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Made by a Commerce degree

Susan Riddell-Fitzpatrick, BCom’61

Governor Emerita

Susan Riddell-Fitzpatrick, BCom’61; Governor Emerita

In what turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life, I went down to the McGill Registrar’s Office one late-August day in 1957. Against my mother’s wishes, I left those offices as a newly enrolled Bachelor of Commerce student – a considerable change from the Arts degree I had been registered for up until that point. I was one of only 10 women in the program at that time, and by 1961 would be one of only three to graduate.

From an early age, McGill had been a part of my life. My parents and grandfather were alumni, my father was a Commerce graduate, and McGill was often discussed at home. There had never been a question that I would one day attend McGill myself.

Thanks to that fateful day and the clerk at the Registrar’s Office who suggested that I go into Commerce, I was set on a bright path for my life...”

McGill in the late ’50s was a wonderful place – smaller than it is today, with about 10,000 enrolled students. There was so much to do on campus, and I enjoyed getting involved with extracurricular activities such as the carnival and freshman committees, volunteering for blood drives, and joining the throngs of students who would congregate after class on the steps in front of the Arts building. While at McGill, virtually all of my friends were fellow students and many of the friendships I made then are still strong today, almost 60 years later.

After graduation, I went to New York to train for a first job I never would have been offered without my McGill degree. I returned home to Montreal, where I worked, got married, and brought up my family. My Commerce degree helped open doors to tremendous opportunities, in both business and for volunteering, all throughout my life.

In 1988, I was asked to join the McGill Board of Governors, an invitation made over lunch at the Faculty Club with then Chair Hugh Hallward and McGill’s Principal at the time David Johnston. Thanks to my role as a member of the Board of Governors, I was made Chair of the Montreal Neurological Hospital Board. I played a part in discussions for what would eventually become the McGill University Health Centre, whose founding board I was also asked to join. By no means a straightforward process, the joke among members at the time was that we had more breakfasts together than we did with our husbands and wives. Again, I credit my Commerce degree, and my ability to read balance sheets, for what would become a life-long appreciation for volunteer service. It was all because of McGill – the McGill degree led to it all.

And McGill is still an important part of my life today. I am an emeritus member of the McGill Board of Governors, as was my second husband Gerry Fitzpatrick. My son and a daughter and granddaughter have all graduated from McGill, and another granddaughter, Charlotte, was just admitted this fall as a Bachelor of Arts student. This will mark the fifth consecutive generation of McGillians in my family, which counts at least 18 McGill graduates – a statistic we discovered one recent evening over dinner.

I am proud to be Made by McGill. Thanks to that fateful day and the clerk at the Registrar’s Office who suggested that I go into Commerce, I was set on a bright path for my life, both professionally and through volunteering. There are not many women my age with a Commerce degree and, in that way, my profile helped to set me apart. I continue to contribute to McGill, both through my time and my philanthropy. Among the projects I support are several initiatives to beautify the McGill campus so that future generations of students sitting on the Arts building’s steps can enjoy the sights – and opportunities – that lie before them.

Pictured above: Four generations of McGillians. Back row, left to right: Charlotte Riddell, BA’24; Neil Riddell, BCom’92; Susan Riddell-Fitzpatrick, BCom’61. Front: the late Mary Webster, BA’38 (1917-2021).