Frank De Vita received an SFU Lifetime Achievement Award at the SFU Awards Dinner on March 5, 2020.

Faculty and Staff

From concrete walls to late-night calls: Frank De Vita wins SFU Lifetime Achievement Award

May 25, 2020
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By Natalie Lim

On November 4, 1994, Frank De Vita received an emergency late-night call from SFU. Due to a severe ice storm, large trees were falling all over campus, blocking roads, damaging buildings and cutting power to the university. As SFU’s superintendent of buildings and grounds, De Vita was needed on campus immediately. 

“That’s one of those things that sticks in your memory,” he says. “I still remember the date.”

De Vita stayed on campus for three days straight, napping on couches in the cafeteria while he worked to clear roads and ensure the school was safe to re-open. In the months that followed, his team developed a plan to keep the situation from repeating itself. 

Earlier this year, De Vita received a very different kind of call—one informing him that he was receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from SFU for his years of dedication and service. 

“I was so surprised,” he says. “When the president’s office called I was going through my head wondering what the president wanted to talk to me about...I see myself as someone who has a role to play, just one player in the big picture, and I do my job to the best of my ability.”

De Vita may have been surprised, but his colleagues in Facilities Services are in full agreement that he deserves this honour.  

“Frank’s calm demeanor and steady hand during crisis and routine activities alike has guided the maintenance and operations department for the last 28 years,” says Todd Gattinger, director of maintenance and operations for Facilities Services. “We often joke that his phone number is the most speed-dialed on campus.” 

De Vita on his first day at SFU, January 20, 1992.

De Vita is responsible for the general maintenance of the Burnaby campus and leads a team of carpenters, tradespeople, painters and labourers who handle concrete rehabilitation, landscaping, snow and ice, and routine building upkeep. 

By his estimate, De Vita has led re-roofing projects for eighty percent of the buildings on campus. Other major projects he’s worked on include seismic upgrades to the AQ in 1995, floor replacements in the east and central gymnasiums, and concerete stair replacements in Convocation Mall and the AQ. He has also picked up countless emergency calls since that November night in 1994, rushing to campus at all hours to deal with chemistry fires, floods and burst pipes. 

These days, De Vita is looking towards the future: he is retiring this summer. In the years ahead, he plans to spend more time with his granddaughter and practice his hobbies, which include golf, photography and baking bread. 

When asked why he stayed at SFU for nearly 30 years, his answer is simple. 

“It’s the people I’ve met and worked with who have kept me here,” he says. “I really didn’t want to leave a place where I was working with such good quality people.”

“Plus,” he adds, “the air is much clearer up here. I used to come up on the hill and look downtown, and it would all be fog, and you’re up here with clean air and beautiful sunshine. How could you not like that?”