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Shoulders to the wheel

Former president of the University of Northern British Columbia, Charles Jago was born in St. Catharines, Ont. in 1943. He married Mary McDonagh in 1966.

Former president of the University of Northern British Columbia, Charles Jago was born in St. Catharines, Ont. in 1943. He married Mary McDonagh in 1966. He actually knew Mary in high school and they both laughed and said, "We knew each other during our high school years and didn't really like one another."

Here is how it unfolded. A friend of both Charles and Mary set them up on a date. Charles replied that he knew her from school, she didn't seem like his type but that he would agree to the date. Mary also agreed to the date, thinking she would not have a good time but that she would do it for her friend. Both Charles and Mary agreed that the evening went off without a hitch and they really enjoyed each other's company. The date was the beginning of a beautiful 53 years of marriage.

Mary was born in Welland, Ont. in 1943. After high school, she earned a diploma in nursing at St. Joseph's Hospital School of Nursing in Toronto, attended McMaster University in Hamilton, and completed a diploma in enterostomal therapy from the Cleveland Clinic in 1985. An enterostomal therapist is a specialist nurse trained in the area of ostomy, wound and incontinence management.

She had a wide range of experience within her nursing specialty that included hospital and community nursing, teaching at the Mohawk Community College in Hamilton, Ont., research and related administrative experience. She gave a series of lectures to nurses and surgeons, was a guest speaker at major conferences and published articles in the Canadian Association of Enterostomal Therapy Journal.

Prior to 1985, she worked as a medical/surgical, orthopedic and pediatric nurse as well as a supervisor in charge of a facility for severely mentally handicapped children. Just before moving to Prince George, she worked as a case manager for the Middlesex London Home Care Program in London, Ont.

Charles obtained a Bachelor of Arts in honors English and history from Western University. He was the gold medalist from Huron College and the recipient of a Commonwealth scholarship for graduate studies in Britain. He graduated with a PhD in history from Cambridge University in 1969.

He held his first academic position at Georgian College of Applied Arts and Technology in 1969, and joined the Department of History at McMaster University in 1970 attaining the rank of professor in 1987. He chaired the McMaster Board/Senate Committee on long range planning from 1978-81 and the Department of History from 1982-87.

In 1987, Charles was appointed Principal of Huron University College at Western University thereby returning to his alma mater.

His next big advancement would be serving as president of the University of Northern British Columbia, an exciting new university taking shape in Prince George, a university he knew about through the long-term friendship that Mary and Charles had developed with Iona Campagnolo earlier in their McMaster years. In 1995, she informed him that UNBC was seeking a president. His name went forward and the appointment was made.

Campagnolo was the founding chancellor of UNBC and served in the position from 1992-98. Jago could not have had a better friend and mentor to introduce him to northern B.C. She received an honorary degree from UNBC in 1999.

Charles became the second president of UNBC and, in the process, Mary became a university president's wife. She learned her new role from her experience at Huron College and from the other university president wives involved with the Association of University and Colleges of Canada. She was told that she had to mentally prepare for the role and that it was a husband and wife job. The ladies laid out all the rules and expectations of a successful president's wife. There were traditions of how to dress, how to present one's self, how to entertain, when to entertain and basically never to go out in public with out being coiffed, manicured and well-dressed.

Charles began his presidency in October 1995 by driving across country to their new home. Within two weeks of their arrival, they headed to the Nass Valley to attend a pole raising event.

Mary said, "That was my introduction to the Nisga'a Nation and the culture of First Nations people. We had to cross a river on a rope bridge for the ceremony celebrating the opening of their new bridge. It was all so totally amazing and I loved it.

"When we settled in our home in Prince George, Linda Steadman (wife of Tom, the Canadian Tire owner) and I eventually took up the equestrian sport of dressage. I am still learning. I am now the owner of a Haflinger pony for driving and a Trakhehner gelding for dressage. At age 76, they fulfill my need for physical and mental challenge".

As the UNBC president's wife, as Charles explains, "Mary did her own catering and in fact, at one convocation, served a baked salmon that I caught on a fishing trip She catered extensively for social gatherings at our home, including university athletes, graduates, scholarship winners, community leaders, the Board of Governors, faculty and staff and many dignitaries. She studied and learned all the protocols for each event. I am proud to say that she was the university's welcoming presence in our home and did many great things behind the scenes. She was poised and professional through it all".

It all sounds easy but it wasn't always easy for Mary. As Charles says, "I was away from home nearly every weeknight and most weekends. At the age of 52, she had to leave her profession, family and friends for a job of my choosing many miles away. We can still laugh and say that when our kids grew up, we left home."

Charles and Mary have three sons: Charles David, a lawyer in New Westminster, Johnathon Noel, an osteopath in Barrie, Ont., and Christopher Paul, an exploration geologist at the Mount Milligan Mine northwest of Prince George. They have four grandchildren: Charles JiWon, Hunter, Pia and Jules.

"We are proud of them all, including daughters-in-law Eun Hye, Aidyl and Maria."

During his presidency, Charles led major campus expansions in terms of academic programs, enrolments, endowments and new buildings. It was his foresight that enabled significant growth of the university, both in Prince George and other regions of northern B.C. Charles always saw UNBC as belonging to all the people of the north.

Among his major achievements were the creation of the UBC Northern Medical Program at UNBC and the planning and construction of the Northern Sports Centre, subsequently named in his honour. The university more than doubled in physical size during his presidency, remaining true to its original architectural beauty.

Charles has served on numerous boards. Locally he served on the board for Initiatives Prince George, the Two Rivers Art Gallery, Theatre Northwest, various provincial boards, Canfor Pulp Products Inc., Sinclar Forest Products Inc., the Northern Health Authority, the Fraser Basin Council, Northern BC United Way, the Canada West Foundation and the Academic Health Science Network of B.C., just to name a few.

He played an initiating role in the establishment of a full-service Cancer Treatment Centre in Northern B.C. Subsequently he served as advisor to the Canadian Cancer Society in a campaign that raised over $12 million to establish a cancer lodge for patients receiving cancer treatment at the centre.

He is the recipient of the Queen's Silver and Diamond Jubilee Medals, the Order of Canada and in 2013 he was installed as a member of the Order of British Columbia in recognition of his service to the province.

Charles joined UNBC in the institution's second full year of operations and served as president of UNBC from 1995 to 2006. He returned to serve again as the president of UNBC from July 2008 to June 2009. He has since retired with the distinguished title of professor emeritus.

Mary gave back to her community through her volunteer work. She volunteered as the Regional Director for the B.C. Women's Hospital and Healthcare Foundation, for the Prince George Symphony Orchestra, the Festival of Trees, zone leader for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and volunteered as a researcher for the UNBC pilot project on Type 2 Diabetes.

She was appointed as a medical member of the Canada Pension Plan/Old Age Security Review Tribunal for British Columbia by the Governor General in Council.

She served on the board of directors for the Prince George Community Foundation, chaired and served on the grants committee and chaired their silent auction fund raiser at the Citizen of the Year banquet.

While Charles was busy managing the university from the inside, Mary involved herself as the development chair for the David Douglas Botanical Garden Society. Her final major project was to help raise funds for the creation of a botanical display garden at the UNBC detention pond site complete with a magnificent bridge and a water feature to enhance the beauty of the entire project.

Charles concluded by saying, "Mary's personal expectations as the wife of the president of UNBC were of the highest order and required many hours of her attention to fulfill. I cannot thank her enough for that. It was my dream job to have a chance to shape a new university. The job has been my vocation, hobby and life.

"Prince George is a remarkable place and when people decide to do something here, they put their shoulder to the wheel and they do it. My wife Mary is tops on that list."