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A champion of small towns

Posted on December 14, 2021 by Maple Creek

Who is Richard Rooney? Why has a man with no prior connection to Maple Creek dug so deeply into his pockets to support the community? Last Friday, the News-Times spoke to Rooney over the telephone to answer these questions. When we called, he was in Toronto, where he has worked for the last 26 years at Burgundy Asset Management. Although keen to keep a low profile, he agreed to an interview.  

Richard Rooney has never forgotten his roots.
He comes from two small Ontario communities: Woodville (population about 650) and Ripley (population about 600).
It gave him an understanding of the challenges facing small towns throughout Canada, and threats posed by bigger centres.
When he visited Maple Creek with a colleague – travelling around Canada is something he enjoys now that he is an “empty-nester” with lighter work commitments – he felt a connection.
He was charmed by the surroundings, and the people.
As someone with a deep appreciation of the arts, it was perhaps inevitable that he would find himself exploring the rooms at the Jasper Cultural & Historical Centre. What he saw impressed him enormously.
“Maple Creek is a terrific town, and the Jasper Centre is a terrific place,” he said.
Rooney began chatting with Donny White, Jasper board chair. It was clear to him that White, who has worked at the Esplanade in Medicine Hat, was extremely passionate about the Jasper Centre, and the importance of culture in the community.
“Maple Creek is fortunate to have someone Donny White,” he said.
Two of the exhibits that caught Rooney’s attention were metal horse sculptures by Eastend artist Grieta Krisjanson.
After learning that the Centre was worried about losing these two pieces, Rooney, who has made his name in the world of global investment management, believed he could help.
It was the first of two occasions in which he stunned White with his generosity.
“I thought he was going to give us $45, or something like that, which would have been fantastic,” said White.
Instead, Rooney made out a cheque for $25,000, enabling the Centre not only to buy the sculptures, but also begin a Legacy Fund aimed at former Maple Creek residents.
Months later Rooney heard about the Centre’s financial struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had forced the suspension of programming, a key revenue source. The predicament was made worse by winds damaging part of the roof.
“I think I read about the problems,” said Rooney.
Yet again, Rooney believed he could help.
“I’ve had a very fortunate career, so I said to myself ‘why, not?”
This time, Rooney contributed $250,000, with a message expressing hope that the money would alleviate the Centre’s anxieties.
It was a contribution with no strings attached, and no desire for recognition or publicity.
While Rooney’s “fortunate career” has been in the world of finance, his interests range far beyond those borders. His history of philanthropy, not a word he chooses to use about himself, goes back long way.
His education included a spell at University of Toronto, a place that provided him with years of happy memories. Later he would give back to the university, once his career had taken off.
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from U of T in 1977 and MBA from Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University, in 1981, he obtained his Chartered Financial Analyst designation in 1987.
He joined the investment industry at Sun Life and held investment positions there and at AMI Partners.
In February 1995 he joined Burgundy Asset Management, and was appointed president and chief investment officer in September 1997.
In 2009, he was honoured by his peers and received the designation of Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. His appointment to vice-chair of Burgundy came in 2020 as he began to wind down his business life.
Other positions in his resume include: president of The Art Gallery of Ontario Foundation and director of Historica Canada, Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Heritage Project.
An example of Rooney’s generosity, and willingness to direct funds to where they are most needed, is provided by his long association of support and volunteerism at the University of Toronto, where he helped the New One program get started at New College by providing a $1 million gift. The program gives first-year students a chance to take part in small learning communities and weekly plenary sessions, and have one-on-one interaction with faculty members.
At the time of his gift, Rooney recalled his personal experience at U of T, saying that being part of a small community of his peers at New College proved a very supportive environment to someone from a small town.
He later teamed up with the New College Student Council to build a plaza on Willcocks Street outside the college. After students pledged $150,000 towards the plaza, Rooney gifted the remaining $650,000 to fund the project.
Rooney’s generosity towards the Jasper Centre follows several visits to Saskatchewan, which have taken him to the Cypress Hills. Most of the time he has stayed at the Resort at Cypress Hills.
His travelling companion is Craig Pho, Burgundy Asset Management’s senior vice-president, portfolio manager.
Unlike Rooney, Pho was born and raised in the Canadian Prairies, and familiar with the allure of Saskatchewan. For Rooney, the Cypress Hills was utterly enchanting.
During these visits, his empathy for small towns and the needs of their people was ever present.
When Rooney learned about the Southwest Integrated Healthcare Facility starting in Maple Creek, he made a donation.
So, when is he planning to return to the community that has benefited so much from his largesse?
He can’t answer definitely, but said he would love to return next year.
“All I can say is that it will probably be between May and October.”
Parts of this article have been taken from the Burgundy website and University of Toronto stories.
According to the Burgundy Asset Management website, Rooney’s memberships include:
Chair of board of directors and of the investment committee, Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation;
Member of Governance Committee, former chair of board of governors, Stratford Shakespeare Festival;
Trustee Emeritus and former president, Art Gallery of Ontario Foundation;
Trustee Emeritus, Art Gallery of Ontario;
Member, CPA (Chartered Professional Accountants) Ontario;
Member, CFA Society Toronto; and
Member, CFA Institute.

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