Royal Roads honours former MP Savoie, educator Jen, opera's Vernon

Amy Smart

Royal Roads University celebrated three community leaders Wednesday for their contributions to the fields of education, performing arts and politics.

International school founder Sherman Jen and Timothy Vernon, founder and artistic director of Pacific Opera Victoria, both received honorary degrees, while former member of Parliament and municipal politician Denise Savoie received the Chancellor’s Community Recognition Award.

“This year’s honorees come from very different fields,” said Royal Roads president and vice-chancellor Allan Cahoon. “But they share the attributes of creative leadership and strong community spirit.”

Vernon grew up in Victoria and studied at what is now the Victoria Conservatory of Music, before moving to the Vienna Academy of Music. He returned to Canada in 1975 for posts conducting and directing with the Regina Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company’s touring company and McGill University.

Since founding POV in 1980, Vernon has led most of the company’s 100-plus productions. He received the Order of Canada in 2008 for his role promoting opera in Canada.

While some might be surprised that a university without a music department would honour an opera director, Cahoon said Vernon was a good fit for the honour.

“He’s a visionary, he’s innovative, he’s hardworking,” said Cahoon. “So for a lot of reasons, he presents a really great model for our business students.”

In contrast, he said, Jen was selected for his unique view of cross-cultural education.

Jen, founder and CEO of Maple Leaf Educational Systems and Maple Leaf International Schools, opened the first international school recognized by the Chinese ministry of education, as well as the first offshore school accredited by the B.C. Ministry of Education.

“He’s taken 14 students in 1997 to 12,500 now, who get both the Chinese high school certificate and a B.C. high school certificate,” Cahoon said. “He’s able to take learning from one culture and apply them to another, and boy, do we need more of that.”

Savoie, a former Victoria councillor, Capital Regional District director and MP, earned a separate honour for her commitment to social justice and sustainability. “She’s had a really strong commitment to making change in the community and I admire that kind of contribution,” Cahoon said.