By: Laura Clementson

Hundreds of guests gathered in the Marketplace Food Court Aug. 30 to pay tribute to outgoing president Robert Gillett. “To see so many of my friends from the last 44 years here, it just feels so good and it feels like maybe I have made that contribution to education in this community,” Gillett told the Times.

Gillett’s presidency saw Algonquin’s student population more than double to nearly 19,000. He is credited for expanding the college with several new facilities, including the Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence, a 1,050-bed residence, the Police and Public Safety Institute at the Woodroffe campus and a 100,000 sq. ft. expansion of the Pembroke campus. Most visibly, Algonquin has etched his name in stone on the Student Commons building—a decision made by the Student’s Association and the Board of Governors.

Gillett says it’s the students and the constant vibe of activity that he’ll miss the most about Algonquin. He added it feels like he’s on a “permanent vacation.” At the tribute, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird awarded him the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his contributions to the community. “Bob has done an outstanding job for Algonquin, for our region, education, and the economy,” Baird, who has known Gillett for 17 years, told the Times. His wife Anne Gillett told the Times that she was surprised her husband actually decided to retire. “It was a day that I was very surprised ever came because he loves his work and Algonquin so much,” she said. “It was really emotional.”

Incoming president Kent MacDonald said Gillett’s reputation goes beyond bricks and mortar. The new buildings “represent the growth of the college and through the growth comes opportunities for students to come here [and] learn,” MacDonald told the Times. The mood was jovial at the tribute held in his honour last month. And there was no mention of the $500,000 retirement bonus on top of his pension during the Aug. 30 ceremony with numerous speakers focusing on the rapid growth during his administration.

Gillett said he is going to research the effect technology can have on education and he’s also planning on taking some personal time to travel. He’ll be starting his retirement with a three-week trip to England. Gillett said he hopes that his presidency will have a lasting benefit on students. “I was always focused on what the students wanted and that any change we made was to better serve them,” he said.