Prichard: Choose thoughtfully, wisely and to make a difference

On the road to living a good life, there should be no delay, said J. Robert S. Prichard, non-executive chair of Torys LLP, an international business law firm.

“You all face one fundamental question – how should you live your life? Each of you will have to answer this question on your own terms, but this is a question for now, for today, not one to be put off for tomorrow or a future day,” he noted.

The pressures of starting a career, becoming wealthy and starting a family often defer the question of how – and for what – to live one’s life. But deferring this focus while waiting for life’s successes would be a mistake, Prichard stressed.

Prichard spoke to graduates from the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the Faculty of Health Sciences and Ivey Business School at the Friday, Oct. 23, morning session of Western’s 306th Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) upon Prichard in recognition of his influential business career and his work in the public sector.

Over the course of his career, Prichard has played many roles, including lawyer, professor, dean, university president, public policy advisor, chief executive officer, corporate board chair, hospital trustee, advisor to government leaders and a champion for higher education and university research.

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Recognized as one of Canada’s most powerful business people by Canadian Business magazine in 2013 and 2014, Prichard was president and CEO of Torstar Corporation, a leading Canadian media company, from 2002-09. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, he served as the 13th president of the University of Toronto from 1990-2000. His term as president has been called ‘The Decade of the Dynamo.’

Prichard laid the foundation for his success in Toronto by growing the university’s endowment from $220 million to $1.2 billion – the largest of any Canadian postsecondary institution – creating hundreds of endowed chairs and thousands of scholarships and bursaries. He also helped advance the academic excellence of Canada’s postsecondary education system through his leadership at the Council of Ontario Universities, Universities Canada and U-15.

Prichard currently serves as Chair of the Board for the Bank of Montreal, Chair of Ontario’s transit agency, Metrolinx, and Chair of Penguin Canada. He also serves the boards of Onex Corporation, George Weston Ltd. and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and his list of volunteer roles is long, including a sting as Vice-Chair of Canada’s Science, Technology & Innovation Council, and Chair of the Visiting Committee for Harvard Law School.

The steps in one’s life journey begin today, Prichard continued. Plateaus in career and status are not the start line, because the steps graduates take today will determine the potential of tomorrow.

“Life’s goals may serve as milestones; they are not ultimate destinations. New possibilities will present new challenges and rewards,” he said.

In recognition of his record of service and achievement, Prichard has been appointed as an officer of the Order of Canada, as a member of the Order of Ontario, and as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

In his citation, Western President Amit Chakma called Prichard an “outstanding Canadian” whose accomplishments have significantly contributed to the success of Canadian universities, including Western.

“Like so many great minds and great Canadians whom Western has recognized with an honorary degree, John Robert Stobo Prichard – or simply ‘Rob’ to his friends and colleagues – is an individual who has accomplished many great things in a multiplicity of roles,” Chakma said.

“I wish we could call Rob one of our own. But, alas, he earned his four degrees in economics, business and law from Swarthmore College, the University of Chicago, the University of Toronto and Yale University. However, for all that he has achieved – particularly with regard to his passionate advocacy for higher education and university research – we have the opportunity to rectify this today.”

Prichard closed by asking graduates to live life well, and to find a focus in every day, week, month and year, one that goes beyond individual gain but extends to a greater public purpose.

“A life absent of public purpose will be less meaningful, less happy and rewarding than one focused on your own interests. Choose thoughtfully, choose wisely and choose to make your personal difference. Don’t be tempted to wait to make a difference. What may be small for you can make a powerful difference in the life of another – narrow the gap between what is and what might be,” he said.