Canadian singer-songwriter, international academic and renowned union leader to receive honorary degrees from Brock

Brock University will bestow honorary degrees upon three individuals who embody the spirit of civic and academic excellence at Spring Convocation, which takes place during nine ceremonies over five days, from Tuesday, June 3 to Saturday, June 7.

Brock is proud to present honorary degrees to Ron Sexsmith, the Canadian singer-songwriter who hails from St. Catharines; Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers; and Sir Hilary Beckles, professor and Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of the West Indies.

All ceremonies will be held in the Walker Complex in the Ian D. Beddis gymnasium. An outdoor reception for graduates, family and guests will be held after each ceremony.

Tickets are not required. All guests are welcome.

The three honorary degree presentations will proceed as follows:

Tuesday, June 3, 10 a.m.
An honorary degree will be presented to singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith

Ronald Eldon (Ron) Sexsmith is a three-time Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter from St. Catharines.

Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith

Regarded as a brilliant artist’s artist, Sexsmith is known for his shy manner and introspective lyrics, his dedicated approach to songwriting and his vast catalogue of songs and poems. One critic observed that his songwriting style has evolved into a unique and timeless blend of classic pop, contemporary folk and roots-rock idioms.

His professional career has taken him to all corners of the world and across Canada, including at least six appearances at Brock’s Sean O’Sullivan Theatre.

Born in 1964 – the same year Brock University was founded – and educated in St. Catharines, Sexsmith enjoyed creative writing and got his musical start playing lead guitar in his high school band. He started his own band when he was 14 years of age and by the time he was 17, he had regular gigs at the Brock pub (Alphie’s Trough) and the Lion’s Tavern in Port Dalhousie. He gained a reputation as the “One-Man Jukebox” for his ability to play any request.

By 1985, he was writing his own material and released a cassette, Out of the Duff, with his band The Uncool. He was off and running on a recording career.

The move produced an acquaintance in Bob Wiseman, keyboardist for Blue Rodeo, with whom Sexsmith and his band recorded a second independent album, Grand Opera Lane (1991). The effort attracted the interest of Interscope Records and led to 1995’s self-titled album.

What followed was a body of work – 11 albums – that very few songwriting recording artists can match for their consistently high quality.

In 1998, Sexsmith was awarded his first Juno Award for the album Other Songs. In 2002, he won the Genie for best original song for “Love Is Free to Go,” featured in the film The Art of Woo. For his 2001 album Blue Boy, he received a Canadian Independent Music Award. In 2005, Sexsmith was awarded a Juno for Songwriter of the Year for the song “Whatever It Takes.”

In 2011, the album Long Player Late Bloomer was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. He picked up his third Juno Award in March for best adult alternative album for Forever Endeavor, his 13th studio release.

As a child, Sexsmith’s earliest musical influences included Johnny Cash and Little Anthony and the Imperials. Later, Ray Davies of the Kinks became Sexsmith’s first and most enduring songwriting inspiration, followed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Elton John. “About 19, I started discovering people like Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot,” he said.

As a singer, Sexsmith always admired Harry Nilsson, Bing Crosby, Bill Withers and Charlie Rich, and found a home in that crooner tradition. He has recorded with some of the industry’s best producers, including Mitchell Froom, Daniel Lanois, Martin Terefe, Steve Earle and Bob Rock.

In addition to being a local hero, Sexsmith has attracted a number of impressive celebrity admirers, including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Mr. McCartney, Mr. Earle, k.d. lang, fellow St. Catharines’ native Dallas Green, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Swedish opera star Anne Sophie von Otter, many of whom have recorded his songs.

In 2004, Canadian singer-songwriter k.d. lang covered Sexsmith’s song “Fallen” on her album Hymns of the 49th Parallel. He also wrote the title song of Emmylou Harris’ 2011 album, Hard Bargain. Rod Stewart, Feist and Nick Lowe recorded Sexsmith’s “Secret Heart.”

Sexsmith co-wrote “Brandy Alexander” with Feist – versions appear on his Exit Strategy of the Soul and on Feist’s international hit album The Reminder. Michael Bublé’s 2009 album Crazy Love contained his “Whatever It Takes.”

Sexsmith was the subject of a 2010 documentary called Love Shines. It follows him as he makes a studio album – Long Player Late Bloomer – with legendary Canadian producer Rock. Directed by Douglas Arrowsmith, it was nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards in 2013. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Royal Conservatory earlier this spring.

Thursday, June 5, 10 a.m.
An honorary degree will be presented to Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW)

Whether standing up for good jobs for USW members and their families, supporting fair trade, or building global solidarity through strategic alliances, nobody has fought harder for USW members in North America and workers around the world than International President Leo W. Gerard.

Leo W. Gerrard

Leo W. Gerard

Gerard has fought to restore the focus on manufacturing in the United States, leading the USW’s drive to revive the economy by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and paving the way for a cleaner, more prosperous future for American and Canadian workers.

The son of a union miner and activist, Gerard went to work at age 18 at a nickel smelter in his hometown of Sudbury, Ont. He studied economics and political science at Laurentian University, where he later received an honorary doctorate of laws degree.

The USW’s International Executive Board appointed Gerard as International President on Feb. 28, 2001. He succeeded the late George Becker, who had retired. That November, Gerard was elected by acclamation in union-wide elections. He was re-elected without opposition in 2005, 2009 and 2013. Previously, he served as International Secretary-Treasurer (1994-2001), the National Director for Canada (1991-1994) and Director of District 6 in Ontario (1986-1991).

Gerard has led the USW on a course of unprecedented activism, demanding – and winning – government action to halt a flood of illegal imports and negotiating precedent-setting labor agreements.

Gerard has reached out to allies around the globe to create a worldwide network of unions at multinational companies that employ USW members. He has forged mergers and alliances with international industrial unions and helped to combat the exploitation of workers in the developing world. That network of global solidarity helped put an end to Rio Tinto’s six-month lockout of aluminum smelter workers in Alma, Quebec, in 2012, among other victories.

Gerard led the USW to build an alliance with Unite the Union, the largest labor union in Great Britain and Ireland. That partnership resulted in the creation of the first trans-Atlantic union, Workers Uniting, which counts 3.4 million active and retired workers as members. In 2012, he took part in the historic founding convention of IndustriALL Global Union, a worldwide federation that includes more than 50 million workers in 140 countries in all sectors of the economy.

Through it all, Gerard has helped the USW to continue to grow at home. Merging with existing unions and organizing new workers has made the USW – officially the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union – the largest industrial union in North America and the dominant union in paper, forestry products, steel, aluminum, tire and rubber, mining, glass, chemicals, petroleum and other basic resource industries, in addition to a growing membership in the health care and service sectors.

Under Gerard’s direction, the USW has led the way in the global fight against economic injustice and corporate greed. It has also been an unwavering advocate for fair trade that supports workers over multi-billion-dollar corporations.

In 2013, President Barack Obama appointed Gerard to serve on the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee, charged with helping the president find ways to create good jobs and enhance the nation’s competitiveness.

Gerard has championed strategic alliances and global union networks, including partnerships with Unite, IG Metall, the German metalworkers’ union; AWU, the Australian Workers’ Union; CFMEU, Australia’s Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union; CNM-CUT, the largest metalworkers’ union in Brazil; and SNTMMSRM or Los Mineros, the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Republic of Mexico.

A co-founder of the labor-environmental partnership the BlueGreen Alliance, Gerard also serves on the boards of the Campaign for America’s Future, the Economic Policy Institute and the Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corp., as well as serving as a member of the labor advisory board at Wayne State University.

Gerard has been married to his high school sweetheart for 42 years and has two daughters and two grandchildren.

Thursday, June 5, 2 p.m.
An honorary degree will be presented to Sir Hilary Beckles, professor and Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of the West Indies

Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles has been Principal and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados since 2002.

Sir Hilary Beckles

Sir Hilary Beckles

Since Sir Hilary earned his doctorate in Economic and Social History at the University of Hull, England (1976-1980) as well as his BA (Honours) Economic and Social History (1973-1976), he has become a distinguished University administrator, economic historian and a specialist in higher education and development thinking and practice.

He is vice-president of the international task force for the UNESCO Slave Route Project; a consultant for the UNESCO Cities for Peace Global Program; an adviser to the UN World Culture Report; and, a member of Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon’s Science Advisory Board on sustainable development.

Beckles has received numerous awards including honorary doctor of letters from the University of Glasgow (2011), the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana (2009) and the University of Hull (U.K., 2004) and in recognition of his major contributions to academic research into transatlantic slavery, popular culture and sport. He is also an editor of the UNESCO General History of Africa series.

Sir Hilary was a professor of Economic and Social History (1991-present), chairman of the Department of History (1992-1996), Dean of the Faculty of Humanities (1994-1998) and chairman of the board for Undergraduate Studies (1998-2002).

He plays an active role at many levels in the development of the University’s post-graduate program. He was responsible for successfully supervising six PhD candidates and one MPhil candidate and he is currently supervising two more PhD candidates. He also served as an associate faculty member at the Consortium Graduate School of the Social Sciences, U.W.I., Mona, 1989-1991, where he was a History tutor.

Beckles is a prodigious writer and editor of books, monographs and academic articles and has lectured extensively in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

He has published more than 10 academic books including Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Slavery in the Caribbean (2013); Centering Woman: Gender Discourses in Caribbean Slave Society (1999); White Servitude and Black Slavery in Barbados 1627-1715 (1990); The History of Barbados (1990); Natural Rebels: A History of Enslaved Black Women in the Caribbean (1989); The Development of West Indies Cricket: Volume One, The Age of Nationalism; and Volume Two, The Age of Globalisation, (1999); A Nation Imagined: The First West Indies Test Team: The 1928 Tour (2003).

Beckles wrote and staged seven plays between 2004 and 2011, including Sarah: Mother of the Nation, a play depicting the life and times of the Right Excellent Sarah-Ann Gill, a trailblazer and a champion for non-violent resistance in Barbados.

He also wrote The Betrayal, a play depicting the political intervention of the Right Excellent Clement Payne, a Trinidad-born advocate for the poor in Barbados and a pioneer in the Caribbean trade union movement.

He is chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Commission on Reparation and Social Justice.

Sir Hilary is founder and director of the CLR James Centre for Cricket Research at Cave Hill Campus, served as the university (inter-campus) co-ordinator for sports and he is a former member of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). He is founder and inaugural chairman of the High Performance Cricket Academy of the WICB. He is also vice-president of the Commonwealth Sports Ministers advisory body on sport and development.

Among his many awards and honors are:

  • 1986, Senior Commonwealth Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University.
  • 1991, Barbados Cultural Promotions Inc.: Author of the Year Award.
  • 1993, Award, Barbados Association of Journalists. Writer, narrator and co-director for Best Documentary of the Year, on Barbados independence, entitled We Now Have a Country.
  • 1994, Inaugural Visiting Professor, Caribbean Scholar in Residence Program, New York University, Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
  • 2007, Commander Knight of St. Andrew (KA), highest official national award of Barbados.
  • 2010, OSHE EMEKA Lifetime Achievement Award, Barbados Pan-African Commission. This award goes to Barbadians who have been singled out for their contributions to promoting Afrocentricity.

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