Campus Life

Outstanding in her field

In a career that has spanned almost four decades, Dr. Shirley McClellan (LLD '10) says that there hasn't been a single day that she didn't want to go to work.

"There have been a few days when I got to work I wanted to turn right back around," says McClellan with a laugh, "but there's never been a morning when I wasn't looking forward to going in."

McClellan is best known for her 20-year service as an Alberta MLA, but her curriculum vitae gained another important accolade earlier this year when she was appointed the 12th chancellor of the University of Lethbridge. McClellan's ties to the University go back many years, but she was an advocate for education long before the U of L was on her personal or professional radar.

Shirley McClellan
A huge baseball fan, Shirley McClellan helped establish the Prairie Baseball Academy.

Born in Hanna, Alta., in 1942, McClellan grew up in a politically and educationally active family. Her father was mayor and chairman of the town's school board for many years.

"I was raised with the belief that, as citizens, we should be interested and involved in our communities," says McClellan. "Contributing and making your town a better place to live wasn't anything unusual or extraordinary, it was just what you did."

McClellan has been a proponent of higher education for many years. Her first foray into the field of educational advancement took place while living on a farm in the New Brigden area, just west of the Saskatchewan border. McClellan had volunteered in the community in a variety of ways for years, and eventually was asked to be the co-ordinator of further education for the area.

"I was told it would be a six-month commitment, but I ended up doing the job for 12 years," says McClellan. "Rural areas were struggling to keep professionals because of a lack of opportunities to upgrade their credentials. The thinking was that if we offered programming in these areas, professionals wouldn't leave communities that needed them."

During her time as the further-education co-ordinator, McClellan was invited to sit on the board of directors of the Big Country Education Consortium headquartered in Drumheller, as well as serving on the Minister's Advisory Committees for Further Education and College Affairs. This work led to the creation of distance-delivery credit programs available to rural residents and professionals through Olds College, SAIT, the University of Calgary, Lethbridge College, Medicine Hat College, as well as the U of L.

"That was when I developed a keen interest in further education," says McClellan. "It became clear to me that the key to Alberta's success was a well-rounded and well-educated workforce. Lifelong learning isn't just a buzzword for me. People should never stop learning. Young people today may have three or four careers in their lifetime. We need an education system that accommodates that."

McClellan's political career officially began in 1987 when she was elected to the Alberta legislature. She served six consecutive terms for the Drumheller-Stettler constituency, holding a diverse portfolio of ministerial offices including associate minister of agriculture, minister of rural development, minister of health, and minister of community development, to name just a few. She also served as deputy premier and finance minister during her tenure. Ironically, McClellan took over the riding somewhat by happenstance. She was an active member of the constituency when the existing MLA unexpectedly passed away. Having served as president, campaign manager and regional director for the party, McClellan was selected as a possible successor.

"A lot of people came to me and said that I'd be a good choice to take over, so I let my name stand in the byelection," says McClellan.

"I never imagined that decision would lead to 20 years in office, but I don't regret a minute of it. Serving as an MLA was a great honour and a fantastic experience. I'd been involved in political circles for years, but this was something much larger. I remember the day I was sworn in; the realization hit me that I had a heavy responsibility bestowed upon me."

McClellan accomplished much during her two decades in office, but is particularly proud of her involvement with the Prairie Baseball Academy program at Lethbridge College and the U of L. Founded in 1995, the Academy met a need that McClellan and many other Albertans identified in the education system.

"There wasn't an academic baseball program anywhere in the country at the time," says McClellan. "If our young people wanted a career in baseball, they had to go to a U.S. college. We wanted to offer kids a way to pursue their dreams in Canada."

As a huge baseball fan, and a parent and grandparent of very involved players, McClellan was 100 per cent behind the development of the Academy, and worked closely with former Lethbridge MLA Clint Dunford to get it off the ground. McClellan opened a baseball game in July 1995 between the Canadian national team and the Oyen Pronghorns with a cheque for the newly established Prairie Baseball Academy in the amount of $25,000, donated by the Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation.

With politics behind her, McClellan is now focused on her role as chancellor at the U of L, which she will hold for four years. Education is one passion that she continues to pursue, but McClellan is also involved in a second interest she holds close to her heart: she became the CEO of Horse Racing Alberta on June 1.

"I love everything to do with horses," confesses McClellan. "Aside from the fact that they're beautiful animals, horses are a big part of the Alberta economy. We have the most complete horsing industry in Canada. It's a great part of our provincial heritage, and I just admire the people in the industry a great deal."

McClellan participated in developing legislation for the Horse Racing Alberta Renewal Initiative as minister of agriculture while in government.

True to her rural roots, McClellan lives and farms near New Brigden with her husband Lloyd, their son Mick, daughter Tami (BEd '89) and her husband Jeff, and four energetic grandchildren. Ask her the secret to achieving lifelong career satisfaction, and McClellan responds in signature style – shooting straight from the hip.

"I've made a living doing a bunch of things that I love to do," she says. "Isn't that the best way to live? You should believe in what you do, and feel good about it. If you do, everyday is a good day and you do a much better job overall."

This story first appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of SAM. For a full look at SAM in a flipbook format, follow this link.