University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

The Banker’s Tale

Tony Comper is a lover of Chaucer. When he set out on his personal pilgrimage, it brought him full circle — back to U of T to chair its campaign

The day Tony Comper walked into Simcoe Hall in November 1989 to begin his first of three terms on Governing Council, it was as if no time had passed since his undergraduate days at the University of St. Michael’s College. From the solid wood doors to the echo of his footsteps down the hallway, all seemed unchanged since the year he collected his English degree.

“Even though I had been away many years, it was as if everything old was new again,” remembers Comper (BA 1966 St. Michael’s, LLD Hon. 1999) from his desk at the Bank of Montreal in Toronto. The chairman and chief executive officer of Canada’s oldest chartered bank is in a nostalgic mood. “Any modest success I’ve achieved in my life I attribute to the quality of the educational experience I got at U of T,” he says.

Eleven years after setting foot on campus again, Comper, who served as chair of Governing Council from 1994 to 1998 and has been chair of the Campaign for the University of Toronto since its launch in 1997, is extending his responsibilities even further. He has agreed to continue as campaign chair until 2004, when the university hopes to announce that it has met its billion-dollar goal.

That’s Tony Comper for you understated, no-nonsense and determined to stay the course. You might recognize him from the Faculty of Arts and Science ads that ran last year in the Globe and Mail, his old student card featured prominently. The advertisement supported the importance of a liberal arts education, and Comper is the first to agree with that premise. “One should never underemphasize the quality of the educational experience in many different disciplines. It is important to maintaining a fine research institution,” he says.

Money already raised by the campaign has gone toward programs in both the sciences and the arts. Three-quarters of the funds are going into “human capital.” The money has already provided funding for scholarships, as well as for academic chairs and programs. This, he says, allows the university “to compete for the best and brightest in the world.”

Comper’s love affair with U of T began when he was an undergraduate who enjoyed reading Chaucer. He liked his professors and classes, but it is the entire university experience that stays with him. He participated in theatre at St. Mike’s and got involved with the Blue and White Society, a group that organized social activities. “I found it an integrated experience, which is a large and important part of learning,” he says.

Encouraging companies to become good corporate citizens is what Comper hopes to continue during the campaign’s chapter. The goal of $1 billion, increased from $575 million last fall, is high, but he believes it can be reached. “The enormous generosity of the community has led to marvellous things,” he says. In fact, it is the unprecedented response that has inspired the campaign to move its goal forward.

And the significance of the campaign reaches beyond U of T’s ability to grow as a research institution, says Comper. He believes it has raised the bar for Canadian philanthropy. It helps Canada, too. Citizens benefit from research undertaken in fields such as medicine. And all graduates — of political science, of computer engineering, of philosophy — make Canada a richer place. This is why he thinks the money raised for the campaign should only augment, and not replace, government funding. “I think there is a direct benefit for everybody,” he says. “It is the best possible investment that Canadian taxpayers can make.”

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