Robert. C. Westbury CM PhD LLD (Hon)
Robert Westbury has made a difference to a great many Albertans through his work to foster caring and vibrant communities. He has had a lasting impact in areas such as the arts and education and has been an ardent advocate of people in need.
Robert C.P. Westbury was born on September 24, 1936 in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Growing up in the Cape Breton steel town presented Bob with numerous challenges. His father joined the navy and was at sea for much of Bob’s early years. His first job, at the age of 14, was tough and dangerous work as a labourer with a local foundry and dry dock. Early on, Bob knew that the town, as it was then, would offer him limited freedom to chart a successful and satisfying course through life.
At the age of 15 however, Bob’s horizons broadened with a move to attend St. Francis Xavier University, a small school in nearby Antigonish that offered a close-knit and enriching environment and presented new possibilities for the young student. In 1957, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English, magna cum laude, and then went on to complete a Bachelor of Education degree the next year. In 1959, Bob reached a truly significant milestone with his marriage to Marilyn Steele, a girl he had known for many years. It was the start of an extraordinarily blessed and enduring partnership.
As soon as they were able, Bob and Marilyn secured teaching positions in British Columbia and left Cape Breton. Bob was teaching school in Rosslyn, BC when he received a Kellogg Fellowship to study at the University of Alberta. The Westburys felt at home in Alberta and Bob reveled in the entrepreneurial spirit of the province. He earned a Graduate Diploma in Administration from the U of A and taught school in Edmonton before going on to complete a Master of Education degree from University of Oregon in 1969. Bob left the classroom in 1970 for a post as director of Curriculum Development with the Edmonton Catholic School System. In 1975, he convocated with a PhD from Florida State University.
By 1976, Bob was ready to leave his position with the school system and was energized by the chance to move out of his comfort zone and try something new. He helped create the SEEDS (Society Environment Energy Development Studies) Foundation which was designed to fill a gap in young Canadians’ understanding of conservation issues. The successful program brought together educators, scientists, environmentalists and business leaders to develop textbooks used by more than 2 million Canadian students. While he was busy building SEEDS, Bob also coached community youth soccer and basketball, raised funds for his church and served as busy dad to his and Marilyn’s active family, which grew over the years to include two children, Marnie and Robbie.
"If you’re a good citizen in your community, chances are you’ll be a good citizen in your city, and chances are you’ll probably be a very good citizen in your country and maybe even globally. To me, giving back starts at home and moves out from there"
Bob’s experiences as an entrepreneur led him to a new post as Vice-President of Public Affairs and Environment for TransAlta Corporation, a position he began in the mid-1980’s. During this period, he also began expanding his focus on giving back. He served as a member and chair of the Citadel Theatre Board, chaired the Capital Region United Way Campaign Cabinet, and helped to develop a highly successful fundraising approach that would generate significant income for Kids Kottage. Bob also offered longstanding volunteer service to Edmonton Northlands that included a term as president during a challenging period in the early 1990’s. When it became clear that the owner of the Oilers hockey club was considering moving the team out of the city, Bob successfully negotiated a contract which included the relocation clause. It was this clause that ultimately kept the Oilers in the city.
While at TransAlta, Bob became a director of Edmonton’s Fringe Theatre Adventures’ Board. At that time, the Fringe offices were located in the dirty and dilapidated Bus Barns. Bob was asked to chair a capital campaign which raised 9.2 million dollars to create the new TransAlta Arts Barns. To acknowledge his work, the Fringe Board named the 375 seat main venue The Westbury Theatre.
In 2002, Bob moved from TransAlta to take on new duties as Vice-President of Corporate Relations for Grant MacEwan College, now Grant MacEwan University. Two years later, he was offered the opportunity to become the first Chair of the Telus Community Board. Bob created, in Edmonton, the prototype for the numerous Boards Telus established across Canada. During his six year tenure in the role, Bob oversaw the distribution of charitable funding of some $3.3 million to strengthen 217 local charitable organizations. In 2010, Bob took on a different role with Telus, as Chief Advisor of Relations and Innovation for the Capital Region.
While serving with Telus, Bob has continued to build on his lengthy résumé of volunteer work. His efforts to foster strong, healthy and promising futures for the province’s youngest citizens include past contributions as chair of the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research, as a council member of Alberta’s Promise, as a director of the Learning Partnership, as chair of the Bell Walk for Kids and as a director of Kids with Cancer. He also worked to encourage healthier, stronger lives for his fellow Albertans through work with the Premier’s Task Force on Crystal Meth, and the Alberta Expert Advisory Council on Health. Other contributions include service with the City of Edmonton Mayor’s Taskforce on Homelessness and the Edmonton Homeless Commission.
Bob’s commitment to building a vibrant and active sense of community has also translated into a long list of further volunteer commitments over the years. This includes his service as chair of the successful 2004 Juno Awards, as a governor of the Edmonton 2004 World Masters Games, as an ambassador of the 2005 Alberta Centennial, as a director of the Telus World of Science Foundation and as a board member of the Canada West Foundation. He has also advised and supported key arts and community organizations, from the Alberta Ballet and CKUA radio to the city’s major post-secondary institutions. He is a past director of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards and served as chair of the Alberta Order of Excellence Council during a period that took programming for the province’s highest honour to new levels.
Bob Westbury has been offered numerous awards over the years. These include the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee Medals, the Alberta Centennial Medal, the Alberta Star of the Millennium Volunteer Award and the Grant MacEwan College Outstanding Citizen Award. He holds an honourary degree from the University of Alberta and has twice been included in Alberta Venture Magazine’s list of the province’s 50 most influential people. In 2011, he was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada.
Bob Westbury’s own assessment of his life to date demonstrates a deep compassion and wonderful sense of spirituality, tempered with a small dose of pragmatism. In fact, he offers two observations on the work of building a better world. First, he shares the belief that “this world is far more than just the bottom line. We need leaders who have a strong moral compass, who have an understanding that you must remember the people you are serving.” He goes on to add that, “passion is probably the most important factor in anyone’s life because if you do something with passion, it truly gets done. Passion is one of humanities most dynamic forces.” Bob Westbury is truly a caring and passionate servant of the greater good who has followed his own moral compass to accomplish great things for Albertans of all walks of life.
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