Larry Bell Speaking Notes
Presentation of Doctor of Laws, honorus causa
2 June 2004

Chancellor, President Piper, Faculty, Guests, Students:

It is my view that community service is a duty and a privilege. I know it will be an important part of your life.

Service takes many forms. Some of you will assume positions that incorporate an element of service. An example would be working for a non-profit, charitable organization where your compensation will be partly monetary and partly that sense of making a contribution to society. We can all think of other examples, be they teachers or doctors or social workers.

As a civil servant, I would joke with my colleagues about the psychic rewards that bridged the gap between our pay and competitive commercial compensation. When I left the civil service people would ask me what it was like to leave my post as deputy minister of finance. My response was – three times the pay and one tenth the relevance. I missed the relevance.

Millions of Canadians contribute money each year to charities and non-profit organizations. About one third as many donate their time. I was greatly moved a number of years ago by one of our leading philanthropists. He saw his monetary gifts as modest in relationship to his wealth. Instead he talked about giving the “irreplaceable gift of personal time”.

President Piper, in her 2002 Killam Annual Lecture spoke of “building a civil society”. She referred to a “vigorous citizenry” and suggested that “the key agent of influence and change is neither the government nor the corporation, but rather the individual acting alone or with others to strengthen civic life”.

Community service is a privilege because of the many personal rewards it yields. Let me use my six years on the UBC Board of Directors as an example. The first year you feel like you are literally back in class. You traverse an incredibly steep learning curve. The delight, of course, is to once again be exposed to an intellectual feast. For me, as a manager of large scale complex organizations for most of my career UBC, as a management challenge, knows no peers. It’s scale and scope is remarkable. It has all the elements of a modern city, but it provides both public and commercial services – from sewers to safety, from food to financing. The largest employer in the GVRD. The largest landlord in B.C. The largest real estate portfolio in B.C. The list goes on! What is very unique is its relationship to those it serves.

Charged with the management of this complex institution, the President and her staff seek the best researchers and teachers. Their task is to teach the most accomplished students to question and challenge all that they see and hear. You then practice these skills on the administration. The President and her staff have the most challenging management job I have ever seen by a wide margin.

Of course, to be a part of this dynamic was, for me, fun. It must admit, though, that from time to time there were “character building” challenges. The current debate about high-rise student residences and Wreck Beach looks like one of those challenges.

On a personal basis, it was greatly rewarding to meet and work with highly skilled, dedicated and focused professionals and, of course, with my colleagues on the Board of Governors. It was a great feeling to make a very small contribution to such an important institution in B.C.

To UBC thank you for the privilege of serving.

To you as graduates, I hope you have many opportunities to enjoy the rewards of community service.