April 21, 2021
“UBC—it’s sort of been my life, you know?” jokes Professor and Dean Emeritus John McNeill, who joined the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 1971 and served as Dean from 1985 to 1996.
For over four decades, John’s leadership has helped distinguish the Faculty as one of Canada’s best graduate programs and research environments. To help maintain this peerless reputation, John and his wife Sharon decided to endow UBC with a legacy gift.
John began his career in grade nine as a delivery boy at a community pharmacy. Years later, as John was completing his Pharmacy degree at the University of Alberta, his mentor, Dr. Bernie Riedel, suggested graduate school. While in the master’s program John was a TA for his wife-to-be, Sharon, who was in the Pharmacy BSc program.
A decade later, John had earned a PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan and was an assistant professor at Michigan State University. Dr. Riedel, now Dean of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC, called John up with a life-changing offer—a new job.
Although it meant leaving behind a well-funded lab, John seized the opportunity to return to Canada and began his career at UBC.
“There were challenges,” he recalls. “Teaching, budgeting, relationships with the public, but we were successful in many ways. So, I worked through the ranks—I became Dean on January 1, 1985.”
One of John’s greatest triumphs was updating the curriculum to reflect the evolving needs of his profession. He fondly remembers leading UBC to implement the first post-baccalaureate Doctor of Pharmacy program in Canada. Remarkably, he maintained his research lab and career while Dean, and mentored numerous students—his “secondary offspring.” For his outstanding research and contributions to his discipline, he was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada—the nation’s highest academic honour.
John’s decision to donate stems from strong personal conviction. “I’ve noticed a remarkable change in attitude towards university education,” he says.
“Hardly anyone went in the 1950s. Now, education and training are incredibly important.”
An existing John H. McNeill Scholarship will be joined by the Sharon and John McNeill Scholarship. The criteria will be left for the Faculty to decide.
“I’ve had a very good life here,” says John. “My wife went back to school and got her BA here. Our two daughters studied here—one has her PhD and teaches in the English department. So, we’re really a UBC family.”