Gary Follett, B.Eng.’75, believes that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
His philosophy is Memorial’s gain as he has given both time and resources back to the university for more than four decades.
Mr. Follett was the founder of FGA Consulting Engineers and is widely acknowledged for his dedication to the engineering profession, which includes work as chair of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Advisory Council and serving on the Committee for Student Diversity and Women in Engineering.
He has actively participated in a number of alumni and fundraising efforts on behalf of his alma mater, including his graduating class’s reunion endowment fund. Mr. Follett has also shown strong support towards engineering scholarships at Memorial.
Mr. Follett is this year’s recipient of the J.D. Eaton Award, which recognizes outstanding volunteer contributions to Memorial.
LP: Why did you first decide to come to Memorial as a student? What was it about the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science that appealed to you?
GF: If I’m honest, the reason I came to Memorial was my mother. As youngsters, we were going to university and that was that. So it really only became a question of what you were going to do there.
Back in Grade 10 or 11, we did aptitude tests and the results of those basically said that I had an aptitude for geology or engineering. At first, I had a strong tendency to consider geology, but I have an older brother who I looked up to and he studied electrical engineering. Undoubtedly, that had some influence on me. Was I fully thinking about a career at that time? I can’t say the answer was yes. I really and truly just fell into engineering!
LP: What did you enjoy most about your time at Memorial?
GF: That’s an easy question for me to answer. When I first came to Memorial, I really did not take it very seriously. So much so, in fact, that I ended up sitting in front of Doug Eaton at one point in time! I switched to the engineering co-op program, but then missed a year of studies due to a serious illness. I ended up coming back to school in the Class of ’75. If I had it all to do again, I would wait for that class. I made numerous lifelong friends and we remain close to this day. We worked hard, we played hard and we did it all together. The friendships that I made in those last two years mean so much to me.
LP: The J.D. Eaton Award recognizes exceptional contributions to Memorial University. Why has it been so important to you – to volunteer and support Memorial like you have? Why is it important for our province?
GF: There are a number of reasons. One certainly is that I enjoy the profession so much. Another aspect is that I am a dyed in the wool Newfoundlander. I live where I want to live and I am proud of our university and its accomplishments. That is especially true for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. When you look at the national and international competitions that our students have placed in and won, we are obviously doing something right and it is something that we should all be proud of.
I grew up in a time where university provided us all with education at a very reasonable cost. I believe that it is right and proper that we give back because of that. There is a culture in other parts of the world, in the United States specifically, where alumni really support their university. In our case, there has been so much government money in the university. Given some of the dialogue in the media over the past few months, I believe the university needs to find a better way to fund itself and to be independent. I think it is important for us all to support our university, especially those who are getting an education at an extremely reasonable cost.
LP: What would you say to young alumni to encourage them to volunteer on behalf of Memorial?
GF: I would say to them that you have been educated for next to nothing, so it’s time to give back. And it’s not just an education, it’s a good education. At the end of the day, it is expensive to run a university, so consequently, I believe we all have to pay back. We have a generation coming up behind us and I have a concern that as time goes on we may not have the benefit of being able to receive an education at such a low cost. I think this makes it even more important for those who have graduated to support the future generation and the way to do that is to get involved in the university and help in whatever way you can. When the day comes that you are able to give back, you should give back.
LP: What was your reaction to being named the J.D. Eaton Award recipient for 2017?
GF: Probably embarrassment first! I know a lot of people will say this, but I really don’t do things for awards. It is really nice to be recognized, but it was certainly never my reason to do anything and it was unexpected. Surprised is another descriptor I would use. It’s tremendous and I really do appreciate it.
Mr. Follett will be honoured during the 36th annual Alumni Tribute Awards on Thursday, Sept. 7, at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online. For any inquiries, please email or call the Office of Alumni Affairs, Public Engagement at 1 (877) 700-4081.