Around Town: U of O gets hip to honour alumni

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From left, actors Lorne Cardinal and Tantoo Cardinal on Friday, May 11, 2012, at the opening night party for King Lear at the National Arts Centre. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

If you’ve never chanted “Go Gee-Gees Go,” you’d have been tempted to do so after attending the University of Ottawa’s inaugural spring alumni weekend party on Saturday at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

The Destination 2012 gala featured performances from such big names as R&B singer Jully Black and French-Canadian crooner Roch Voisine, who’s also an alumnus. He held his first unofficial concerts in Stanton Residence, providing musical relief from the studying.

Former MuchMusic star Erica Ehm, now head of YummyMummyClub.ca, emceed the gala. She also went to U of O, where she studied communications and, in her free time, frequented Barrymore’s Music Hall and worked at a downtown record store.

Nearly 300 guests, including university president Allan Rock, attended the gala. There was a hip vibe to the night, with stunning food and desserts, modern lounging areas and cool lighting and music.

The alumni association honoured several of its members, including one of the country’s top litigators, Sheila Block, a partner at Torys LLP in Toronto. Block, who graduated from U of O’s law school in 1972, received the prestigious Meritas-Tabaret Award.

“I got a great education here,” Block told Around Town.

Other award recipients were entrepreneur Raj Narula for his community service; Public Works deputy minister François Guimont for his commitment to the university; honourary member Marcel Hamelin, the university’s rector from 1990 to 2001; Deepali Kumar for her research into treating transplant patients who contracted the H1N1 flu virus during the pandemic; and Dave Blackburn for his work in the Canadian Forces.

CLIMBING ‘MOUNT LEAR’

As one who’s attended her share of National Arts Centre English Theatre opening night parties, I’ve always looked forward to Peter Hinton’s speeches and the way he can inspire and move a crowd with his eloquent and intimately candid words.

The NAC curtains rose Friday for King Lear, directed by Hinton in his last production as the theatre’s artistic director. It showcases an all-aboriginal cast led by veteran actor August Schellenberg and such other big names as actress Tantoo Cardinal, Corner Gas star Lorne Cardinal and Royal Canadian Air Farce member Craig Lauzon, who grew up in Ottawa.

“They say King Lear is a mountain to climb, and it is; it is a mountain, and it’s been a great, great privilege to climb this mountain with so many of you here in this room,” Hinton said at the post-show hobnob.

Schellenberg took a moment to publicly thank Hinton, calling him “the finest director I’ve ever worked with, bar none.”

Among those to attend the opening were the NAC’s board chair, Julia Foster, Gov. Gen. David Johnston, and media icon Moses Znaimer and his partner, actress Marilyn Lightstone, who are long-time friends with “Auggie” Schellenberg and his wife, actress Joan Karasevich.

‘RESPECTED AND LOVED’

Four dozen front-line nurses swapped their scrubs for formal attire as guests of the Canadian Nurses Foundation’s Second Annual Nightingale Gala, held Wednesday at the Ottawa Convention Centre.

The 48 nurses from The Ottawa Hospital enjoyed a $200-a-plate dinner held in the Trillium Ballroom overlooking the city, courtesy of the hospital’s senior management team and corporate sponsors. Their names were drawn randomly, seeing as how the hospital employs 4,700 nurses.

Present were the hospital’s CEO, Dr. Jack Kitts (he comes from a family of nurses, including his mom, wife and sister) and its chief nursing executive, Ginette Rodger.

Rodger chaired the gala with retired senator and Heart Institute founder Wilbert Keon, who considers nursing the “most respected and loved” profession of all. “I would never have built the Heart Institute without the nurses,” said the retired cardiac surgeon and the head of the Canadian Nurses Foundation (CNF) board.

Among the gala patrons were Shirley Greenberg, Lillian Smith, Shirley Westeinde and Maureen McTeer (who was being honoured that night at a health research dinner across town but her daughter, broadcaster Catherine Clark, was at the nurses’ gala as its emcee).

Research scientist Michel Chrétien was seen chatting with David Hill, founding partner of Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP. Hill was on the CNF board for 15 years. Also present were Canadian Nurses Association CEO Rachel Bard and president Judith Shamian; CNF executive director Hélène Sabourin; and the most famous nurse — Florence Nightingale, played by Royal Ottawa nurse clinician Yvonne Craig.

NDP MP Olivia Chow spoke to the 600-person crowd about the impact nurses have on our lives, sharing her own family’s experience from when her late husband, Jack Layton, battled cancer.

The gala grossed $250,000 for the CNF’s $4-million campaign to fund nursing scholarships and research opportunities.

THE SECRET IS OUT

Someone spilled the beans on the Boys and Girls Club (BGC) of Ottawa; it’s no longer the city’s “best-kept secret.”

A record crowd of 325 packed the Britannia Clubhouse gymnasium Wednesday for the third annual breakfast, raising more than $400,000. Donations included $15,000 from Senator Vern White’s police chief send-off party and a $250,000 cheque marking a multi-year commitment from the family foundation run by Claridge Homes V-P Shawn Malhotra and his wife, Louise Malhotra.

Board member Gary Zed, a senior partner at Ernst & Young, was back to chair the event. It drew philanthropist Michael Potter, Ottawa West-Nepean MP John Baird and new supporters like Hill & Knowlton V-P Darcy Walsh, who’s just joined the BGC board.

Youth participation included a heart-warming video of a girl, Bilan Yassin, singing in her lovely voice the K’naan song Wavin’ Flag at the BGC’s new recording studio. Yassin then stepped onto the stage with a group of her peers to continue singing the song live. Afterward, board president Graham Macmillan gave them all congratulatory fist bumps.

Ottawa’s BGC draws more than 4,000 kids each year. Among its alumni is prominent restaurateur and BGC board member Stephen Beckta. He shared his childhood story of becoming involved with a BGC clubhouse formerly in Centretown after his parents split up. There, he found security and acceptance. He also credited the BGC for helping him to hone his hospitality skills, used on the likes of wine-connoisseur rock band Rush when it recently dined at Beckta restaurant. It was in town for the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards ceremony and gala.

Carolyn001@sympatico.ca

Connect with Caroline Phillips |carolyn001@sympatico.ca