Queen's University

Passionate about philanthropy

When Tom Hewitt announced he was leaving a high-profile job in Ottawa to become the chief development officer at Queen's, a lot of people wondered why. Talk to Tom and you soon discover there was a very good reason for his move, one no one could argue with.

When he announced early this year that he’d be leaving his job as ­President of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation, all of Tom Hewitt’s friends and co-workers asked him the same question: “Why?”

[Tom Hewitt]Tom Hewitt, , Artsci’82, the new Chief Development Officer
at Queen’s, is pictured here on the steps of Summerhill.

His answer was complicated. It was also very personal, and because of that there were people who just couldn’t get their minds around Tom’s explanation.

He said there were many reasons, but the bottom line was that he was leaving one of Canada’s top healthcare institutions to ­accept a job as Chief Development Officer at one of Canada’s top universities because he considers it an honour to serve his alma mater.

Says Tom, “I told people this wasn’t just another gig. I’m a Queen’s graduate – Artsci’82, I met my wife [Trish (Cowan) Artsci’84, Ed’84] here, and I’ve ­always felt a strong affinity for the University. This is a very special place to me.”

But we live in cynical times, and doubtless there were those in the crowd that gathered for Tom’s Ottawa farewell party who remained skeptical that this was the true story, or else they’d made up their minds that he was making a big mistake.

Having now had the chance to meet and talk with Tom Hewitt, I can assure those who were (if you’ll excuse the expression) “doubting Thomas”, that they were mistaken. Tom meant every word he said. He’s passionate about his work. He’s personable, sincere, forthright. He means what he says. That latter quality ­befuddles some people. I can also report that Tom has made the right move in coming to Queen’s, – both for himself and for the University.

He and I sat down for a chat the other day. As we did so, I couldn’t help but ­notice the view from the window of his second-floor office in Summerhill. ­

Whenever Tom peers out, he sees Lower Campus, Theological Hall, and iconic Grant Hall. How much more “Queen’sy” does it get than that?

On the floor next to his desk, propped against the wall are a series of framed sketches of campus buildings that Tom bought many years ago because they summoned to mind so many pleasant memories. Now he’s found the perfect spot to hang them, along with a framed copy of a “from-the-heart” Letter to the Editor that he wrote to the Review in the fall of 1997. In that missive, he thanked everyone at Queen’s who had made the annual Homecoming reunion such a special time for him and his Artsci’82 classmates. Tom’s executive assistant at the Ottawa Heart Institute had the letter framed, and she presented it to him at his farewell. He appreciated the kindness, which touched him deeply.

Tom plans to hang the framed letter and those Queen’s scenes on his office wall – if ever he can find the time. Tom has been crazy busy since he began work on May 1.

“I came back here because I love the people, the institution, and all that it stands for,” he says. “I like the direction Principal Woolf is taking, and the fact that Tom Harris is the Vice-Principal ­(Advancement). He’s worked in the private sector and has been a leader at Queen’s as a Dean. He brings a really ­interesting perspective to his job. He’s seen first-hand the value of philanthropy to the University.”

“If you make the case for philanthropy and do so in a compelling way, people will be inspired to help. They’ll do so because they will see it’s for a greater good and because everyone benefits. That’s why I’m so passionate about philanthropy. If I didn’t believe I could help Queen’s, I wouldn’t be here.”

Tom Hewitt is well aware that he, V-P Harris, and everyone else on the Advancement team, are facing major challenges. Everyone at Queen’s is. But Tom says the opportunities are great and preparations for a major fundraising campaign are underway. The challenge is one he accepts and even relishes. He’s up-front about that and everything else about his job.

At age 52, he’s a seasoned fundraiser with an impressive track record. He was honoured as the “top fundraising executive” for the year 2000 by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Ottawa Chapter, and was awarded the Margye S. Baumgardner Scholarship from the Association for Fundraising Professionals Executive Leadership Institute in 2003. He has been working in development – at three Ottawa healthcare institutions – since 1988.

“Though I served two terms on ­University Council, I’ve been away from Queen’s for a while, and so I’ve gained an outsider’s perspective. I see the need to ­remind alumni and friends of the University about all the good things that are ­happening here. We also need to educate those people who don’t know what’s going at Queen’s,” says Tom.

He believes, fervently so, that “excellence doesn’t just happen by accident.” And Queen’s has been one of this country’s top universities for many years because of the excellence of its students, ­faculty, staff, and alumni.

“If you make the case for philanthropy and do so in a compelling way, people will be inspired to help. They’ll do so because they will see it’s for a greater good and because everyone benefits. That’s why I’m so passionate about philanthropy. If I didn’t believe I could help Queen’s, I wouldn’t be here.”

Interestingly, Tom ended that 1997 ­Letter to the Editor by stating that he hoped one day to repay all of the favours Queen’s has done him. I have the feeling he’ll do that – and more — in the coming years.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2011 Issue #3Queen's Alumni Review
2011 Issue #3
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