After 13 years of ‘retirement’, this former university president continues to seize the day in her own way
It was 2005 when Dr. Sheila Brown was inducted into Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame, and just a year later when she made the pivotal decision to not seek a third term of presidency at Mount Saint Vincent University. With over 30 years’ experience in the field of higher education—at universities in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—Brown felt she no longer belonged in the forefront of the operation.
“I did not feel like my working career was over,” she says. “I felt that individuals need renewal and institutions need renewal and I felt that I personally and the university would benefit from an injection of new leadership.”
Brown hasn’t, however, parted ways with her metaphorical academic robe. Since leaving her position at MSVU, she has been consulting, coaching and mentoring a new generation of university administrators. “I think it’s about transitions, rather than making sharp adjustments,” says the president of Hartshill Educational Consulting Ltd. “I’ll continue to transition as long as I feel like I can contribute.”
Those contributions have been many and varied, including influential thought leadership and governance roles at numerous forums, committees and awards programs. In 2009, Brown was invited to serve as executive director of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs. Because of her well-established interest in business ethics and the opportunity to work on a parttime schedule, her decision to assume the role was an easy one.
Today, six years into her second retirement (she left the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs in 2012)—when she isn’t having breakfast meetings with long-term mentees or teaching leadership courses—Dr. Brown enjoys indulging in some of her favorite leisure pastimes: golf, travel, sailing and reading.
“My father read to me every morning when I was a child and my mother read to me every evening,” she says nostalgically. “That is still part of my routine.”
So much so that a trip to Scotland saw Brown and her husband, Donald Wyllie, having to ship a box overflowing with novels back to their hotel. Much to her chagrin, she’s now making the partial adjustment to an e-reader for the sake of convenient traveling.
Looking back at her storied career, it seems like a charmed example of academic leadership excellence—lithely vaulting from faculty member to department chair to dean to vice president to president and vice-chancellor. But, it hasn’t been without moments of melancholy. Two weeks prior to taking the position as MSVU’s president in 1996, Brown’s mother became ill and died suddenly. It was difficult to embrace the milestone achievement when she was grieving, but she says her parents always pushed her to do her best and this was no exception.
Does she miss her former head-of- the-class life? A thoughtful pause… “All the positions I’ve had… in a sense you miss them,” Brown finally says. “I try to find ways to give back to universities, without being in the thick of things.
It’s fair to say that they have missed her in return. In 2012, she was named Mount Saint Vincent’s first “President Emerita”, a title given in recognition of her years of exceptional service.
What’s not on the CV
As a teen, Sheila Brown says she hadn’t really thought about what she wanted to do after high school. “A new women’s college had been established at Cambridge (New Hall, now Murray Edwards College) and my head teacher encouraged me to apply. I took the entrance exam, went for an interview and was accepted. I didn’t think I should decline an offer to attend Cambridge!”
Physical activity is an integral part of her life. An avid walker—clocking four to five miles every day—Brown has trekked The West Highland Way, a 95-mile hike in Scotland.
She is a passionate bird watcher. Brown and her husband, Donald Wyllie, have travelled extensively to observe warblers and other birds with fellow bird watchers, most recently to Ohio and Ontario.
With many years of sailing experience between them, Brown and her husband are long-time volunteer regatta racing officials.
When Brown was the president of Mount Saint Vincent, she declined moving into the president’s house. “I bought my own house about 10 km away from the university, so that when my work day was done, I could go home.”