John ApSimon receives Founders Award after 52 years at Carleton

John ApSimon received the Founders Award, Carleton’s highest non-academic honour, after more than 50 years at the university. (Mike Pinder photo)

After more than 50 years at Carleton, John ApSimon – a popular educator, top administrator and innovative fundraiser – has decided it’s time to retire.

On the eve of his departure, the 79-year-old was awarded the Founders Award at spring convocation. The award is the university’s highest non-academic honour. It is given to people who have made significant contributions to the university’s progress.

“I’m very proud of this university so, it really is a signal honour to be recognized that way,” says ApSimon. “I was humbled and delighted. I don’t think about awards, so it came as a surprise.”

In ApSimon’s 52 years at the university, there seems to have been no shortage of accolades.

His career at Carleton began as a chemistry professor in 1962 after he received his BA and then his PhD at the University of Liverpool.

Over the course of five decades, ApSimon has held numerous positions on the academic and administrative sides of the university. These have included being chair of the Department of Chemistry, dean of Graduate Studies, vice-president (Research), and vice-president (Academic). Since 2011, ApSimon has been director of Corporate Relations.

“He really is the heart of the university and has been in so many ways,” says University Librarian Margaret Haines. “He has tied this university to its community constituents better than anybody else.”

His passion for his work and his willingness to confront issues for the benefit of the university, says Haines, are what have made him so successful in his various roles at Carleton,

“He’s just a really bright guy who knows a lot about higher education and has a huge, huge wealth of information and background to everything that goes on here,” says Haines. “On top of that, he’s able to get to the absolute nugget of a problem and deal with it and be brave about doing it, even if it means he might be in conflict with other people.

“He’s done so much for this university in so many ways and I just feel very lucky to be one of the people who have had the pleasure of working with him.”

Stuart Adam, a longstanding faculty member in the School of Journalism and Communications and former vice-president (Academic), has known and worked with ApSimon since the early 1990s. What he appreciates about ApSimon most is his ability to be a good friend but at the same time, be a professional.


“He has high intelligence and imagination, as well as personal charm and friendliness. He’s a person that is easy to deal with because he’s good-natured yet thoughtful and firm. He has that proper blend of administrative toughness and personal concern and consideration.

“We’ll all remember him for that and we’ll miss him dearly.”

ApSimon, too, has countless memories from Carleton that he’ll take away into retirement.

“One of the highlights of my career was the students I worked with,” he says. “I basically got out of teaching in the ‘90s, but I find a real passion for that.”

Another highlight for him was being asked by former president Richard Van Loon to oversee academics in the ‘90s. At a time when Carleton was experiencing financial troubles and a decline in enrolment, ApSimon headed the Steps to Renewal program, which played an important role in reversing those trends.

More recently, he has been heavily involved in fundraising and making Carleton the hub for Big Data, an emerging field of integrated data study, management and application.

Despite his love for teaching, ApSimon says working in the administration where he could spread ideas and affect change across the entire university, is what motivated him the most.

“I’ve always liked administration from an innovation point of view. What I’ve really been interested in is what you might call change management that is enabled by projects—that seems to be my shtick.”

Change, he says, has only been possible because of the progressive attitude that prevails at Carleton.

“It’s a nimble university,” he says. “If you want to pursue some initiative that’s going to improve the place or give it a new direction, I think it’s always been relatively easy to do that.”

For ApSimon, retirement from his full-time job at Carleton doesn’t mean he’ll stop working altogether. He says he’ll stay open to whatever short-term projects come along.

“I won’t retire completely because I’ll go out of my skull,” he says.

“I think the best part is having been part of the success of Carleton University, without looking back at individual things. Carleton is a lovely institution, a great institution, and I’m proud to have been part of its development.”


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