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Former UPEI president ‘marvels’ at university’s growth

Elizabeth Epperly, who served as UPEI’s first female president from 1995 to 1998, is shown on the campus, where she gave a presentation on Lucy Maude Montgomery Friday at a luncheon for Prince of Wales College alumni.
Elizabeth Epperly, who served as UPEI’s first female president from 1995 to 1998, is shown on the campus, where she gave a presentation on Lucy Maude Montgomery Friday at a luncheon for Prince of Wales College alumni.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Former UPEI president Elizabeth (Betsy) Epperly still keeps a close eye on the university – and she likes what she sees.

“Oh, it’s exponential growth,’’ she says, lauding her successors Wade MacLauchlan, who served as president from 1999 to 2011, and Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, who has been the university’s top administrator since 2011.

“Wade made it beautiful, and Alaa has made it larger and even better connected…they’ve just done marvels with it, I think. I’m so proud to be part of this university.’’

Epperly had a short stint as UPEI’s first female president, stepping down in 1998 after just three years due to a health condition caused by ingesting a parasite in New Zealand.

“I had to leave,’’ she recalls. “I had to take real care. I couldn’t take that care and stay in office…but I was so glad that I was able to — through shear grit a lot of it — to stay for the three years to see out the programs. We did all of the things I wanted to do in those three years.’’

Epperly regularly makes her way back to the campus, particularly heading into the Robertson Library to spend time at the L.M. Montgomery Institute that she founded 24 years ago.

“We have all kinds of work going on and new work going on now with the new chair in Montgomery studies and communication leadership and culture,’’ she says.

Her enthusiasm for the work of Prince Edward Island’s famous author of Anne of Green Gables remains intense.

“Oh yes,’’ she exclaims. “Wonderful things turn up. There’s always something to discover. I even get more enthusiastic.’’

Epperly was on campus Friday giving a speech on Montgomery to alumni of Prince of Wales College (PWC).

She wanted to enrol at PWC but ran into a major stumbling block.

“That was the only place I applied secretly when I was away at boarding school and then got a letter that spring that said ‘we regret to inform (you) the school no longer exists, but if you would like to come to the newly created University of Prince Edward Island you may.’’

St. Dunstan’s University (SDU) and Prince of Wales merged in 1969 to become UPEI as part of a campaign to integrate the Island's Roman Catholic and Protestant communities, which had previously maintained the two separate institutions of higher learning.

Epperly became the first person to register at UPEI.

She and other students quickly became aware of how deep the tensions were between PWC and SDU.

“To actually play one off the other meant we had a lot of freedom because the students did not want to adhere to the traditions of either school and so we could just march right down the road right down the middle and that’s what we did,’’ she says.

“It was a time when faculty and staff had to pull together in a special way.’’

Epperly embraces the memory of her time spent teaching English at UPEI from 1992 to 2006.

“I loved the students and I particularly loved the children’s literature courses that I was teaching,’’ she says.

“It was a real experience to get people enthusiastic about things they didn’t know they loved yet,’’ she adds with a great belly laugh.

 

jim.day@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/PEIGuardian

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