Volume 29 - Number 15 - Thursday, April 24, 1997

Expanding role keeps new almuni association director on the go

by Diana Grier Ayton
Executive Director Alumni Relations/Advancement Honora Shaughnessy


Honora Shaughnessy is a familiar face around campus. The 19-year McGill veteran has worked in the library system, as executive assistant to principals David Johnston and Bernard Shapiro, and as both Employment Equity Coordinator and Director of the Equity Office.

She's also made her mark as a member of Senate and of advisory groups on issues such as recruitment, educational equity, employment equity, admissions, race relations and academic policies.

But she hasn't been quite as visible lately. Last fall, Shaughnessy succeeded Gavin Ross as head of the Alumni Association and since then, she's been getting to know a whole new portfolio--and a whole lot of graduates.

"Almost as soon as I started in September we were in the midst of Homecoming and the 175th Open House. I shook a lot of hands and I learned how exhausting these things can be because you're 'on' all the time. I also learned how intensely interested alumni are in what's happening at McGill. I hadn't anticipated the many questions, and I found myself at a loss for answers several times. I felt I needed a mini-computer in my brain to remember all the things I should know!"

Shaughnessy says what also impressed her was the professionalism of her staff. "They worked flat out for two weeks, and not just the people involved in homecoming--the whole staff was around all weekend. I'm really fortunate to have such an experienced group working with me. They're really dedicated and they're wonderful with people. "

Most of the time, of course, meeting graduates means travelling to where they are and not the other way around. "That's one of the things that attracted me most strongly to this job--the opportunity to get out and meet people and talk to them about McGill," says Shaughnessy.

But the job isn't all white wine and finger food, especially with its recently added features. "I was actually appointed executive director of alumni relations and advancement. Our idea was that I would be responsible for alumni relations, but that I would also be involved with Derek (Vice-Principal of Development and Alumni Relations Derek Drummond) in working directly with the faculties on their alumni relations and development activities."

McGill's Annual Fund, which comprises seven different divisions, such as the Faculty and Staff Fund, the McGill Associates and the Alma Mater Fund and which last year brought in more than $4 million to the University, now falls under her direction.

These changes to her job description mean that visits to alumni branches are planned more strategically. "What we try to encourage is that any of us who travel can serve two functions--as an ambassador for the alumni association as well as a development officer."

Family ties

A Montreal native, Shaughnessy completed a degree in history at Loyola in 1971 before coming to McGill to do a master's in library science. She worked in libraries at the University of Calgary and in Ottawa following graduation, returning to Montreal and McGill in 1978.

She has connections to the University which extend much further back, however. "My grandfather, Frank Shaughnessy, coached football here for 17 years (1912-29)--I think a lot of people have heard of the Shaughnessy Cup. And my mother, Katherine Kelly, graduated with a BA in 1937. This year will be her 60th anniversary!"

Her husband, a lawyer, is also a McGill grad. Rounding out the family are a son aged 6, a daughter aged 8 and a 15-year-old stepdaughter. "When I started last fall, the younger children were not used to my being away. The hours are longer here and there is a lot more travel so it's been an adjustment for all of us. I don't often make it home in time for the kids' supper--sometimes I think they're being brought up on synthetic everything--but they're healthy and we're getting used to new schedules."

Kate Williams, director of University Relations, has seen Shaughnessy in action--and been impressed. The two served together on the Joint Senate/Board Committee on Equity and, more recently, on the committee which organized last November's 175th Gala Concert for the Faculty of Music.

According to Williams, her colleague possesses important--if paradoxical--skills for getting things done. "Honora is very energetic, a real take-charge kind of person who likes to find solutions. At the same time, we have co-chaired committees very successfully, so I can testify that she is also a good team player."

Shaughnessy has recently been given the green light to hire alumni/development associates who will work within each of the faculties, based on the model that worked so well during the capital campaign.

"Some are already in place and I have a long job description for them," she laughs. "They are going to be spending time working with each of the deans to develop relationships with alumni and they will host events at the branches. They will be well placed to get to know students, to work with international alumni and to identify donors. Faculties will be encouraged to have advisory boards and we will help them establish those boards and develop their mandates."

Shaughnessy says the various faculty deans are important participants in branch activities. "Our graduates love hearing from the deans. It's a great boost for the branches because it shows that McGill is interested enough to send the deans.

"Also it's important to get information from the horse's mouth. There are a lot of myths about McGill and Quebec outside Montreal, and the further away the branch is, the harder it is to get clear information. It really helps to have someone at the level of a dean clear up the misinformation."

At an alumni get-together in Vancouver in December, for example, a visitor from McGill was asked whether it was true that tuition for out-of-province students was about to rise to $15,000. And mispercep-tions may adversely affect fundraising efforts--at another function a graduate said he had heard that Quebec would reduce McGill's grant by the amount it received in private donations. "These are the kinds of questions we hear too often--at all our branches," says Shaughnessy.

A considerable chunk of the University's 120,000-plus alumni live in Ontario, mostly concentrated in the Toronto area. In order to strengthen ties with those 26,000 graduates--and keep them well informed--McGill has just opened a satellite bureau in downtown Toronto. The Ontario Region Development and Alumni Relations Office is headed by Colin Campbell, who earned a science degree from McGill in 1962 and spent 30 years in management positions in Quebec, Alberta and Ontario. "The best way to describe it is as a consulate," says Campbell.

Another new initiative is the involvement of alumni from a number of areas, along with students and staff on campus, to help in recruiting new students by calling those who have been accepted and encouraging them to come to McGill.

"We're working with Trish Duff, coordinator of the first-year experience for students. We'll be making about 100 calls in Boston, in New York and in Washington. In the Montreal area, Quebec City and the Eastern Townships, we hope to reach about 4,000 students. We'll keep a record of how many calls we made and in the fall, the Recruiting and Liaison Office will do an analysis of how effective the calling has been."

In the works are projects that will provide Internet access to alumni, an e-mail directory of graduates, and plans to institute a Town and Gown reception for graduates and their families at the Faculty Club following each convocation.

Although a lot of what she and her staff do is aimed at people outside the campus, Shaughnessy says she wouldn't mind becoming a bit of a fixture again. "Our physical location (Martlet House) tends to isolate us. We're doing some very interesting stuff here for students and for alumni, and it's just not well enough known. We need to develop stronger partnerships with the rest of the campus, expand our volunteer base to include staff. If we're going to promote McGill, we do need to work together."

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