Honouring the man behind the bylines

Special to Western NewsDavid Mills, the former Broadcast Manager in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS), taught roughly 1,500 alumni of Western’s graduate Journalism program over four decades. He is being honoured with the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service at Western’s 309th convocation ceremony later this month.

For four decades, David Mills tirelessly worked behind the scenes. If you don’t know his name, you undoubtedly know the names and faces of those whose lives he touched.

Prior to his retirement in 2013, the former Broadcast Manager in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) taught roughly 1,500 alumni of Western’s graduate Journalism program. CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault, Heather Hiscox and Scott Russell are just a few who count themselves among the lucky lot.

At his retirement reception, Mills was elevated by colleagues and former students alike, collectively praising his guidance, patience and impact on the lives and careers of journalists worldwide, on members of the Western community and on international partners in the field. For these contributions, Mills is being recognized with the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service at Western’s 309th convocation ceremony later this month.

“When I saw this award, when it first came out, I thought, ‘Well this is Dave, for sure.’ I was really glad to hear he won,” said Wendie Crouch, former FIMS Media Specialist who worked in tandem with Mills from the day she was first hired in 1975.

“Lots of people are still attributing their success to him, and what he taught them – not just technically, but also the way to approach things – how to be patient, kind and how to get a team to work together under high pressure. Those are all the things you could see him do really well. He fit all of the categories (of the award).”

Selected by Western’s Honorary Degrees Committee, President’s Medal winners must have been retired/resigned from the university in any capacity (including Board or Senate membership) for at least one year prior to consideration and have no ongoing formal relationship with the institution. The award primarily recognizes administrative staff, but faculty may also be recognized for work or achievements not normally covered by the professor emeritus designation or other service awards already in place.

Mills is the fourth winner of the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service. Previous winners include Jan Van Fleet, former University Senate and Board of Governors Secretary, in 2014; Alan Noon, longtime Media Specialist in Photography, in 2015; and Dalin Jameson, a former Executive Director to the President and Provost, in 2016.

Chancellor Jack Cowin will present the President’s Medal to Mills at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 21. The award recognizes individuals who have provided exemplary service to the university over a sustained period of time, over and above the normal requirements of their positions.

Nearly half a century has passed since Mills first stepped on campus, starting his career in Western’s Instructional Media Centre, making educational videos for Baby Boomer students. In his time, video editing evolved from reel-to-reel, to VHS, to digital. After settling down in Journalism, Mills continually rolled with the punches. Colleagues credit him with steering the program and faculty through profound technological changes while delivering dedicated instruction to students that passed through the program’s doors.

Undeniably devoted to the Journalism program, Mills never forgot he was an employee of Western, Crouch noted, and anytime someone required assistance, his response was a friendly, ‘How can I help?’ He quickly became a contact for faculty and staff members who had questions about video and technology. His development of Contact Western Live allowed faculty and researchers to be part of the daily news cycle.

Mills’ commitment and energy expanded beyond The Gates, Crouch added. He was always generous with his time and skillset, and when a five-year ‘twinning’ partnership with the University of Nairobi in Kenya sponsored by CIDA began in the late 1980s, enabling an exchange of students and faculty between journalism programs at the two institutions, Mills was eager to contribute. On two occasions, he went to Kenya to research and equip its journalism school with desktop publishing and radio broadcasting computers, teaching the ropes along the way.

He received the Western Award of Excellence in 2006 – the first year it was offered.

After his retirement, in lieu of gifts, Mills requested contributions towards a fund to help future journalism students. The donations established The David Mills Fund for Visiting Journalists to sponsor journalism veterans, senior editors, those breaking new ground with innovative work or relatively recent grads to come to Western to help foster the next generations of storytellers.

“It was all such a great opportunity, working with fantastic people, working with experts in the field. It was a great career and I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Mills said.

The President’s Medal, which he will receive the same day as former student and member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Marie Wilson, BA’72 (French), MA’77 (Journalism), is a special honour, he noted.

“The students were absolutely the best part of it. To see them advance in their careers, to read their bylines, hear them on the radio, see them on TV. Lots of students went on to careers and were very successful outside of journalism. That’s very satisfactory.”

Mills was easy-going, forward-thinking and available to anyone, any time of day, Crouch added. For her, he started as a boss and turned into a true friend with whom work was “a real treat.”

“I often tell people I was profoundly lucky to have him as a colleague. He was so gracious. He didn’t take credit for anything. In fact, without him, I don’t know if half of what I accomplished at Western would have been accomplished,” she said.

“He always said the job was fun and to work for 40 years with a friend who is as close as a brother – it was terrific. It’s hard to believe the years flew by like that.”