This fall, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for the Division of the Vice-President & Provost, Catherine Gagne, and her husband, Engineering Professor Jim Wallace, will each receive the University of Toronto (U of T) Long Service Award, for 25 and 40 years of service respectively. A look into their combined 65 years reveals much of what defines U of T’s excellence: its people.
Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Jim Wallace PhD, P.Eng., FSAE, FCSME, FEIC, FCAE (left) and Provost’s Chief Administrative Officer, Catherine Gagne MI, C.Mgr (right). While reflecting on their individual careers, they regularly add to each other’s answers to trumpet their partner’s accomplishments. Photo by Luke Ng.
A President’s Teaching Award winner and member of the Teaching Academy, Jim is a distinguished educator motivated by his students. He is full of anecdotes of chance encounters with graduates he taught, from pilots to home inspectors — after 40 years of teaching, hearing “Professor Wallace!” while out and about is not uncommon.
Jim started at U of T as a professor in Engineering in 1978. Both teaching and research benefitted from the wonderful practical experience gained during a meaningful stint in the US Navy. Though his heart is in the classroom and in his research lab, he has also served in various administrative roles, including as the Chair of the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering from 1998 to 2003. U of T offers exceptional opportunities for research collaboration with outstanding colleagues and graduate students.
“One of the best parts of the job is working with graduate students; the quality of students here is amazing,” says Jim. “It’s been my good fortune to work with a whole crop of wonderful people over the years and that has really kept me renewed and rejuvenated.”
Catherine has held multiple administrative positions at the University, spanning both central and divisional operations. She welcomes opportunities for occupational renewal and has embraced it as part of her professional philosophy. This has given her a unique understanding of U of T’s ins and outs, which she has shared throughout her career to foster leadership and teamwork.
Catherine began at U of T in 1993 with a serendipitous start covering a maternity leave for a Business Officer position, thinking it would be a short stay in a job history that already included working in the Alberta oil patch, a two-year project with Microsoft, and administration of the Canadian Kennel Club. She’s since stayed at U of T because of the many professional development opportunities and her brilliant colleagues.
“The beauty of working at U of T is that you can maintain a relationship with an employer that invests in you for the long term; there’s so much opportunity to move around, it makes it easy to stay for many years and still grow,” says Catherine. “The other thing is the quality of my colleagues. I’m surrounded by the most interesting and intelligent people. To be challenged and to be engaged as part of this exceptional community is extremely rewarding.”
The two met 18 years ago, when Catherine interviewed for her third role at U of T—Jim was on her Search Committee. As a potential romance discretely blossomed, their work supporting University staff, students and faculty remained paramount.
So many years later, it feels particularly special to celebrate and share their career milestones at U of T together. “The Long Service Award is something to be extremely proud of; it’s important to mark these milestones,” says Catherine. “When we realized our years of service had aligned in this way, we thought it was pretty neat and very much worth celebrating.”
This is not the first time their U of T paths have crossed for a momentous occasion. As a member of the academic procession, Jim was on the Con Hall stage when Catherine graduated with a Masters of Information in 2017, making it very special for her.
From the start, the two have and continue to contribute to enabling the University’s mission of excellence in education in their own ways. Whether in the classroom, or working behind the scenes, they see their lasting marks as inherently tied to the people who comprise the U of T community. Their career highlights are rooted in learning from and working with others.
After a combined 65 years of service, their dedication to the U of T is an integral part of their relationship. The couple works on balancing their professional and personal lives but admits, at times, they are married as much to their work as they are to each other. It’s clear though, that their admiration and love for one another is the foundation for all they do.