N.B.: The detail displayed about each honorary degree recipient varies, as
the database was compiled from a variety of sources. However, more information may
be available at the University Archives.
Convocation date: October 24, 1998
Discipline / contribution: university administration ; community service
Citation / biographical information:
Eminent Chancellor, on behalf of the Senate, I present to you Blaine Adrian Holmlund.Degree received: Doctor of Laws
Blaine Holmlund was born in Strongfield, Saskatchewan in 1930. As a teenage boy, he hung out at Norrish's Garage and Implements in Strongfield, listening to talk about the war, farming, and returning veterans, as well as learning the mechanics of fixing cars, trucks and farm equipment. For seven years as a young adult, he was a relief station agent and telegraph operator for the CPR in Moose Jaw, paying his way through the University of Saskatchewan.
In 1955 Blaine received his Bachelor of Engineering with Great Distinction. Following convocation, Blaine and Patricia Peardon married. They moved to Calgary, where Blaine worked for one year as a Development Engineer at Shell Oil. In 1956, the young couple returned to Saskatoon, where Blaine was appointed Lecturer in Electrical Engineering at the UofS. With one year out for work at the Saskatchewan Power Corporation, this appointment was the start of what was to be a continuous, significant academic and administrative career at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1961 he received an M.A. in Electrical Engineering from the U of S. In 1961, Blaine was appointed Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Biomedical Engineering Program, a new and collaborative undertaking by the Colleges of Engineering and Medicine.
In 1965 he was promoted to Associate Professor. From 1966-1968, he was the Director of the Hospital Systems Study Group which provided consultative services to Saskatchewan hospitals in operations research, management engineering, computer systems, and nursing organization. In 1967 he undertook graduate studies in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin, but was recalled to the U of S to establish and become the first Head of the Department of Computational Science, offering undergraduate programs as well as graduate studies and research programs for students in Arts and Science, Commerce, and Engineering. He held this position for seven years, years which he and many students remember with excitement and fondness when professors and students learned together in the emerging field of computers. Blaine was promoted to professor in 1970.
Blaine's ability to discern and meet new challenges and his talent for administrative matters were recognized early on. From the headship in Computational Science, he was next appointed in l974 as Director of the newly formed University Studies Group, an institutional research unit designed to evaluate, review, forecast, and develop policy and analytical studies for senior management. The changes and growth following WWH, accelerated in the 1960s and early 1970's, resulted in a much larger and more complex University which needed new tools for analysis. After six years as Director of USG, Blaine was asked to serve as Vice-President where he remained through the decade of the 80's, first as Vice-president Special Projects and then in 1985 as Vice- president Planning and Development. In these two positions Blaine was responsible for new programs, for their review, and for the planning of short and longer term programs as well as for developments. In June 1989, the U of S Board of Governors named him Acting President until President George Ivany took office in November. Blaine gave the President's address at Fall Convocation that year on environmental issues, expressing his hope that the environment might draw us together in common cause and common humanity. At the request of Chief Roland Crow, Blaine was named in November 1989 Acting President of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College on whose Board Blaine had served since 1982. He served as acting president of SIFC until Dr. Eber Hampton was named President in June 1991. In June 1992, after 35 years of service, Blaine Holmlund took early retirement from the University of Saskatchewan.
Blaine has authored or co-authored 43 papers and major reports. He has served on sixteen external committees and boards. He served as Chair of the newly formed Ag-West Biotech when the decision was made to hire a full-time Director. This decision had much to do with the rapid growth of the biotechnology sector at Innovation Place. He was the Director of Issues and Options, a University of Saskatchewan renewal project.
Since retirement from the University of Saskatchewan, Blaine has played a major role in Habitat for Humanity, Saskatoon. He brings to that organization his engineering background, his extensive administrative experience, his capacity for physical work, and care for others. It helps that he is also handy with a hammer and has an infectious smile. Blaine has continued to work with SIFC and other groups on access programs to attract First Nations' young people into the sciences – from medicine to engineering.
Blaine and Pat have two adult sons, James and Kim, and two adult daughters, Cheryl and Mona, and five grandchildren.
I want to speak briefly about some of the personal qualities that infuse this somewhat abstract account of the "facts" of Blaine's many achievements. As Vice-President of the University of Saskatchewan, Blaine's door was always open. Whoever came through the door and with whatever concerns, Blaine saw people not their problems. He listened. He gave the University a human face and heart, no matter how big the University got or how stretched it was for resources. Blaine saw good in others. He encouraged their efforts, beyond their own perceived limits. He made them feel special and gave them hope. Many of us have been the beneficiaries of a visit to his office. Blaine Holmlund is a person of compassion.
Blaine is hard working. His day began around 5:00 AM. He would read the StarPhoenix to find out what was being said about his University that day. Somewhere in here he began doing letters and reports on his Mac. During the period of Issues and Options he held many breakfast meetings at 7:00 AM, bringing together faculty from across the University, members of the business and professional communities, and students. Days were filled with endless meetings. When no one else wanted to see him, he drove his older model BMW out of the parking lot to go home, often late in the evening.
Blaine is inquisitive and innovative. He seemed to have a nose for new things and the need for new solutions. He had the knack of asking the obvious question which had occurred to no one else. The work he did in the 1960s in Biomedical Engineering provided early foundations for by-pass surgery. He took up the challenge of computational science when most of us had not even heard of bytes or CPUs. Information Technology brought together many previously separate areas and Biotechnology was given a foothold for its significant growth. As Vice-president of Special Projects and of Planning and Development, Blaine sought, in times of constrained budgets, ways that new ideas could grow without being crushed before their potential could be gauged. Yet for Blaine technology had to serve human need and society, not control our lives. He worried about the devastating effects of our technological and consumer society on the natural environment.
Blaine saw the University of Saskatchewan as the people's university. He believed it had been established at great sacrifice and generosity by early immigrants for their children, for their grandchildren, and for generations to come. For him, the University of Saskatchewan's first mandate was to serve the people of Saskatchewan. Blaine worried about access, about the direct and indirect ways in which the young and not so young stumbled over obstacles to university admission. Blaine continually asked how our University could prepare young people for a rapidly changing world. He worried about employment opportunities for our graduates.
Although it is many years from the teenage mechanic at Norrish's Garage in Strongfield and the part-time telegrapher at the CPR station in Moose Jaw to 1992 when the academic and administrator retired from the University of Saskatchewan, in all the intervening years Blaine did not forget his rural roots and the people who nourished those early years. Transportation and telecommunications have transformed and shrunk our world into a global village as Marshall McLuhan observed thirty years ago. Many of those changes and their forerunners have taken place in fields in which Blaine Holmlund, his associates and his students worked at the University of Saskatchewan.
Although we can still see the teenager's twinkle in Blaine's eye and the young man's fascination with technology, the elder with us today is wise in the ways of humans, their institutions and their tools. He still insists that institutions and tools should serve people, their legitimate needs, and our society. How can we ensure the capacity of our institutions and our tools to bring about a more just and humane world? Blaine Holmlund has given his life to finding and contributing positive answers to that question.
The degree I will be asking our Chancellor to confer is described as an honorary doctorate, "honoris causa" - for the cause or sake of honour. In honouring Blaine Holmlund this morning, we at the University of Saskatchewan are honoured. Few symbolize the spirit, promise, hopes and achievements of the University of Saskatchewan as much as does Blaine Holmlund.
Eminent Chancellor, I present to you Blaine Holmlund, and ask that you will confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.
Degree presented by: John Thompson
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