Pat Elemans, the assistant dean of the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria, has died, taking with her a big piece of the school’s heart and its connection to the world.
Elemans, described by colleagues and business associates as a tireless worker, energetic educator and a networker-connector extraordinaire, died this week after a battle with cancer.
The loss is being felt around the region by organizations and community groups with which she was involved in her 16 years in Victoria, but it’s at the university’s business school where Elemans’ influence will be sorely missed for years to come.
“She had such a massive influence on who we are, what we did and how we connected to the community — it’s a big blow,” said Gustavson dean Saul Klein.
“Pat was really the face of the school externally. She was an amazing connector. She was energetic, dynamic and helped people connect at all levels.”
Klein said he has been hearing from faculty, members of the community and alumni about how much Elemans affected their lives.
It has become clear how important Elemans was in weaving the fabric that tied, not just the business school, but the entire university to the community, Klein said.
Former Gustavson dean Ali Dastmalchian, now the dean of the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University, called Elemans the best ambassador UVic ever had. “She had a natural talent for connecting with people,” he said, noting that extended well beyond Vancouver Island to students, businesses, and schools around the world.
Dastmalchian met Elemans at the University of Lethbridge in the late 1990s, when he was the dean of that school’s faculty of management and she was on the faculty. He recalled immediately seeing her spark, energy and ability to see opportunities.
He promoted Elemans to run the undergraduate program at Lethbridge, and eventually suggested she should apply for a position at UVic two years after he took the job as dean of the young business school in 2002.
Dastmalchian said he’s not sure he would have been able to succeed as dean at Lethbridge or UVic without Elemans. “She knew I trusted her and regarded her very highly. “I learned a lot from her, working with her for 20 years. My only regret is I didn’t admit how important she was to me.”
Klein said Elemans left the school last summer to have treatment and had planned on retiring.
Her influence will remain on campus, Klein said .
“She was instrumental in the business school raising its profile,” he said. That included attracting major financial gifts such as the $10 million from entrepreneur Peter Gustavson in 2010 that led to the school’s new name.
Dastmalchian, who was dean at the time, recalled that Elemans saw an opportunity to open the school to the broader community with the naming ceremony, a day-long event that drew representatives from around the region to campus. “She had a talent to see things and opportunities that other people didn’t, an imagination to see that things could be done differently,” he said. “We opened the university to the public that day — she did things extraordinarily.”
Gustavson said Elemans was a great salesperson. “Pat convinced me that a $10-million investment in the business school would be my best investment ever,” he said. “And she was 100 per cent right. She will be greatly missed by the school and the Victoria business community. However, Pat’s contributions to the school and the business community will live on.”
Gustavson said Elemans was incredibly bright, full of positive energy and “the biggest booster of the UVic business school I know.”
He noted she was the driving force behind the school’s Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year Award program.
“She would spend countless hours researching each award recipient and their families. She dug deep to find that special nugget of information about the [award winner] that nobody would know that she could share with the gala’s guests,” he said.
Newspaper baron David Black, who was named the entrepreneur of the year in 2007, said Elemans was a hard-working and creative woman who helped build the UVic’s business school into what it is today.
“I liked her a lot. She was easy-going, and experienced in what she was doing and really helped build that school up big,” he said.
Black and other local business leaders had been instrumental in getting the business school started at UVic. The principles that guided those early days were carried on by Elemans and helped establish the school internationally.
Deirdre Campbell, managing director at Beattie Tartan, said she has lost her best friend.
Campbell was intrigued when she first saw Elemans running the award gala from on stage at a time she didn’t often see women hosting Victoria business events.
“That caught my attention,” said Campbell, who soon found a kindred spirit in Elemans.
“It’s very rare you find a friend like that in your life,” she said. “We were both driven to succeed and be the best we could.”
She said they challenged each other and understood the need to also have a positive impact in the community. “I admire her so much. While I have lost that day-to-day contact, her legacy will inspire me to keep going,” she said.
Klein said the university will formally recognize Elemans’ impact at a later date.
Elemans is survived by her husband Roman Hahn