Queen's University

Engineering vital leadership skills

Bob and Doris BurnsideBob and Doris Burnside
Photo by Lindy Mechefske

When a young Robert (Bob) Burnside, Sc’56, first set foot on campus as an engineering freshman in September 1952, he never imagined that one day, nearly 60 years later, he and his wife would be able to donate one million dollars to the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. But that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Bob and Doris, his wife of 57 years, sat down recently with their three daughters, Janet, Jillian, Artsci’84, MIR’87, and Joyce, Artsci’86,to discuss their plans .“Our family are in full agreement,” says Bob. “This donation is something we all believe in. I’ve been so active at Queen’s, and it’s been fruitful for me and for my family, and now it’s payback time.”

The Burnsides' gift is earmarked for the new program in Innovation and Global Leadership, which will be a joint venture of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the Queen's School of Business. A first in Canada, the program will include both experiential and theoretical learning focused on addressing the challenges of innovation and leadership in the global marketplace from both an engineering and business perspective.Graduates will be uniquely equipped to lead and grow the knowledge economy.

“Educating engineers with strong leadership skills is vital,” says Bob. “When you think about any big engineering project – such as the Alberta oil sands or the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline – the actual infrastructure is only part of the picture. A large part of the project is about negotiation, interdisciplinary collaboration, management, and vision. That’s leadership.”

Bob Burnside knows a thing or two about leadership and about engineering. A Chemical Engineering grad, in 1956 he was the first hire at Imperial Oil’s newest company, Esso Chemical Canada. During his 32 years with the company, it grew and prospered. Bob was Executive VP of Esso Chemical Canada – which had 4,200 employees – and he retired a Vice President of Imperial Oil in 1988.

Somehow, in addition to his corporate responsibilities, and his busy home life, he also remained active in the community. And through it all he never lost his love of Queen’s, not for a moment. Although the donation he and Doris have made stands as a spectacular exclamation mark in the story of Bob’s 59-year relationship with Queen’s, over the years he has been involved with the University – and continues to be – in many other ways.

Over the years he has organized class reunions, chaired the Engineering Advisory Council, served as a member of a various fundraising campaigns, contributed generously to the University (there’s a conference room named after Bob and wife Doris in the Biosciences complex), and served as President of the Alumni Association in 1986-87. Two of the Burnside’s three daughters are Queen’s graduates.

When he retired, Bob returned to Kingston after a hiatus of three decades to take on the role of special assistant to Principal David C. Smith. That’s the story of one very committed Queen’sman. “I want Queen’s engineers to have the best possible leadership skills to compete in the global economy,” says Bob. “Leadership is paramount.”

Note: Shortly after the Review went to press, Doris Burnside passed away. Our condolences go out to the Burnside family.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2011 Issue #2Queen's Alumni Review
2011 Issue #2
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