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Remembering a true champion of Laurier

Laurier community mourns Arthur Stephen (BA '73), a longtime employee of the university and key figure in its development

Story by Erin Almeida

Mentor, relationship builder, leader, award-winner and devoted family man – are just a few of the words that describe the late Arthur Stephen.

Arthur (BA ’73), who passed away suddenly on Jan. 10 at the age of 68, was a dedicated and long-serving member of the Laurier community who made many contributions to the university and was a leader in the university advancement field in Canada and internationally. Arthur’s career of 41 years at Laurier is legendary.

He enrolled as a student in 1969, after meeting a friend who was studying at what was then called Waterloo Lutheran University, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1973. A year later, he returned to campus as an admissions officer and would go on to hold numerous leadership posts in student recruitment, public affairs, alumni relations and development.

After accomplishing significant success in these areas, Arthur was promoted to the position of vice-president: advancement in 1997, a post he held for 10 years.

Along the way, Arthur used his keen eye for nurturing talent, mentoring many people, who are still at Laurier today.

Arthur Stephen on Laurier's Waterloo campus in 2008. Photo by Tomasz Adamski. 

“I’ve had the gift of learning from Arthur for the past 25 and half years – when he hired me in 1989 to work as a liaison officer after having graduated from Laurier,” said Jennifer Casey, acting assistant vice president: enrolment services at Laurier. 

“Without question Arthur was the ultimate ambassador of Laurier and so woven into the fabric of who we have become as an institution. His relationships connected the university with partners far-reaching and created many new and exciting opportunities.”

Over the years, Arthur’s reputation and strong sense of relationship building – earned him numerous accolades. He was known as a visionary for his approach to student recruitment and university advancement. He earned the Outstanding Achievement in Advancement Award from the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education and the prestigious Steuben Apple Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education in the United States, of which he was most proud.

Along with his many contributions to Laurier, Arthur will be fondly remembered for many things: decorating Laurier’s Waterloo campus with ivy, his driving skills and his habit of losing his car keys, and of course his passion for statistics. Arthur was a statistical genius and the Maclean’s magazine rankings would become one of his hallmarks. When the first issue was released in 1990, the magazine ranked Canadian universities from one to 44. Predictably, universities like Laurier and Brock didn’t rank very well, and Arthur was incensed.

What perturbed Arthur was the fact that small emerging liberal arts institutions were being compared with huge universities with established medical and law schools. He went to work, as he always did, with pen and paper, working out what he felt was a fairer comparison, by ranking the Canadian universities in three groupings.

"Without question, Arthur was the ultimate ambassador of Laurier."

-Jennifer Casey, acting assistant vice-president: enrolment services
and longtime friend and colleague of Arthur

He went to the Maclean’s offices in person and met with the then editor, Anne Dowsett Johnson, and in his usual quiet, charming, yet insightful way showed her the unfairness of their statistics. The magazine agreed, and reformatted subsequent comparisons, using Arthur’s hand-written model. For years after, Arthur was an unpaid advisor to Maclean’s making suggestions from year to year on how they handled their data.

“His impact was legendary and even after retiring from Laurier he still poured over the newly released Maclean’s university issues and continued to make statistical breakdowns of their data with his pen and blank pages in his ever-present DayTimer,” said Doug Geddie, president of Geddie Advertising and a long-time friend and colleague of Arthur.

In 2008, Arthur decided it was time to relinquish the position and campus life that he came to love so dearly. Recognizing it was time he passed the torch to the next generation, he retired from Laurier and focused on his two other loves: his beloved family and sports. Arthur was one of the Golden Hawks’ biggest fans, always making his presence known at football games and golf tournaments. An avid golfer himself, he travelled to various courses across Canada, the United States, and his native Scotland.

Geddie recalls travelling to Scotland with Arthur a few years ago and playing on Gleneagles. “We were standing on the 16th tee, and I said, ‘Arthur, look at this hole. It’s a classic with those huge bunkers guarding a pushed-up green.’ Arthur lifted his eyes from the scorecard and squinted at the hole like it was something he’d never seen before. ‘Yeah, it’s pretty,’ he said, ‘but you’re two down and we’ve got three to go.’”

Arthur himself and all he accomplished at Laurier has left a strong imprint that will remain an important piece of the university’s history. Though his absence is deeply felt by colleagues and community members alike, his legend and legacy will live on in the culture he helped establish.