Walter Gage Memorial Bursary in Engineering

At Christmastime 1955, during his second year of engineering studies at UBC, Mr. Richard Ott found himself with a mere $5 to his name. His mother was ill, and his earnings from his summer job had gone to pay the mortgage. Although his older brother had taken over his mother’s care and finances, he knew he had only one choice: he had to take a year’s leave from his university education to help his family and to finance future university costs.

He went to Dr. Walter Gage, Dean of Administrative and Inter-Faculty Affairs, to ask for a year’s leave of absence, effective December 1955. The Dean knew that taking a year off might extend into more, and might mean never returning to university. He had another solution in mind. “I’ve got lots of bursaries,” he said. “How much money do you need?”

Dr. Gage gave Mr. Ott $600 in bursaries—enough for his fees, enough so that he wouldn’t have to quit university. That $600 in bursary money and bursary money to follow, saved his university education. “In those days you had to pay back the bursary money,” Mr. Ott remembers. “And I did, and I wouldn’t have managed to stay in university.” As Mr. Ott recalls, Dean Gage then reached into his own pocket and asked Mr. Ott if he needed any money until the bursaries took effect in January. Mr. Ott declined, and said he had enough to last.

Mr. Ott graduated with a BASc in Civil Engineering in 1957, and went on to have a very successful career in engineering before retiring as Chairman and CEO of PBK Engineering in 1992.

A few years ago when preparing his will, Mr. Ott remembered Dr. Gage and the bursaries that saved his education and allocated a sum of money to be donated to UBC posthumously for student bursaries. A few months ago he thought—why wait? And he contributed $53,000 to establish the Walter Gage Memorial Bursary in Engineering.

Mr. Ott plans to keep increasing the endowment until it reaches $250,000 (or more) so that hard-working students like him can also achieve their educational goals, no matter their financial situation. And he named it after Dr. Gage so that his generosity—and his memory—will live on. “He was a great teacher, a great man, a father figure, and a great mentor,” Mr. Ott says of Dr. Gage.

“The Faculty of Applied Science is extremely pleased to have this new bursary for students,” said Dean Michael Isaacson. “Not only will it help provide financial assistance to those students who need it the most, but it will add to the legacy of Dean Walter Gage. Dr. Gage was a very influential and important part of this university’s history and to have this bursary within the Faculty of Applied Science ensures that his legacy includes the many ways he assisted our students and our Faculty during his time at UBC.”

At his fifty-year reunion earlier this fall, Mr. Ott quietly encouraged his classmates to make their own contributions to the Walter Gage Memorial Bursary or to other bursaries. “I feel very strongly that it’s ‘give back time’,” he says. “Everyone, all graduates, but especially people like me, retired people, we have a duty to give back to today’s students, to the universities that helped us get where we are today. Even $10,000 can make the difference to a student’s dream of education and the financial burdens that stand in the way.” After all, he well knows what a difference a few hundred dollars can make.