Rodney White retires: dinner celebrates former IES Director & Centre for Environment co-founder

Friday, September 5, 2008 2:44:00 PM

Academic News


By Ingrid Leman Stefanovic

At a celebratory dinner, Professor Rodney White (centre) is presented with a gift by Professor Virginia Maclaren, Chair of Geography (left) and Professor Ingrid Stefanovic, Director of the Centre for Environment.
Photo: At a celebratory dinner, Professor Rodney White (centre) is presented with a gift by Professor Virginia Maclaren, Chair of Geography (left) and Professor Ingrid Stefanovic, Director of the Centre for Environment. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Owen.)

Kin Hubbard, a nineteenth century American humorist once wrote: "When some fellers decide to retire, nobody knows the difference."  When Professor Rodney White chose to retire, there was a seismic upheaval in the environmental world at the University of Toronto!

Having led the former Institute for Environmental Studies (IES) Director for more than ten years until 2005, Rodney worked with me and Dr. Doug Macdonald as one of the three founders of the Centre for Environment. We all know him as a leader with a heart: always clear-headed, focused, attentive, brilliant and caring. To so many of us, he has been and continues to be a friend, one whom we hold in the highest regard both for his administrative accomplishments at the university but also for his academic wisdom, his teaching acumen and his collegial spirit.

Rodney studied geography at Oxford University receiving his B.A. in 1965. A Fulbright Travel Scholarship brought him to Penn State, where he completed his M.Sc. in 1967 and in 1971, he received his Ph.D. from Bristol University. His teaching career has taken him to Northwestern University, the University of Ibadan, to McMaster University and finally, since 1974, the Department of Geography and former IES at the University of Toronto.

He has undertaken numerous international research assignments, from Senegal to Nigeria to Ghana, and to China. Most of his career has been spent in infrastructure planning, both in rural as well as more recently, in urban areas. Some of his most important publications include his book, entitled Building the Ecological City and more recently, his wonderful books written in collaboration with Dr. Sonia Labatt: Environmental Finance: A Guide to Environmental Risk Assessment and Financial Products and Carbon Finance: The Financial Implications of Climate Change

Rodney has forged new areas of research, both in terms of the urban/environment interface but also in terms of defining and refining a field of study that brings together issues of investment finance and sustainability. And he has done so all during the period of time when he also held an administrative post of Director of IES.  In this respect again, those of us who know the challenges of balancing these multiple responsibilities can only be in awe of Rodney's accomplishments.

At a dinner on May 8, 2008 at the U of T Faculty Club, Rodney's accomplishments were celebrated by Professor Virginia Maclaren, Chair of the Department of Geography, as well as Dr. Sonia Labatt, Rodney's co-author and colleague. As Director of the Centre, I was also pleased to have the opportunity of lauding Rodney's achievements. We chose to honour Rodney with a historical map of Toronto, and an album in which friends and colleagues each took the time to insert comments and words of respect and gratitude.

Someone once pointed out the irony of the typical presentation of a watch as a retirement gift at a point in life when schedules and time are no longer such a matter of urgency! Avoiding the watch, we chose instead to honour Rodney with a historical map of Toronto and an album where friends and colleagues each took the time to insert comments and words of respect and gratitude.

As Rodney formally leaves the university, we know that he has retired from teaching but we also know that he will continue to be a strong force in the intellectual world of environment, urban sustainability and financial research and thinking. Author Hartman Jule has said that "retirement has been a discovery of beauty for me.  I never had the time before to notice the beauty of my grandkids, my wife, the tree outside my very own front door.  And the beauty of time itself." May Rodney now enjoy these moments - but may he also continue to keep in touch with us here at the University of Toronto, where he will continue to be held in highest possible regard.

Ingrid Stefanovic is Director of the Centre for Environment.