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The Rhodes experience

Where are they now? Revisiting Memorial's Rhodes Scholars

By Heidi Wicks

Globally, Rhodes Scholars advance business, health care, science, the arts and more.

The exclusive group includes a number of individuals from Newfoundland and Labrador, some of whom also happen to be Memorial University alumni.

Reluctant health-care inspiration

One such Rhodes Scholar, Dr. Ann Colbourne (B.Sc.’80, M.Sc.’85, MD ’87) – who, in 1980, was the second woman to receive the prestigious scholarship – studied theology while at Oxford University. Once her studies in England were complete, she returned to Memorial for her medical degree.

Dr. Ann Colbourne at NorQuest College convocation.
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Colboune is modest about her many educational and professional successes.

“When someone says, ‘You’re inspirational,’ I chuckle but I have to stop that,” she said recently from her home in Alberta.

In recent years, Dr. Colbourne was named clinical professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and a Mayo Clinic Distinguished Alumni. She was honoured with the Mayo Clinic’s Doctors Mayo Society Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 and she founded the NorQuest College Colbourne Institute for Inclusive Leadership.

“The Memorial experience gave me confidence.” — Dr. Ann Colbourne

As senior medical director of Culture, Transformation and Innovation with Alberta Health Services, Dr. Colbourne worked to deliver a health-care system that veered away from provider-centric to patient-focused.

Her personal “Kryptonite” being a, “Yeah, but it’ll never happen here,” negative attitude, she conquered a deeply ingrained and antiquated structure and spearheaded a complete reform of the health authority’s collaborative care approach, improving hospital demand capacity and patient care.

Dr. Colbourne also shared her time and talent in a variety of other roles as a clinician, academic and health-care leader at the Mayo Clinic, Memorial University, the University of Alberta and the Canadian Diabetes Association.

But she says these achievements would not have been possible if it weren’t for one of her professors at Memorial.

“I laughed when my professor of organic chemistry said I should apply for the Rhodes Scholarship,” said Dr. Colbourne, who eventually took the advice of Dr. Eric Bullock. “But he knew I could do it. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time.

“The Memorial experience gave me confidence,” Dr. Colbourne continued. “It became the launching pad for everything that came afterward. Memorial led me to places that I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would go.”

Distinguished stage and screen actor

Fellow Rhodes Scholar Dr. Robert Joy (BA (Hons.)’72, Hon. D.Litt.’15) says his time at Memorial was foundational to his success

He describes himself as a “restless young man” when he enrolled as an undergraduate at Memorial and credits the university for helping him channel that energy and find his voice.

Dr. Robert Joy
Photo: Submitted

“Memorial gave me outlets to explore in every direction I could imagine: brain, body and spirit,” said Dr. Joy from his home in California recently. “The Memorial degree displayed in my home is a source of . . . not just pride, but confidence. It reminds me that a restless young person can succeed.”

Dr. Joy says it was the breadth of his interests that made him a good candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship, which he received in 1972.

“My experience was wide-ranging. I also think my experience in organized sports at the university came in handy, as it taught me the importance of discipline and teamwork. I consider my time at the university essential to my formation as a person.”

A critically acclaimed actor who has worked in television, film and theatre in Canada and the United States, his film credits include Desperately Seeking Susan, Atlantic City, The Shipping News and The Goldfinch.

Theatrically, he has dazzled Broadway in performances of Side Show and The Nerd and will appear in the upcoming production of Girl from the North Country.

“I consider my time at the university essential to my formation as a person.” — Dr. Robert Joy

On the small screen, he’s a Genie award nominee and has appeared in numerous series’, including Miami Vice, Law and Order, Medium and CSI:NY.

And of course, who can forget his role in the influential Newfoundland comedy troupe, CODCO.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction to be had with every assignment,” he reflected. “But it’s particularly rewarding to work on a new play, to create a role for the first time, thereby giving the author their first real look at what was previously just imagined.”

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