Carole Taylor

by Marianne Meadhal
Photograpy by Perry Zavitz

A passion for public service

There was enthusiastic applause from the crowd gathered for Simon Fraser University's most recent fall convocation when newly installed president Andrew Petter took a spontaneous spin on stage in his new robes. In the audience, Carole Taylor, draped in her own University of Toronto colours, beamed her trademark smile at the moment.

There to support SFU's next leader and celebrate his official arrival, and seated in the crowd alongside former UBC president Martha Piper, Taylor watched with further delight as the pomp and ceremony of graduation – heralding what would be the next phase of her own prolific career – was played out in Convocation Mall.

In June, the former journalist, politician, and one of Canada's most respected community leaders becomes SFU's 10th chancellor. "This is an opportunity that pulls together so many things that have interested me throughout my career," says Taylor. "It's an extremely motivating time and place to be right now."

Since her appointment was announced last fall, reaction has been positive. Among the accolades was a congratulatory note from Canada's Governor General David Johnston, applauding the move and referring to SFU as a creative and innovative university. "The consensus seems to be it's a good fit," Taylor says. "For me it's a wonderful opportunity to give back and concentrate on education and the future of students."

Her family celebrated together a few months later. Taylor, 64, and husband Art Phillips, former mayor of Vancouver, maintain a tradition of gathering with their two children at Whistler every year over the holiday season: son Christopher, 39, a New York writer with two children, and daughter Samantha, 29, a doctor now completing her second year as a resident specializing in emergency medicine. "We've always done this; our kids just expect it," says Taylor. "Everyone shows up here. It's a family tradition."

While the family is together Taylor finds solace in the kitchen, baking a host of seasonal desserts. "It's therapy, really," she says. Among her specialties: Christmas pudding, a tantalizing chocolate macadamia nut pie, and Art's favorite, Julia Child's Bombe Aux Trios, featuring three kinds of chocolate. "That one takes time," Taylor admits, "but it's a must-do."

With a New Year's resolution to stay in shape, Taylor works out with weights three times a week. "Both in Victoria and Vancouver I was fortunate enough to live about 25 minutes from work, and it became the habit to walk. Once you get into a pattern of doing it a lot, it becomes the norm."

With a New Year's resolution to stay in shape, Taylor works out with weights three times a week. "Both in Victoria and Vancouver I was fortunate enough to live about 25 minutes from work, and it became the habit to walk. Once you get into a pattern of doing it a lot, it becomes the norm."

As a mother with a life of demanding careers, setting a comfortable daily pace has had its share of challenges. "Like most women, I had to work my way through the demands of parenting as a working mom," Taylor recalls. "When I worked at CTV I was a single parent. At that time I relied on my father to help out. I would feed the baby at 2 a.m., then head for work at 3:30 a.m., taking Christopher to my father until he could get to a babysitter at 8 a.m.

"This is an opportunity that pulls together so many things that have interested me throughout my career."

"It's pure survival, whether you're looking after your job, your marriage, or your kids. You do the best you can day to day. By the time I had my second child 10 years later, I was able to take two and a half years off. That was a luxury."

When daughter Samantha started preschool part-time, Taylor also made a gradual return to work, thanks in large part to support at home. "Art has always been there as a great support," she says of her husband of 33 years. "He's such a solid presence in our family life."

Their marriage followed a long-distance courtship, sparked after an interview Taylor had with Phillips for CTV's W5 when he was mayor of Vancouver.

"Art was obviously a very talented, interesting person, and we immediately clicked," she recalls. "Of course it was enormously inconvenient at the time. But also obvious to us was that it was meant to be."

Their common interests in politics, economics, and community service gave their relationship firm grounding and inspired their individual and shared commitments to society over the years.

In the spring of 2010 they were recognized with SFU's Distinguished Community Leadership Award for their outstanding community service. During the award ceremony former SFU president Michael Stevenson described them as "a couple that is genuinely beloved in the community."

Taylor is humbled by the sentiment, and says the two simply share the notion that "we all have an obligation to serve and work toward making the world a better place."

For Taylor that all started with a career as a TV journalist at CTV as one of Canada AM  's first co-hosts and then as an investigative reporter for W5 . The former Miss Toronto found her calling early, after a first stint behind the camera in high school with a teen program called After Four, broadcast on Toronto's CFTO.

As a young journalist, reporting on world events like the Chilean revolution and the Honduran floods were grounding. Covering the Yom Kippur War was life changing. "You can't be so close to a life-and-death situation without re-evaluating your own life," says Taylor.
Working near the front lines on the Israeli side she and her cameraman came across a group of half a dozen young men. "I interviewed a number of them, then we decided to walk ahead to get a distance shot.

"After we were finished we walked back, and all of them were dead."
Taylor has never forgotten the faces of those youths. "I think we can get overwhelmed in life by some pretty small stuff. When I think of those boys, I think about the need to look at the big picture – what's really important."

A journalist for two decades, Taylor went on to host several shows for the CBC. Her keen interest in politics, nurtured during years of covering the topic, led to such stints as hosting the annual prime ministerial year-end interviews.

Taylor switched arenas and began a high-profile political career that would span civic and provincial politics. First elected as an independent Vancouver City councillor in 1986, she topped the polls four years later. During her time in public service she served on numerous boards and committees, establishing Canada's first children's advocate, and overseeing a sweeping overhaul of the Vancouver Ports governance structure to prepare for its privatization as chair of the Vancouver Port Authority and Canada Ports Corporation. Later, as chair of the CBC, she moved the chair's position out west in a bid to foster regionalization.

Attracted to provincial politics, she was elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in 2005. She served as finance minister under Premier Gordon Campbell, bringing down four budgets and introducing B.C.'s first carbon tax. Yet the biggest accomplishment, in Taylor's view, was signing 100 percent of all public sector workers to contracts before their old ones expired.

She left politics in 2008 to take a post as head of the nation's Economic Advisory Council and never looked back – even as popular opinion last fall pegged her as a leading contender for the provincial Liberal leadership.

"I've always had a restless mind," says Taylor. "I thrive on change and new challenges. The adrenaline flow is what excites me.

"Every time I make a change in my life I probably know half of the job really well; the rest I've got to learn and grow. I embrace that. It's what helps me to become a more well-rounded individual. Hopefully, a better person."

"It's a chance to take what the institution does well – its points of excellence and what makes it different – and see where that can lead."

Fundamental issues like education and health care – which, she says is in dire need of government debate – have become primary items on her agenda. "Maybe it's an irony; it seems the older we get the more we think about the future," she says. "I'm keenly interested in the fact that there's a whole new set of challenges aimed at the future: What is the Canada of the future going to look like? How do we bring young people and our lifelong learners through a learning process that will help them make a difference in the world? How do we help them return to communities, provoking debates that will bring about change, and make that change happen?

"I've spent a lot of time with young people in journalism schools and universities talking about career paths and trying to break the notion that everything has to be laid out and wrapped up early as far as a career path goes," she says. "That's what is so attractive about lifelong learning. If we're too prescriptive about our approach to life, there's a chance of missing exciting opportunities."

Taylor's example as someone who "embraces change and challenges creative thinking about critical issues" will be a tremendous gain for the university, says Petter.

Taylor sees SFU's current envisioning process, established by Petter to draw wide input into setting the university's future direction, as a springboard for change. She calls it a potential turning point for the institution. "There are moments in history when institutions can take a turn, and I think this is one," says Taylor. "With Andrew's leadership and enthusiasm, and by opening up his thought processes to the internal community and the community at large, there will be new ideas and energy around the importance of students, research, and the university's involvement with the larger community.

"It's a chance to take what the institution does well – its points of excellence and what makes it different – and see where that can lead."

That could mean new opportunities for SFU through its alumni family. "As my daughter Samantha did her studies at UCLA and Duke medical school, I've seen how American universities really hold on to their alumni and appreciate and grow with them. For SFU, and for any Canadian university, I think there's a real opportunity to say at convocation, 'Congratulations, here's step one, you're part of the SFU family – now how can we work together from here?'?"

Convocation is where Chancellor-designate Taylor will be front and centre. "What I think about at convocation is what you see in the eyes of all the graduates and their parents – all of the support, and how it's a big, big day," she says. "For me, that's the moment."