Coun. Norman Wagner


Norman Wagner, O.C., PhD, LL.D, a colourful past president of the University of Calgary and a public member of APEGGA Council, died Dec. 10 after a six-year battle with prostate cancer. Dr. Wagner was 69.

Appointed to Council in 2001, Dr. Wagner brought to the table a business, academic and governance background, as well as a no-nonsense, objective attitude. “I'm willing to do my part but as sort of an outsider. I'm not an engineer or a geoscientist — I'm strictly a representative of the public,” he said on his appointment.

Dr. Wagner was the second-longest serving president in the history of the University of Calgary, a position he held from 1978 to 1988. He'll be remembered there for his sharp wit and forward-thinking plans, and also for his willingness to wade into controversial waters with little hesitation.

Put on the spot during an organizational meeting for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, Dr. Wagner said the U of C would back the Games. He had consulted no one at the university beforehand, but later managed to convince others it was a good move, despite their skepticism. The U of C's Olympic Oval is considered one of his legacies.

When funding shortfalls threatened the university in 1987, Dr. Wagner made a controversial call. He capped enrolment at 20,000 students. As president he also brought in a strategic plan, designed to steer the still-maturing university to greater heights in research and technology, and to attract finances.

A Calgary Herald story quotes his wife, Cathy, as saying, “The university was so young when he took over. And he worked so hard to raise its profile in Calgary and, well, around the world.”
Born in Edenwold, Sask., Dr. Wagner received his bachelor of arts degree with a major in divinity from the University of Saskatchewan in 1958. He went on to receive from the University of Toronto his master's degree and, in near Eastern studies, his PhD.

From 1962 to 1978, he held positions at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., which bestowed on him an honorary law degree. He began there as professor of near Eastern languages, literature and archeology, and went on to become dean of graduate studies and research.

Academia wasn't the only place he made a mark, however. Dr. Wagner became chairman of the board of Alberta Natural Gas Co. Ltd. in 1988, and in a few years was the company's president and CEO.
After leaving the gas company, he became president of the Corporate-Higher Education Forum. At the time of his death he was chairman of knowledge@work, a consulting company that helps organizations deal with complex issues, including public consultation.

Community service was a big part of his life. He was chair of the board of the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award Program, and has chaired a number of other organizations over the years, among them the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Council of Western Canadian University Presidents, and the Alberta Universities Coordinating Council. He was a founding trustee of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, and founder of the Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Dr. Wagner was also an officer of the Order of Canada and President Emeritus of the University of Calgary.

He's survived by his wife, Cathy, as well as three children and one grandchild. A memorial service for Dr. Wagner was held Dec. 15 in Calgary.