An inspiring legacy: In memory of Chancellor Emeritus Mel Hawkrigg

A smiling Mel Hawkrigg in 2012

A McMaster graduate and three-term chancellor, Melvin "Mel" Hawkrigg was a lifelong advocate for students and supported their success as a leader, donor and mentor.

Melvin “Mel” Hawkrigg, the McMaster alumnus who served three terms as the university’s chancellor, has died at the age of 93.

“This is a tremendously sad day for McMaster,” said McMaster President David Farrar.

“Mel Hawkrigg was an extraordinary alumnus who dedicated himself to being an advocate, supporter, role model and welcoming mentor to countless McMaster students.”

Hawkrigg served a remarkable three terms as McMaster’s chancellor. From 1998 to 2007, he presided over nearly 100 convocation ceremonies and conferred more than 37,000 degrees.

His devotion to McMaster’s students in particular was readily apparent as he and his wife Marilyn (affectionately known to the McMaster community as the “co-chancellor”) attended events and meetings almost daily throughout his tenure.

Mel and Marilyn Hawkrigg wearing McMaster hats
Mel and Marilyn Hawkrigg

Their joint enthusiasm for the chancellor’s role reflected the strength and depth of the McMaster ties in the Hawkrigg family where all five of their children are McMaster graduates.

“Mel Hawkrigg was always self-deprecating in the way he talked about his own accomplishments and impact, but the McMaster community has deep respect for his achievements and influence as an executive, community volunteer, donor and McMaster leader,” said Farrar.

“He and Marilyn made McMaster a better, kinder place while always encouraging our community to strive for excellence. Many of us at the university will long be inspired by the example he set.”

A lifetime of service

A star high-school athlete in Etobicoke, Hawkrigg earned varsity letters at McMaster in hockey, basketball and track while also becoming one of the all-time Marauder greats in football.

A black and white headshot of a young man in a suit and tie.
Mel Hawkrigg at graduation.

After graduating in 1952 with his BA in political economy, he began a career in accounting with Ernst & Young while also playing one season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

In 1959, Hawkrigg joined the Fuller Brush Company as its president, serving in that capacity until 1972 when he moved to the financial sector as vice-chairman of Canada Trust. He became senior vice-president with Brascan in 1981, then moved to Trilon Financial Corporation as president, CEO and then chairman.

Hawkrigg nominally retired in 1994, but remained involved with Trilon as chairman of London Life Insurance Company and London Life Insurance Group.

He would subsequently hold long-tenured chairmanships with both the Hamilton Port Authority and Orlick Industries, where he worked closely with company owner and McMaster philanthropist David Braley.

Hawkrigg was a dedicated volunteer throughout his life: He was the chairman of Junior Achievement Canada and of the Canadian Business Hall of Fame. He served as president of the Home and School Association and also co-chaired the national fundraising campaign for the Canadian Association for Community Living.

He chaired the campaign that brought the YMCA to Waterdown and he was the founder, president and co-owner of the Flamborough Colts Junior C hockey club and a long-time president of the Waterdown Baseball Association.

Many of Hawkrigg’s highest-profile volunteer roles were with McMaster. He served on the Board of Governors in the 1980s and was a founding member of the President’s Club Executive. He was a member of the University Advancement Committee and a fundraiser with the M Club, the Friends of Football and the campaign cabinet for the Changing Tomorrow Today Campaign.

A large family, and seated at the centre is Mel Hawkrigg in McMaster's Chancellor's robes.
Chancellor Mel Hawkrigg, “co-chancellor” Marilyn Hawkrigg, and their family.

As a donor, Hawkrigg made significant gifts in support of priorities including the McMaster University Student Centre, the Hawkrigg Family Scholarship, the Hawkrigg Family Bursary and multiple programs in athletics.

In 1982, Hawkrigg was inducted into the McMaster Alumni Gallery as a charter member. He subsequently received the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award, the McMaster Students Union Alumni Association’s Lifetime Leadership Award and was named to the University’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

He is a member of the McMaster Marauders Football Team of the Century and, in 1997, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the university.

Beyond McMaster, Hawkrigg was enshrined in the Etobicoke Sports Hall of Fame and named as a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. A member of both the Etobicoke Gallery of Distinction and the Hamilton Gallery of Distinction, he received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee medals, and in 1999, received the Lester B. “Mike” Pearson Award from what was then called the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union.

Hawkrigg is survived by his wife and “co-chancellor” Marilyn and their five McMaster alumni children: Jane, Michael, Mary Ann, Peter, and John.

Click here for Chancellor Emeritus Mel Hawkrigg’s official obituary. 

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