Campus Life

Bursary to be established in Bob McKay’s honour

During his nearly 40-year career at the University of Lethbridge, Bob McKay was often moved by the tenacity shown by many of his students who had to work at extra jobs to fund their education. After McKay passed away earlier this year, his family decided to honour his memory by establishing a bursary to support students majoring in chemistry or biochemistry who are facing financial adversity.

McKay, who worked as a chemistry instructor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, taught thousands of students over the years.

“One of our frequent conversations was how lucky we both were to have parents who paid for our university education and how difficult it is for university students who have to pay for their university education with little or no support,” says Sandra McKay, Bob’s widow. “Bob was deeply concerned about how hard it is for kids today who have to work more than one job and who have to rely on student loans and bursaries to get through their university education, leaving them with debts that need to be paid once they graduate.”

Sandra had planned on starting a special bursary in his name at the University as a surprise gift for his birthday in April.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t live to enjoy this gift, but I wanted to have him remembered for his love of the University and his care for his students,” she says. “I felt a bursary in his name was the way to achieve this.”

Colleagues in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry describe Bob as someone who consistently displayed a student-centred focus.

Bob was an all-round nice guy,” says Peter Dibble, Chair of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. “In the decades I knew him I don’t think I ever saw him angry about anything. He was funny and affable and could always brighten a room. He looked after the first-year and analytical labs and saw a generation of students go through. Students liked him for the same reasons I did.”

“Bob would be pretty proud of having a bursary set up in his honour to support future generations of students,” says Wayne Lippa, chemistry & biochemistry instructor. “He was a founding member of the department and enjoyed teaching for 37 years. This bursary will continue Bob’s legacy of helping students.”

Bob joined the University when it was in its infancy and located at Lethbridge College, then called Lethbridge Junior College. Setting up the department labs came with its own brand of chaos.

“I am very fortunate to have had Bob as my mentor when I started in January of 1987,” says John Eng, instructor in the department. “Bob shared one of the many stories of the early years of coming into work and flipping through lab manuals with colleagues to pick an experiment to run that afternoon. The lab of the day would precipitate a mad scramble to find necessary equipment and reagents before teaching the lab.”

The result of all that scrambling was the creation of a lab manual that Bob revised year after year throughout his career. He was also a constant champion for students, both in the department and across the University. Eng imagines Bob would feel overwhelmed that a bursary has been established in his honour, but also elated that it will help students who demonstrate financial need.

“Over the many years we have been fishing mates, golf buddies, squash and tennis rivals, billiard sharks, Horns fans, scotch consumers, Freemasons and good friends, and I will dearly miss him,” says Eng.

Bob was also devoted to his community. Following his retirement from the University, he served on the ULethbridge Senate from 2013 to 2019 and was a member and past president of the Lethbridge Shrine Club. In 2016, the club established five bursaries for ULethbridge students in financial need. In addition, he served two terms as president of the Lethbridge YMCA.

A sports enthusiast, Bob played baseball and softball, racquetball, curled, cycled, ran, and was an accomplished squash player who competed nationally.

Organizers hope to raise $25,000, which would fund a minimum student award of $1,000 annually. Once fundraising is complete, the Bob McKay Endowed Memorial Bursary will be established. Those who want to contribute to the bursary can do so online at Bob McKay Endowed Memorial Bursary.