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Salute to Sobey

Queen’s is reserving its honorary degrees in 2016 for alumni in celebration of the university’s 175th anniversary. Throughout spring convocation, The Gazette will profile all 11 honorary degree recipients and explore how Queen’s has impacted their life and career. 

Donald R. Sobey (Com’57) often encourages young students to treat university like a job – eight hours for school work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for enjoying the overall experience.

Moments before Mr. Sobey accepted an honorary degree on May 30 in front of commerce and management graduates, he considered the advice he would give them as they enter the next phase of their lives.

“The most important thing I would say is, don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If you aren’t making any mistakes, then you’re not really doing anything,” he says. “If you are intelligent and aware, you will admit your mistake, own it, and not do it again.

“If it’s a real calamity, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again,” he adds.

[Donald Sobey after receving his honorary degree]
Donald R. Sobey (Com'57) is an inductee of both the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame. Mr. Sobey and his son Rob (Artsci'88) have created scholarships to support Atlantic Canadian students who want to study commerce at Queen's. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

Mr. Sobey’s positive outlook served him well over his 46-year business career. He joined his father, Frank H. Sobey, and brothers Bill and David in the family grocery business shortly after graduating from Queen’s. He was appointed, in 1963, to the board of Empire Company Limited, the family’s investment company. He became president in 1969 and took on the role of chairman in 1985 until his retirement in 2004.

Turning points

Mr. Sobey was one of only two Atlantic Canadian students at Queen’s when he arrived in 1953. He looks back fondly on the opportunity to experience the world away from home and meet people from all over Canada.

To support other Atlantic Canadian students striving for a similar experience, Mr. Sobey and his son Rob (Artsci’88) created the D&R Sobey Atlantic Scholarship in 1999. Each year, six outstanding high school students are awarded the scholarship to attend the undergraduate commerce program at Smith School of Business.

Since establishing the undergraduate scholarship, Donald and Rob Sobey created an additional scholarship fund for Atlantic Canadian students who want to pursue their MBA at Smith School of Business.

Mr. Sobey says he loved the idea of helping young people directly while giving back to the university where he enjoyed a great learning experience.

“I’m really proud [of the scholarships],” says Mr. Sobey. Father and son return to Queen's every year to attend a dinner with the scholarship recipients, where they enjoy a traditional East Coast meal of lobster. "I enjoy the interactions. They are amazing young people, and you can see the country is in pretty good hands.”

Robert Marsh is one of more than 100 Atlantic Canadian students to receive a D&R Sobey Atlantic Undergraduate Scholarship to date. Mr. Marsh, currently a member of Liberty Canada’s senior executive team, spoke at the convocation ceremony after Mr. Sobey received his honorary degree. He explained that earning the scholarship marked a turning point for him.

“It changed my life,” Mr. Marsh says. “Queen’s was also turning point in Donald Sobey’s life. It gave him the skills and knowledge needed to become a business leader, and he has helped many others benefit from the magic of Queen’s.”

More information about the D&R Sobey Atlantic Scholarship is available online

See more Convocation 2016 stories