Strengthening Ties With The Community - Peggy McKercher Elected Chancellor

By Tom Bowman

Imagine taking on a job for which you can, largely, define your own duties. Sound like a dream? If so, the dream has come true for Peggy McKercher (B.A.'50) since she was elected Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan in the spring.

"Quite frankly," she says, "I had never given any thought to [the Chancellorship]. The more I thought about it, the more interesting it sounded. I was going to be leaving the chairmanship of the Meewasin Valley Authority, and I thought this would be a new challenge and a new interest."

No Job Description

What is the Chancellor's job? The University Act prescribes certain duties: to preside over meetings of the Senate and Convocation, to confer degrees, and to sit on the Board of Governors. But the job doesn't stop at those boundaries, and outside them, Peggy said in a recent interview, "I found that there really isn't a job description. I had quite a chat with my predecessor (Ted Turner, Dipl.Agric.'49, LL.D.'85), who very kindly called me on the day that the results came out. I said to him, `I'm going to be asking for a lot of advice.' And he said, `No, each chancellor brings their own ideas. You take on the role the way you see it."

By the time she was elected, Peggy had begun to form an idea of what she wanted to do in the role. "When you've graduated from the University of Saskatchewan, you always have this wonderful affiliation and a desire to promote the University. I visualize the role as making the community more aware of what the University does. I think all universities are going to have to depend much more on outside help."

Strengthening Ties Between University and Community

"In years past, the Chancellor was usually a very high profile person such as John Diefenbaker, or Mr. Justice Emmett Hall. But my impression of what's expected now is that the Chancellor will play a more active role. I think a lot of it will be public relations for the University." In addition to any personal public relations role she might play, the new Chancellor will also work with the Senate, which is currently defining for itself a more active role in community relations. The idea, she says, is to "bring the University to the community and the community to the University."

It's a role for which Peggy McKercher is very well suited. She and her husband, Robert (B.A.'50, LL.B.'52, LL.M.Harvard'54), a prominent Saskatoon attorney, are both from the Saskatoon area and have lived here most of their lives.

"I graduated from the University in 1950, and then I went on the Physical Education staff for two years. By that time my husband finished law school, and we went to Harvard, where he did a master's degree in law and I taught and supported him. From there we went to the University of Toronto, where he worked on a doctorate. After that we came home, and he articled with Mr. Justice Emmett Hall for a year. Then we went to Ottawa and lived there for six years. He was with a law firm there, but when it came to really putting our roots down, we wanted to come back to Saskatoon."

Order of Canada Recognizes Community Contributions

Since their three children grew up, married and established their own homes, Peggy has taken a very active part in the life of the community. Generous with her time and energy, she has proven a capable, dynamic leader and has been recognized for that work. In 1989, CFQC-TV named her Saskatoon Citizen of the Year. On May 1 this year, she was invested in the Order of Canada. Locally, she is probably best known for her work with the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA), organized in 1979 to conserve the riverbank in and near Saskatoon. The MVA is a joint project of the University, the City of Saskatoon, and Province of Saskatchewan. She represents the University on the Board of Directors, and has long served as Chair. She recently announced her resignation from the chair, but will continue on the Board. As she became known for her work with Meewasin, Peggy was also asked to work with other groups. Nationally, she serves on the boards of the National Capital Commission and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Locally, she has been sitting on the (University) President's Advisory Committee for Community Relations, and she is Vice Chair of Wanuskewin Heritage Park - a project she has been involved with since its inception.

With her experience, enthusiasm and dedication, Peggy McKercher brings just the right qualities to the Chancellorship - especially at a time when the University is working to build stronger bridges between itself and the community it serves.