By: Elizabeth MacDonald
Rod MacLennan is the first living Dalhousie alum to reach 50 years of consistent giving to his alma mater. To recognize loyal Dal donors like him, the university launched the MacLennan Society.
Rod MacLennan (BSc’60, LLD’98) recalls the moment well. It was after his first year at Dalhousie and the freshman student’s strong marks had earned him a modest scholarship.
When the Truro native shared the news with his parents, MacLennan’s father said, “Look, there are students who could use the money more than you. Ask Dalhousie to enter the scholarship on your academic record, but donate the money back so someone else can benefit.”
The young MacLennan did exactly that. Thus, began a 50-year legacy of giving to Dalhousie University. And he never could have imagined all these years later his alma mater would establish a society in his name – one which recognizes the university’s most loyal donors.
The MacLennan Society: Honouring loyalty
MacLennan holds the honour of being the first alumnus to have contributed for 50 consecutive years to the university – a distinction that surprises the modest donor and volunteer leader. “The idea of continuity never entered my mind,” says MacLennan. “Supporting my alma mater was just something I did every year.”
The MacLennan Society, introduced during Dalhousie’s annual donor recognition event on November 7, 2017, celebrates dedicated donors at all levels who, like MacLennan himself, consistently help Dalhousie do what it does best: offer a stellar education to all.
MacLennan’s loyalty and steadfast support of Dal is an inspiring story of support and the impact those who choose Dalhousie play in the role of the university.
Following a family tradition
His father’s early lesson in giving back ignited a passion for philanthropy and community building that defined Rod MacLennan’s life. Over the years, he generously shared his time and talent with a host of local and national organizations, including his own family foundation and Scouts Canada. In 2005 he received membership in the Order of Canada for a wide variety of his philanthropic work.
But few causes were as close to his heart as Dalhousie.
“I come from a proud Dal family going back three generations,” says MacLennan. “My father and two of his sisters graduated in the 1920s. In fact, his sister Electa founded the School of Nursing, and our family established a bursary in her name. My father always supported the annual fund, and I started donating in the mid-sixties after I returned to Nova Scotia.” And he never stopped.
While MacLennan contributed regularly to annual funds and supported capital campaigns, he never forgot the impact of that first gift. “Many of our students need financial help in order to pursue their Dal education,” he explains. “So I decided to establish bursaries.”
In honour of his parents, Charles and Mary – both of whom loved the arts – MacLennan endowed four bursaries in perpetuity: two in theatre, two in music, valued at $2,500. Every year, he makes a point of meeting the recipients. “Besides being strong academically, they’re committed to creating a career in the arts,” explains MacLennan. “Seeing these students succeed inspires me to continue doing what I’m doing.”
To mark the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Dal, MacLennan established a fifth bursary, this one in molecular biology and ocean science. The science grad chose to honour two outstanding professors: Ronald Hays, who brought ocean science to the university in the ‘60s and established the graduate program, and Dixie Pelluet, a much-beloved biology professor.
“I wanted to ensure their names and legacies lived on at Dalhousie,” says MacLennan.
Driving medical innovation
In 2000, MacLennan brought his highly-regarded leadership skills to the board of the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation (DMRF). For the next 12 years—several of them as vice-chair—he combined his love of science with his passion for making a difference. “How can you not be impressed with the life-changing discoveries in cancer treatment? The insights into tackling dementia, generated through the Brain Bank? Or the Cell Restoration Laboratory’s breakthrough work in brain repair?” asks MacLennan. “All this innovation, and so much more, is happening right here at Dalhousie, thanks to the DMRF. And that makes me proud.”
As Dalhousie looks towards its third century, MacLennan is looking back over his half-century of giving to Dal. And what stands out for Rod MacLennan? “Without question, it would be the endowed bursaries. For me, giving back is just something you should do, if you can. Fortunately, I was able to, so I did—happily.”