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Remembering Tom Brzustowski

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Guest blog by Paul Dufour, Adjunct Professor at University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy and Principal of PaulicyWorks

Canada lost a remarkable science and innovation statesman on June 19.

I first met Tom Brzustowski in the late 80s during his leadership with the Ontario Premier's Council and its work on competing in the new global economy. We were to cross paths in other places as well.

Tom was an institution-builder, and some of his engineering handiwork was to be found:

  • steering the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) from the mid-90s through to 2005;
  • supporting Genome Canada's launch in 2000 and joining its inaugural Board of Directors; and
  • being a keen activist behind what was to become the Council of Canadian Academies.

Ever the doodler, I still have a souvenir from Tom's pen showing Sisyphus rolling the large boulder of a proposed Canadian Academy of Sciences up the hill with a notation from the working group to the then science minister in 2001, that reads: “you have our full support, we’re right behind you, keep it up, -- please.”

Humour aside, he was also a man of action. Tom wrote and spoke extensively on the need to create a supportive science, engineering and innovation culture in this country. He firmly believed in the importance of higher education and in using educational resources to help develop people with entrepreneurial, business and technical skills. He practiced this fulsomely as RBC Chair in the commercialization of innovation at University of Ottawa`s Telfer School of Business after leaving NSERC. His work led him to become an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and of the Royal Society of Canada.

His books on why we need more innovation in Canada and the way ahead are a must-read for those trying to create an innovative, knowledge-based Canada – his ideas ring especially true in the crisis in which we now find ourselves.

But it was his human touch that defined Tom. A great listener who exercised both patience and passion, Tom came with a soft-spoken personality and an understated sense of humour. 

He was a gentleman and treated everyone with respect.

We are thankful for Tom's extraordinary contributions to growing this country`s research and knowledge enterprise while helping to seed and train our next generation talent pool. He will be sorely missed.

With heartfelt condolences to all of Tom's family.