On Saturday, May 13, 2017, Cape Breton University will bestow honorary degrees on three outstanding individuals for their work in equality, sustainability and culture.
Cape Breton University will confer the degree Doctor of Laws honoris causa on Ms. Deborah Gillis, a woman who has dedicated her life’s work to advocating for women’s rights and equality, and on Mr. Grosvenor Blair, a man who has dedicated his life to the preservation and protection of the environment, predominantly the Bras d’Or Lakes. As well, CBU will confer the degree Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on Mr. Dave MacIsaac, a man who has dedicated his life to the preservation and evolution of Cape Breton musical culture and a true international icon in his profession.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be honouring Ms. Gillis, Mr. Blair and Mr. MacIsaac during Spring Convocation,” says Interim President, Dr. Dale Keefe. “Each of these individuals is proof that hard work, determination and education can be the key to success and can create great opportunities to affect change and inspire others with your passions.”
Spring Convocation will take place on the Cape Breton University campus at 2:00 p.m. and will be live-streamed for those who cannot attend.
Ms. Deborah Gillis
After completing her education, Ms. Gillis joined the Ontario Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs, providing policy advice to the Premier of Ontario during the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional negotiations. She later joined the Ontario Cabinet Office, where she advised the Premier and Cabinet on a range of social justice policy issues, including employment equity, anti-racism, and LGBT rights.
Ms. Gillis served as Chief of Staff to former Nova Scotia Liberal Leader, Danny Graham, and was a candidate in the 2003 Nova Scotia election in the riding of Inverness. She was also appointed as the Liberal candidate in the federal riding of Halton in 2009. It was during her time in politics that Ms. Gillis first truly understood the power of role models—and the urgent need for more of them—to inspire girls and young women. This experience and surviving breast cancer motivated her to seek out more deeply meaningful work.
Ms. Gillis found it at Catalyst, a leading global nonprofit organization that partners with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and companies to accelerate and advance women at work. Joining in 2006 as Executive Director of Catalyst Canada, she went on to lead Catalyst’s expansion in the Asia-Pacific region, became Chief Operating Officer in 2012, and was named global President & CEO in 2014. She is the fourth President in Catalyst’s 55-year history, the first internal successor, and the first from outside the United States to hold the position. In 2016 Ms. Gillis was named as one of Canadian Business magazine’s 10 most influential Canadians, and that same year she received the Foreign Policy Association Medal. In 2017 she was appointed to the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders.
Mr. Grosvenor Blair
Following in family tradition, Grosvenor attended Amherst College, graduating with a BA in Physics in 1950. Continuing his postgraduate education, Grosvenor attended law school at the University of Virginia, graduating in 1953. Immediately after graduation, he enlisted in the United States Navy, receiving a commission in January 1954.
After serving in the US Navy, Grosvenor commenced law practice in New York City and later in Houston, Texas, where he uncovered his passion and interest in the area of environmental conservation and factors which made such initiatives effective. A high point for Grosvenor was a canoe trip down the Rio Grande River through utter wilderness which had been effectively preserved, largely through private efforts. The lasting effects of this trip laid the groundwork for what he would contribute to the Bras d’Or Lakes conservation work.
In 1991, Grosvenor retired from his law practice which allowed him to focus and dedicate his time to environmental matters on Cape Breton Island. Responding to a threat to the beauty and sustainability of Baddeck Bay through the development of a gypsum mine, Grosvenor played a lead role in the development of the Bras D’Or Preservation Land Trust that established a Bras d’Or Environmental Exhibition at the Old Post Office in Baddeck. These efforts, although successful, did not afford the protection Grosvenor personally believed was imperative for the famous Bras d’Or Lakes.
The next step for Grosvenor was obtaining United Nations Biosphere recognition for the St, Andrews Channel in the Bras d’Or, and extraordinary deep area comparable to offshore places protected by the Federal government. It was then Grosvenor engaged influential members of the community who shared his passion for the Lakes. One advocate engaged by Grosvenor was former CBU President, Jacquelyn Thayer Scott who also shared his passion for the protection of the Bras d’Or Lakes. Also engaged was Teresa MacNeil who urged him to seek designation of the broader area of the entire Bras d’Or ecosystem, she also took the lead with him to gain community support. With the combined support from the business community, private sector and the general public, the United Nations recognition came in 2011.
Currently, Grosvenor is pleased to see the strong work of the Bras d’Or Biosphere Association continuing, as well as the Bras d’Or Preservation Land Trust and still dedicates his time and efforts to keep this work a priority in his life.
Mr. Dave MacIsaac
Dave MacIsaac was born in 1955 in Halifax Nova Scotia, growing up in a musical household. Son to the late Alex Dan MacIsaac, Dave was introduced to music at a young age through the generous musicians who would often visit the family home, sharing their skills and love of the Celtic and Scottish culture through music and song.
Internationally recognized as a master of stringed instruments, Dave MacIsaac is a musician of immense talent and accomplishment and admired as such. He plays traditional fiddle tunes with passion, and his guitar playing, solo or as accompaniment, is legendary within the industry. Dave has fashioned his guitar accompaniment after the piano playing of Mary Jessie MacDonald, developing his own techniques to imitate her walking bass lines and, like Mary Jessie, he is daring in his interplay between chording and melody. As a fiddler he is well known for his Gaelic brogue.
Dave has been featured on countless albums of all genres of music. An instrumental alchemist, he has an uncanny ability to extract beautiful aspects of different styles of music and then combine those qualities into new sounds. In the Celtic field especially, he’s highly regarded as both a soloist and a sideman.
To have the privilege of being entertained by Dave MacIsaac is a musical adventure and an experience like none other.