Alumni Honoured for Excellence, Volunteerism, Service

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Four outstanding graduates will be honoured Friday night during the University of Guelph’s Alumni Association Awards of Excellence gala. The annual awards banquet is part of Alumni Weekend, which runs June 21-23.  More than 1,000 alumni are expected to return to campus.

Volunteer Is Master of Organization

Nancy Brown Andison

Nancy Brown Andison admits she has an organizational problem. It’s not that she’s disorganized – far from it. This year’s Alumni Volunteer Award recipient may be organized to a fault.

You would have to be a master of organization to be as active in the community as Brown Andison is. Driven to get involved because of her passion for learning, she says the more she tries to learn, the more organized she has to be to juggle it all.

“There’s so much I love to do and want to support,” says Brown Andison, who has a bachelor of science in agriculture from U of G and an MBA from Queen’s University. She is also a graduate of the chartered director program at McMaster University.

“I tend to be constantly thinking about how to manage things, so I can squeeze in one more organization to contribute to.”

A member of the U of G Board of Governors since 2014, she has served on many committees, including the group that worked on the president’s strategic renewal plan. She has also been heavily involved in the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, Farm Radio International, the Ontario 4-H Foundation and various community arts organizations.

During her distinguished career, which also demands superior organizational skills, she has held senior leadership positions at PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM Canada.

“My eyes are just open to all of the great opportunities that are out there,” says Brown Andison. “I love to learn and I see the opportunity to learn by getting involved with different leadership teams, particularly if it is in an area that I haven’t had experience in, or one where I see that there are accomplished people to work with and from whom I can gain new knowledge and skills.”

She says the people she has worked with and learned from in various organizations have enriched her life.

“There is a great feeling that comes from working with others and seeing things accomplished that are going to benefit society and improve life.”

The epitome of a lifelong learner, Brown Andison constantly searches for ways to be more effective and efficient. She has a talent for setting priorities and focusing on key elements that will make a difference and lead to success.

“But you have to do the homework, too. You have to put in the effort. Things don’t just happen by people wandering through the wilderness, with endless discussions. I’m tough on those things. When I’m leading a group or a team, my expectations are high in terms of the commitment and the preparation that those coming to the team will bring to it.”

She cannot remember a time when she wasn’t filling every spare minute with learning and activity. That tendency has given her “an incredible life,” one filled with accomplishments she never imagined and an ever-expanding network of friends.

“That old expression, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’ was very much part of my upbringing,” she says. “It was always drilled into me by my family. And giving back to the communities that improve life is what it’s all about.”

Brown Andison’s agricultural roots – she was raised in rural Ontario – fuel her love of volunteerism in the agriculture and food sector.

“That is always a big part of my orientation and what I love to support and be a part of. But, I also like the fact that I’ve been able to get involved in so many things beyond that sector. What I’ve really discovered is just how much I can take from each of those different communities and contribute to the other – to cross-pollinate ideas and solutions.”

Her U of G education, she says, was very liberal, with a broad focus that has served her well throughout her career. Among various campus roles, she served as the first woman president of a first-year agricultural class and was elected president of both the Student Federation of OAC and the Central Student Association.

“I was over-involved then, too,” she says with a laugh.

The University of Guelph is a special community with a culture that broadens and enhances education, she says. During her career, she has hired U of G grads and says they have all excelled.

Brown Andison sees great potential for future students in agriculture and agri-food programs. With  four jobs in the industry for each grad, the sector offers great career opportunities in technology, business and innovation, she says. It appears next on her list is to help organize a strategy to attract more students to those programs.

  Grad ‘Glows’ as Cookbook Author, Entrepreneur 

Angela Liddon

Angela Liddon studied psychology at U of G, but the career she ultimately settled on – one she never imagined she would have – is related much more to the foods we eat than how our minds work.

She graduated in 2006 with a bachelor of arts (honours) in psychology and is this year’s Young Alumni Award recipient.

“I’ve always had an interest in healthy eating and nutrition, but beyond that, I had absolutely no idea that I’d be doing what I’m doing today,” she says. “Life sure has some wild twists and turns.”

As a student, including during her master’s degree in social psychology, Liddon struggled with an eating disorder. She has written that despite her success as a student and as a child development researcher, her life was in many ways overshadowed by her own relationship to food. Adopting a plant-based diet changed that relationship and her life.

In the process, she became a leading proponent of a plant-based diet. She chronicled her nutritional journey on a much-followed blog titled Oh She Glows. Based on the blog’s popularity, she was invited by a renowned publisher to write a cookbook, which led to her becoming a bestselling cookbook author and gifted photographer.

“I love a good challenge, and my passion has always been to show people that vegan food doesn’t have to be bland and boring,” says Liddon. “When I started my blog in 2008, there was still a lot of resistance to recipes without animal products, so it’s been really fun to witness the plant-based boom in recent years.”

A front-runner in the food-as-lifestyle movement, she saw her popularity take off as the movement grew. She developed vegan energy bars, making 500 Glo Bars each week in her Glo Bakery and selling them at farmers markets.

“I’ve spoken with so many people who have experienced positive health changes like increased energy, weight loss or decreased inflammation, simply by adding more plant-based foods and recipes to their diet.”

Liddon says the diet is good for the body and especially beneficial to the environment.

“Decreasing our consumption of animal products is said to be the single best way we can reduce our environmental footprint. Now that I’m a mom of two, I’m constantly thinking about the future impact of the choices we are making today and the effect they will have on our children tomorrow.”

She says her psychology studies taught her how to engage in in-depth research and to keep asking questions.

“I took those lessons with me when I started exploring a plant-based diet and I did a lot of research, learning where my food came from. Once I learned about the health, environmental and animal welfare benefits of a plant-based diet, I knew I had to share my journey to try to make some kind of impact.”

By 2010, Liddon had become a top international food blogger. Approached to write a cookbook, she honed her photography skills to illustrate the volume.

The Oh She Glows Cookbook came out in 2014, with more than 100 plant-based recipes, mostly gluten-free. It quickly became a New York Times bestseller and a Chapters/Indigo Book of the Year. The book has been translated into several languages.

Two years later, Oh She Glows Every Day also become a New York Times bestseller. Together, her cookbooks have sold more than one million copies.

“The path to your dream career isn’t always linear,” says Liddon.

Early in her undergraduate program, she attempted to transfer into applied human nutrition but wasn’t accepted.

“I was pretty crushed. In my heart, I knew that I wanted to be working with healthy food someway, somehow. This experience taught me there will be roadblocks and detours along my career path. I eventually found a way to be working with food and sharing my passion for healthy living.”

Duo with Deep U of G Roots 

Tony and Anne Arrell

Tony and Anne Arrell’s philanthropy is rooted in relationships, in the special connections they have with people and organizations and the desire to help others succeed. Long-time supporters and generous donors to the University of Guelph, they have a deep connection to U of G that extends over several decades, for as long as they’ve been a couple. They are this year’s recipients of the Alumni of Honour Award.

“I really believe in backing people,” says Tony. “Individuals make all the difference. And we try to focus what we’re doing on causes that are really important and where we can help in a big way.”

Tony and Anne met in the late ’60s while attending U of G. He graduated in 1967 with a bachelor of science; she earned a bachelor of household science in 1968.

“Those were four very significant years,” Anne says of her time at U of G. “We’ve spent a lot of time there and made a lot of good friends. It just remained an important foundation to our life.”

Those significant years planted a seed of devotion to the University that grew and flourished in later years.

“Later in life, when we were in a position to spend more time volunteering, getting involved in philanthropy and being on boards, U of G seemed like a good place for us to do it,” Tony says.

The University population was much smaller in the ’60s than today and it was easy to be a part of a wide circle of friends. Both have enduring bonds of friendship and camaraderie with members of their graduating cohort.

The Arrells are perhaps most noted for their extraordinary $20-million contribution to establish the Arrell Food Institute, which aims to help people eat better and further strengthen U of G and Canada as agri-food leaders. But their volunteerism with the University goes well beyond that, and their support of numerous not-for-profit organizations over the years is a testament to their generosity and commitment to foster better communities.

Trained as an investment analyst, Tony started Burgundy Asset Management, one of Canada’s leading investment firms, in 1992 and now serves as the firm’s chair. Anne taught high school as well as supporting Burgundy. The Arrells, who raised four children, have a cow-calf farming operation in Creemore in southern Ontario.

“Before we did the Arrell Food Institute, we helped to sponsor students,” says Anne, referring to the Arrell Scholarship program. “We met the students, got to know them and had a bit of a relationship with them.”

The Arrells believe that of all the things that can be done in life, there is nothing more important than helping someone get a good education.

“I hope our contributions have a big impact on their lives and help them become successful,” Tony says.

Helping someone get established early contributes to that person’s long-term happiness and success, they say.

“One of the most meaningful things has been to have that immediate impact on the lives of students,” says Tony. “We have found with philanthropy generally that it’s much more meaningful to connect with individual people than it is writing cheques to big institutions and having sort of a faceless relationship.”

Helping others, Anne says, has a ripple effect.

“We found that when you give someone a leg up and help them out, they have the attitude that, when they get in the same position, they would like to be able to assist someone themselves.”

The Arrells consider themselves to be incredibly fortunate people and they believe deeply in sharing that good fortune with others.

“Adversity makes you appreciate the good times when they come,” Anne says. “My father died when I was young. My mother went back to work and we didn’t have much money. We worked hard to pay for our university education. We’ve worked hard but we’ve also been lucky. And we enjoy giving back.”

Tony also grew up in a modest home. His mother, a social worker, instilled in him early that those with the means to do so should help others and help develop a more civil society.

His good fortune began at U of G. He was studying science but became interested in economics and business in his third year, inspired by business professor Bill Braithwaite. Tony opened his first investment account while a third-year student.

“I was very lucky to get into a field that I was good at and could really do well financially in. We worked very hard, but we have also been very lucky.”

That success is now benefiting a great many students and researchers at U of G, while advancing innovation in agri-food. U of G helped them succeed: now they are returning the favour.