Honouring Barry McBride

Friends and colleagues,

One day last year at home, I could hear my son Joseph shouting in his bedroom. Go McBride Go!Go McBride Go! Surprised I went to check. He was playing a computer game where the main character’s name was Barry. I realized then how much McBride had been a major element of my family’s life over the last 10 years.

We are here tonight to celebrate one of the many legacies of Barry. His defining role in the remarkable development of the mathematical sciences in Canada and its impact around the world, during the last decade. We will hear about Barry’s unwavering support during the creation of PIMS, the MITACS Network, and the Banff Station (BIRS). About his role in the emergence of UBC’s mathematical science community to a position of worldwide prominence, and what a success story this have been. As far as I am concerned, and no one is better positioned than me on this: without McBride, none of these initiatives would have happened. Period

But let me tell you the story behind the story

Someone asked me one day, how one gets an operation like PIMS off the ground. I said: Well you go to the provincial government and claim that McBride is your Irish uncle, you go to Ottawa and claim that he is your godfather (french) and whatever you want from UBC, you claim it in the name of McBride. Tonight, I stand here to confess and apologize to financial services, research services, the UILO, the legal dept, ceremonies, plant operations, physical plant, every dean, every associate VP and every department head at UBC. I confess that Barry McBride is not my first cousin.

Our story with McBride goes beyond the usual relationship with an administrator regarding a specific project. The events were intense. The vision was daring. The resistance was forceful. The outlook was bleak. McBride’s constituency flirted with recklessness…but he kept the faith and stuck with us. These were unforgivable moments of steadfastness, courage, stamina, learning, and character building, that would forever shape our relationship with our Dean and later our provost.

He believed in us from day one (back in 1995) when we had nothing to offer but conviction and passion. Looking back at our early amateurish effort, makes me wonder whether I would have been supportive of such a movement, had I been a Dean. Barry chose to support our mission when he had to make the hard choices (through a tough period of budget cuts). But the way he’d done it, is what remains in our psyche: generous in his encouragment, gentle in his guidance, kind but firm in his judgment . A masterful combination of mentoring and leadership.

Barry stood by our effort when we were stumbling, and kept our hopes alive when we were fighting the odds. Stumble we did, but when most of his colleagues in senior management (everywhere in the country) were ready to write us off, he stood by us –not necessarily to condone our acts– but to protect our right to advocate, and to contribute to Canada’s future….

Well, since this event is not being videotaped, I can share with you that we were only trying to drag NSERC and others into the 21st century. For that, we were using an early version of shock and awe on Ottawa’s bureaucrats who didn’t see the storm of change and innovation coming. We were vulnerable, sometimes unsure and getting it from everywhere. Barry stood tall by us. This we never forgot and will not be forgotten.

Barry –and Barbara– also stood proud of our community in the moments of triumph: PIMS’ successes at NSERC’s reallocation exercise, the Canada-China initiative, the MITACS launch, the Banff inauguration, and so many glorious events.

We are here tonight because Barry McBride is …….a good guy. As I was thinking about what to say, reviewing all my encounters and dealings with him over the last 10 years, one theme, one type of souvenirs kept recurring:

Nassif: If you want bankers for the PIMS Board, go talk to Goldberg, he is a good guy you know. Let me introduce you to Hugh Morris, he is a good guy and will make a great chair of the Board. Let’s go downtown to see John Waterhouse and settle the issue with SFU: he is a good guy you know. Talk to Indira about NSERC, she is as good as it gets. I invited Derek and Neil to our meetings, they are good guys.
McBride’s world is a world of good guys, all waiting for the opportunity to achieve their great potential. He is wrong of course, but what a great mindset for an academic leader and to me McBride was the best of the best of the good guys.

He cared: You see, The first time I was solicited for a senior admin job (about 5 years ago), I was of course surprised because well…I didn’t know anything about that stuff. So, I asked Barry about it…and to my big surprise, I received quite a long and thoughtful e-mail from a very busy provost.

I would like to share a few paragraphs from it…

(Barry) I will point out the following:

1. You will be giving up your research career, I cannot imagine that you will have the luxury of devoting enough time to your mathematics to remain competitive at a high level.

2. I think that you will be surprised at how much time ends up devoted to difficult, self-centered personal issues. What I am trying to say is that you must show tremendous patience if you are to make it through the many minefields that exist within any university.

3. Things develop slower than you will be comfortable with, you must have the patience to work within the constraints of a system that is inherently constrained by the collegial governance system.

4. On the positive side you have the opportunity to put your ideas to the test and to push your strong commitment to excellence.

Nassif, I would be happy to share a beer and discuss this.

This is typical McBride: Generous, Caring, Clear-headed, Religious about his commitment to excellence, frighteningly perceptive of people’s character, and always ready to go for a beer with the little guy.

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