Western University has announced Kelly Meighen as the university’s twenty-fourth Chancellor, effective July 1, 2023, for a four-year term.
Meighen, BA’71, LLD’13, is president of the Meighen Family Foundation, a position she’s held since 1990, following more than ten years serving on its board.
Through both the foundation and her individual efforts, Meighen has made a profound impact on youth mental health, the arts, and non-profit governance in Canada. She has also led the Foundation’s new strategic focus to support organizations and initiatives that improve access to safe housing, healthy food and services for vulnerable children.
“We are so fortunate to have Kelly serve as our next Chancellor,” Western President Alan Shepard said. “Kelly is highly regarded by the leaders she has supported and worked with across multiple organizations, including Western, where she’s made valuable contributions as a board member, chair of the development and fundraising committee and as vice-president of Western’s Alumni Association. She’s also a great humanitarian, moved to improve the health and wellbeing of others.”
Meighen has chaired the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) board of trustees, the CAMH Foundation, McGill University’s Academic Advising and Mentoring Advisory Board and the Stratford Festival. She has held board positions with Evergreen, Jack.org, Upper Canada College, the Wellesley Hospital, Huron University College and The Royal Conservatory of Music.
In each of these roles, Meighen focused her efforts on strengthening governance and assessing the organizations’ responsibility to and impact on the broader community.
Deep ties to Western
As Western’s Chancellor, Meighen will be the honorary and symbolic head of the university, presiding over convocation ceremonies to admit candidates to degrees, diplomas and certificates. She will also serve as an ex officio voting member of the board of governors, university senate and certain committees of both governing bodies.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to take on this role,” Meighen said. “I look forward to reconnecting with Western and representing the university from different perspectives. My first job will be to arm myself with information so I can be an effective and supportive advocate, in whatever way the university needs.”
Meighen grew up in London, Ont., where her father, Richard Dillon, BA’48, LLD’79, was Western’s first dean of engineering. Western is also where Richard met Meighen’s mother, Elizabeth Dempsey, BA’41.
“I was lucky to have two very supportive parents, who were great role models,” Meighen said, crediting them for inspiring her volunteerism, and instilling in her a sense of optimism and hope.
Relationships, resiliency ‘key’
Through her service at CAMH, and as a founding member of the board of Jack.org, a youth-led national charity focused on mental health, Meighen brings extensive knowledge on the importance of supporting the wellbeing of students – and all community members.
“People of all ages need help,” she said, noting Western as one of the first U15 universities to make substantial investments in mental health resources and supports for students.
“When I look back on my own experience, there was no discussion about your emotional health or the right words to describe how you were struggling,” she said. “But over the past 15 years it has become a critical issue, with an expectation that universities should help address it.
“We need to be asking, ‘How are you as a student? How are you as a student body? And how are you managing in this world?’”
At Western, Meighen earned her degree in psychology and learned to think analytically. It’s a skill she believes is just as – or even more – important today as students navigate a world of misinformation and disinformation.
“Never in our lifetime have we seen the whole concept of a ‘trusted source’ become such a fraught term,” Meighen said. “It creates a great need to provide young people with the skills to discern and separate what’s real from what’s not. They need sound analytical skills and the tools to test things so they can be reassured and develop a framework – either personally or professionally – they can rely on.”
Meighen also believes developing resilience and strong interpersonal skills are as key as the scholarly aspects of post-secondary learning.
“I think at the core of personal and professional success is the ability to develop and sustain strong, healthy relationships,” she said. “If you take the field of health care, for example, you can produce skilled and capable nurses, physiotherapists or doctors, academically, but what else do they need? They need to be optimistic, energetic, resilient, curious and open-minded. They also need to be good listeners, and skeptical, in the best way.”
Dedicated and decorated volunteer
She is the first woman named Honorary Colonel of The Royal Regiment of Canada, one of the country’s oldest Light Infantry units.
Meighen was the 2010 recipient of the Dr. Ivan Smith Award, Western Alumni’s highest tribute, presented to an outstanding individual in recognition of their sustained and significant contributions to the Alumni Association, Western and society.
She and her husband, The Honourable Michael Meighen, a lawyer and former Canadian senator, received honorary degrees from Western in 2013 for their dedication to philanthropy and public service. That same year, they were recognized with the Yorktown Family Services Humanitarian Award for Community Service.
When asked what drives her longstanding commitment to volunteerism and service, Meighen said, “It all comes back to relationships.
“It’s that personal connection. You become involved and are carried along by the great people you meet, the fun you have learning from people whose skills are so different. Because of that, you very quickly gain an appreciation of how you can contribute and help others achieve their vision.”
The role of Chancellor traces back to the founding of the university, with Bishop Isaac Hellmuth holding the inaugural post.
Members and friends of the Western community were invited to submit nominations for Chancellor. An electoral board jointly established by the board and senate, whose membership was composed of board members, faculty, staff, alumni and a student, unanimously selected Meighen for the position.
Meighen is the fourth woman to hold the role in Western’s history. She follows Linda Hasenfratz, BSc’89, EMBA’97, LLD’19, CEO of Linamar Corporation, who completed her four-year term as Chancellor June 30.