprising given that Dr. Burney has been part of historic achievements such as negotiating the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
The Burneys became prominent figures in Canadian public life during Derek's career with the federal government, which included posts as deputy minister of external affairs and ambassador to the United States. Since leaving the civil service, Dr. Burney has become an influential private sector strategist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.
Derek and Joan share a belief in the transformative power of postsecondary education. "If I've learned one thing from travelling to places like Japan, Korea, and the United States, as well as living in Canada, " says Dr. Burney, "it's that apart from DNA, the quality of education is what really determines success."
The couple also has deep connection to Northwestern Ontario. They're both from what is now the City of Thunder Bay, but from opposite sides of town. Derek grew up in Fort William while Joan grew up in Port Arthur - communities that had a long-running, yet friendly, rivalry.
Since being installed as chancellor in 2013, Dr. Burney has elevated Lakehead's profile throughout Canada, shaken the hands of over 8,000 graduating students, and been a stellar fundraiser.
As a member of Lakehead's law cabinet, Derek has helped raise significant funds. He was instrumental in securing the lead gift from Norton Rose Fulbright LLP where he holds the position of senior strategic advisor. His influence and contacts allowed Lakehead to attract financial support for vitally needed student scholarships and capital improvements.
Derek and Joan have not only been advocates for Lakehead, but also extremely generous donors. "It's very important that Lakehead continues to inspire better teaching and better learning," explains Dr. Burney, "so that the students of today - the citizens of tomorrow - will make Canada a better country."
Their gifts have gone to Faculty of Law scholarships and they donated $150,000 to establish The Derek and Joan Burney Postdoctoral Fellowship at Lakehead's Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Mining and Exploration (CESME). Dr. Karl Skogstad, the first postdoctoral fellow, is conducting crucial research on the economic impact of mining in Northern Ontario. "Joan and I are convinced that CESME will be a catalyst for responsible mining development," says Dr. Burney.
Although the March 2, 2017, portrait unveiling marked Dr. Burney's retirement as chancellor, he has been bestowed the title of chancellor emeritus. In this new role, he and Joan will continue to work with the University on issues that are close to their hearts.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed my time as chancellor," said Dr. Burney. "When Joan and I left the region, it was still the Lakehead College of Arts, Science and Technology. Since then, Lakehead has become a major economic and social power in Northwestern and Central Ontario."