The Walsh/Thurow Family

For as long as he can remember, post-secondary education has played a major role in Peter Walsh's life.

From his father's job as Registrar at MacDonald College of McGill University in Ste. Anne de Bellevue and then director of admissions at McGill University in Montreal, to his own studies at McGill, and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Que., and in his job as director of adult education in Quesnel with School District #28, Walsh has witnessed the importance that education plays in people's lives.

Yet when he moved to Quesnel in 1980, he was surprised there was no university in the region.

"I felt that there needed to be university-level education close to home," says Peter, "That's why when I heard about the drive to create UNBC I was completely in favour of it."

Peter Walsh and his daughter, Mary Thurow

In the late 1980s, Peter was friends with Charles McCaffrey, then CNC President, who along with Tom Steadman and Bryson Stone, were early champions of the Interior University Society, an advocacy group for the creation of what would eventually become UNBC. Peter joined 16,000 other Northern BC residents who signed a petition and donated $5 to the Interior University Society to encourage the provincial government to create a university for the North.  He still has his IUS membership receipt card!

His daughter Mary Thurow was a young child then, and already her post-secondary schooling was on his mind.

"I remember when I was little my dad saying maybe by the time you're older there will be a university in the North," she says. "And sure enough, there was."

The vision of Peter, Tom, Byron, and the many other advocates came to realization on June 22, 1990, when the BC government passed the UNBC Act, officially creating the university.

"It was a momentous day," says Peter. "We knew this would be a turning point in the region's history. We'd have a university for the North, by the North."

Being in the education field, Peter continued to have connections with UNBC after the founding. For the first few years Ellen Facey, the first regional director for UNBC, had her office upstairs in his Adult Education building in Quesnel. He had a ringside seat for the evolution of the young university as it grew.

Mary's education was part of the reason Peter supported UNBC, yet he ended up becoming an alumnus himself. Peter enrolled in the Master of Education program, becoming part of the first cohort to graduate with that degree in 1999. It was the same year Mary earned a degree in environmental science.

Peter is now retired, and Mary works with geographic information systems in Williams Lake. She wanted to stay close to home, and says UNBC helped her along that path.

"I knew I wanted to go away for post-secondary school; I wanted a fresh start but still be close to home," she says. "I was interested in sciences, but didn't know what I specifically wanted to do, and was attracted by the small class sizes at UNBC."

Mary and Peter were around to see the formative moments in UNBC's history, including the official opening of the Prince George campus by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

"It was a really great time in my life," Mary says. "I made lots of friends and felt like I was able to get to know everybody around me.

Everyone seemed excited to be there, and I was so inspired by my teachers. It was a nice small community."

Mary has a son and daughter of her own now. Both mother and grandfather would like to see them attend UNBC someday, something that wouldn't have been possible without the support of people like Peter 25 years ago.

"I'm really thankful and proud that he had a vision and he expressed his dream about it at the time," says Mary. "UNBC became a big part of my life and I hope it will be the same for my children someday."

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