Reflections on My Journey – Good Choices and Good Luck
Monday, July 4, 2016
Since I announced my planned retirement from SHAD a few months ago I often find myself reflecting on the wonderful life and career I have had and of course, thinking about what lies ahead in the future.
At the risk of sounding somewhat immodest I think I would characterize my life to date as one of “good choices and good luck”.
By far the luckiest thing that has happened to me in my life is being born into the family of Ethel and Orley Bisson. I did not choose my parents. It was pure luck. I could not have had a better outcome. Neither of my parents had a university education but they were both very “street wise”. They set a high standard for me and my siblings and instilled in us through their words and their actions, the values that would serve us well in our lives.
It is often said that good luck is all about “being at the right place at the right time”. While there may be an element of truth in that, I believe that good luck is also about “choosing to be at the right places most of the time”. In other words you can increase your chances of having good luck by making good choices.
Like everyone else, I have experienced some speed bumps and setbacks in my life’s journey and I must confess I have not always made good choices. One example stands out. When I was a very young boy I was walking to my grandparent’s house with my father who had my baby sister in his arms. I suddenly darted away from my father and ran across a busy highway, only to be struck by a car. Reportedly I was catapulted in the air as high as the telephone wires. Fortunately my bad choice was trumped by extremely good luck. I survived with only minor cuts and bruises. When I told this story to my granddaughter Lily she pointed her finger at me and said “You shouldn’t cross the road. You might get hit by a car. You can’t do that. It’s not a good idea!” That’s not the only message I received. She also taught me that even a three year old can learn about the importance of making good choices.
Well, I have made some good choices and many of them have also resulted in good luck.
I chose to attend the University of New Brunswick where I received a great education and was exposed to amazing professors who really cared about their students. They set the example of the kind of educator I wanted to be when I later became a professor at UNB.
Luckily one of my UNB classmates arranged a blind date for me with a beautiful young woman named Mary Ann who was his girlfriend’s best friend. One year later Mary Ann became my wife and soul mate for life. A young man named Nick, who was the first student I met on my first day at UNB later became the best man at our wedding.
I chose to study engineering which provided me valuable knowledge, skills, discipline and a deep understanding of the high standards a professional engineer must meet in serving the public and also prepared me for my future career as a Professor of Engineering. My Master’s degree in Engineering led to my first full time job with Transport Canada where I learned about the value of having a great mentor from my boss Tom Prescott. Tom encouraged and supported me on my journey to an MBA at Harvard Business School because he cared about developing my potential. The example he set has guided me in my career.
Luckily when I was a young professor in the Faculty of Engineering at UNB, the then Dean of Engineering, Dr. Frank Wilson chose me to launch the first SHAD program at UNB in 1985, a program I didn’t really know anything about at the time. This began a special relationship with an incredible organization and I have had the privilege of serving as President since 2005.
During my tenure as President of SHAD I have had an influence on choices of the individuals who were invited to serve on the SHAD Board of Directors and the SHAD staff and program teams.
Luckily this has resulted in engaging brilliant, skilled, experienced and passionate individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the success of our organization in “empowering exceptional youth to make the world a better place”. I am incredibly proud of the calibre of people we have on our Board of Directors and staff and program team.
About the future, what lies ahead?
For me, I have chosen to give my family a bigger slice of my time and attention than has been possible during my demanding career. In my view, the best way to create a truly sustainable legacy is through the positive influences you can have on family members especially my three daughters and their families, sharing with them the valuable lessons I have learned during my life’s journey. This opportunity was brought into sharp focus for me with the passing of my beloved father last year. While I am very proud of my contributions to SHAD’s growth and impact, to be sure, with the passage of time, the importance of my work will inevitably change as the organization evolves, and as SHAD leadership tackles new opportunities and challenges. But I do believe my legacy can live on through the lives of my three daughters and their families and the choices they make.
For SHAD, the future is all about what we can do as a community to “make the world a better place”. In the latter years of my Presidency, our Board of Directors and senior management team embraced an exciting strategic choice to raise awareness around the country so that Canadians from coast to coast know about us. While we have become known as a prestigious and unique summer program with an incredible track record helping our brightest youth reach their potential, we are also now a peer to peer network with some 15,000 alumni including many of Canada’s most brilliant minds helping bring out the best in one another. Why is this important? The best way of expressing it is one of my favorite quotes from a New York Times Best Selling book that I read in the past year entitled “Abundance: The Future is Brighter than you Think”:
“Imagine a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care and non-polluting ubiquitous energy. Building this world is humanity’s greatest challenge”.
In my mind this is what SHAD’s future is all about. SHAD has the potential to be an even more powerful community of brilliant and talented individuals, instilled with “uncommon purpose” and a will to help each other tackle humanity’s greatest challenges. We are lucky to have an organization like SHAD. It is Canada’s choice on how best to leverage this asset to have a better future for this country and the world around us.
So SHAD and I have both made choices for the future. May they also bring good luck!
It was with great emotion that I read Barry's words on his retirement while remembering an assignment I had given his grade nine English class on writing their autobiography. Barry started his assignment with "I made my debut in (place) on (date).' Of course he was top in his class with that and every other assignment. His farewell address on retirement proves he lived up to his potential. I am so proud to be able to have him as first cousin once removed and send him best wishes for his retirement - a long and successful journey from his debut. With great regard, Elizabeth Bisson
July 5, 2016 at 4:55 PM
God bless you and your family. Long, healthy, happy, safe retirement. I love your vision for Canada and The World. We are ecstatic that Kalea is at Shad McMaster 2016.
July 5, 2016 at 8:55 AM
Beautifully written Barry and it seems like not so long ago you went on that blind date with my best friend.The years have blest you and my wish is that you have many,many more wonderful years! Enjoy, ever & always,Janet