William Read, 14618 (RRMC 1980-84)
William Read graduated from RRMC in 1984 with a BSc in Computer Science and Physics. He obtained a master’s in Computer Science from the University of Ottawa in 1994 and finished an MBA in Digital Technologies from Royal Roads University in 2005. He is currently the Managing Director, International Regulome Consortium at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Ottawa, ON.
This interview was conducting in September 2009 when he was back for his 25th class reunion during Homecoming Weekend. The interview was conducted by Royal Roads University staff person, Karen Inkster, and is part of an ongoing initiative to document and preserve the oral history of RRMC. For further information, email Karen.Inkster@royalroads.ca
William: I’m 14618, William Andrew Read. I was inducted in 1980. I graduated in 1984 and I came back in 2003 to RRU for my MBA and graduated in 2005.
Karen: What was that like to come back after university?
William: It was fantastic. I loved the changes that have occurred. It looks less military here and now the natural beauty of the grounds and the buildings really have come out. You know they say you can’t go home again? There was some of that where you miss certain things, names have changed, all the people are different, but there really was a sense that I was coming back. And coming back as a mature student is a lot of fun too because I had a little more money, I had my car here, that sort of thing. But doing the MBA there’s a lot less time. I didn’t think that there would be less time to think than there was when I was in military college but it certainly was a challenge coming back! (laughs)
Karen: That’s ironic isn’t it?
William: It was. I was really hoping that a little more time just to take in the environment and everything but we were running the whole time!
Karen: So tell me what made you decide that you wanted to come to military college?
William: Well my father served in the Canadian army and he encouraged me to look at military colleges as a university option because as the third child I don’t think he had the money to send me to university other than having to work fulltime. So he looked at military college as an opportunity for me to get a degree, have a good job waiting for me at the end and of course there is that notion of the family legacy of having people serve in the military.
Karen: And which service did you end up in?
William: I entered the air force – really though I was going into communications and the communications branch has the army, the signals and the air force side and I really wasn’t sure which direction I would go in until I did my first rotation of training through Kingston and at that point I decided to pursue the air force because at the time they were the ones that were really more high tech and that’s the direction I wanted to take. I’m sure I’d have been just as happy in the army (laughs).
Karen: So what was it like to come here that first time?
William: Ah it was a real shock. I’d just turned 17. I was very young for entering military college and it was going from being an academically focused kid in high school and to be dropped into an environment where you’re expected to lead, to work well with your peers and to suffer hardships that one doesn’t suffer when one is just a comfortable high school student.
Karen: So did you immediately make friends when you got here?
William: Yes. Fortunately at the time we went through Chilliwack and I had the opportunity to meet a few people that would move on to Royal Roads and so that was nice to have some people from my platoon in basic training that were here. There were approximately a hundred recruits so there were at least a few people that I knew at the time but there was no one from my home town or anything like that. It was kind of a solo flight in many respects because even these people that I had met through basic training were my friends for the previous eight to twelve weeks – I forget what it was exactly but a very short time.
Karen: Did that help prepare you to come to Royal Roads do you think?
William: The basic training? Yes, I know they revisited that through the years of whether or not to put students straight in. I think having the basic military notion of sleep deprivation and polishing shoes and drill and all these other things helped but certainly there is a little bit of apples and oranges comparison there. But yeah I think it was helpful to at least get some of the rigours out of the way.
Karen: What was it like at the beginning? You must have been wondering if it was the right choice?
William: I think everybody goes through that. One of the advantages is I grew up in Victoria so I did feel that I was still in a home environment. I think everybody questions themselves but I look back on it now and it’s all part of growing up.
Karen: What were your first impressions when you arrived at Royal Roads?
William: It was quite unbelievable coming over the top of the hill and seeing the view of the castle and at the time, Grant Block, and just the vast ocean expanse and there was a sense of size that didn’t last (laughs) because this is a very small place but yeah it was quite magnificent coming over the top. One of the things that was very funny – we came over on the ferry because first we were in Chilliwack – so they bussed us over. And we went by Wilkinson Jail as kind of the shortcut and of course people from Ontario, said, “Oh is that Royal Roads?” And I thought no, but then of course when I got here and after my first few days of being a recruit, maybe that wasn’t too far from the truth (laughs).
Karen: So you were here for the full four years – is that right?
William: Yes, yes. We were the first group through the new computer science degree program, the class of ’84 and there were about a dozen of us – if I thought long enough I could probably count through the names. But it was a very tiny class and it was the new cutting edge computer science degree that Royal Roads had brought out and it was really a great experience because we really could kind of make our own way through the program.
Karen: So a lot went to RMC then?
William: Yes. It was a really big deal back then. I mean you’d have to make that choice whether you were going to stay or go and it didn’t feel good that graduation. You get to your second year and you’ve got some fairly close friends and you know that they’re going to leave and for the most part I’ve never seen these guys again. I did see some of them during our military specialized training but it really was a feeling of splitting the class asunder and it’s like a second graduation when you graduate after four years because that first graduation at your second year, you then become a very small class that then will leave the college. So that was a really interesting feeling as well. That’s not something that they get at RMC.
Karen: It’s interesting because I haven’t gotten that perspective of that because for most of the years it was a two-year college and….
William: Yes it was quite unique I think because my wife is in fact a graduate of RMC and there is a lot more competition at RMC for the leadership positions because there’s a lot more fourth years. At Royal Roads at the time there were, as I said, 24 of us and so essentially you knew that when you were staying after second year, into your third year, you could be receiving leadership opportunities in your third year and you were being groomed to lead in the fourth year. So definitely a real passage happened from second to third. And as I said, a sense of sadness as well because so many of your friends and colleagues were leaving for RMC and you would have few opportunities to see them again unless you trained with them after graduation or if you were fortunate enough to see them at your early posting.
Karen: And did anybody come from RMC?
William: Yes. We had a gentleman actually come from CMR – Scott Crawshaw, 14218 and that was really cool, it was actually cool to get somebody and I think that he would say that it was a good experience for him because he was kind of welcomed with open arms, like Oh! A new guy! (laughs) So that was kind of interesting and it was only Scott that came but that’s really rare. He’s a navy guy and had a real interest in oceanography so it was the ideal fit for him to come here for the oceanography degree. But there’s very few that I think would be coming the other way. I’m sure it’s the same now with CMR and RMC – I think that once you are in those colleges you stay – all the way up.
Karen: So tell me about how they taught leadership?
William: That’s an interesting way of phrasing that question. At the time the notion was that the cadet officers ran the cadet wing with the assistance of military officers that inhabited the castle that were your mentors and your overseers. And so you would meet with them regularly but the idea was that you would make it happen and would be taking care of the 200-250 cadets in your particular area. I was the vice president of the mess committee – the individual that runs the social activities, the bar, that sort of thing. It was an interesting opportunity to arrange social events, to manage a facility like this, and to work with the staff on issues of what kind of events are we going to set up? How are we going to make money? What are the kind of rules we have here – and so forth. You know other members of our class specialized in more of the military side so they would end up as the squadron leaders or the wing commander and that sort of thing. One fellow, Tom Fowler, 14558 was the administrative officer and did a fantastic job in that and developed a certain specialty in that area. It was also a neat thing with the fact that I had a third year class behind me coming up. I was able to groom my successor so in my second term I groomed the vice PMC to become the PMC the following year. And I remember coming back visiting him the following year when I just happened to be around Victoria. So as I say it’s a different feeling when you are in a situation where you know you are going to be in charge and you get a little serious when you get to third year and knowing that okay, all of this is going to be mine. I gotta get on with it. So I’m not putting down the way RMC does their business but because of their sheer size they get the best of the best to be their cadet leaders. At Royal Roads it was always, well we’ll take who we have and we’ll make them great leaders. And that’s what they really wanted to achieve and I think they did.
Karen: That’s an interesting distinction.
William: Well it comes back to this idea, are leaders born or are they made? And on and on in that eternal debate. I think the point is that everybody has a set of capabilities within them and you provide them with opportunities, you try to bring out what they have and make them the best they can be. Now certainly if someone has made it to their third year of military college they’d at least have to have something in there and so the idea was that, give people an opportunity, give them what you think they can do well, mentor them – get the military officers to mentor them – and see the results and I think that I can say pretty comfortably that everybody that graduated in 1984 has done well for themselves, I think that the experiment worked. (laughs)
Karen: Now what about pranks or skylarks…
William: Ohhh oh no – I knew you were going to get to that!
Karen: I haven’t heard any from your class yet.
William: Really? Okay. Probably the one that was the most notorious was when we painted the UVIC copper dome. It was at the student union building – I don’t know if UVIC still has it but there was a copper dome and I had a ladder – I told you I lived in Victoria – my parents were still here – so we had an enormous ladder in my backyard and I had the car and so we got the webbo – the white paint you’ve probably heard about in other interviews. Got some white paint which is washable, and got the appropriate camouflage clothing on and so forth and we strapped the ladder on to the top of my car and all of us got in and we whipped off.
We were timing the campus cowboys because UVIC has the Ring Road around the campus so it takes approximately five minutes for the vehicle to take its circuit – slow circuit you know going through parking lots and so forth and so we had that amount of time to move from place to place. So we went to UVIC, parked outside the student union building and got ourselves all sorted out and got everything ready to go, waited for the next pass to the campus cowboy. We got the ladder up there – did I mention I was the lookout? So I had the idea so I got to be the lookout so I scored the walkie-talkies so and I also was at the wheel of the car just in case anything went wrong. We had the guys go up, they took the ladder, they got up a couple of stories onto the top where the copper dome is and they painted RMC #1 along the copper and it was great because it actually made it to UVIC’s newspaper. We actually had to stop, take a picture of it. It was a foggy night which was to our benefit. The difficult part was we had to wait by the side of the road until the fog kind of cleared so we could get a decent picture of it. So anyway we got back – the next day we took some pictures of the group and everything and then we heard about the fallout. So I guess the president of UVIC was extremely unhappy about this and called the commandant and you know was angry as all get out – goes “Oh the copper dome and they painted it with white paint and we had to spend $1000 to get it sand-blasted off and so forth.” So what the commandant apparently said – of course we heard this through the chain what had happened – the commandant basically said, “Well if you had called earlier, we would have told you a) that the paint was water soluble and b) if you wanted the cadets responsible to clean it up I would have sent them over. Good Day Sir.” So we heard nothing more of it. No trouble at all. But yes I do have I believe the issue of the UVIC newspaper if you’d like it. It does have that picture and I think I have a picture that I took as well. But anyway, I take credit for that one, I did have the idea, I did get all of the tools and I did keep myself safe. (laughs)
Karen: That’s a good one.
William: Yeah, yeah. Well UVIC was always kind of the butt of the joke in a way. I mean we would organize convoys of vehicles to go and pick up young ladies to come over to the dances and we ended up having to bring extra vehicles for security because it made some of the young gentlemen unhappy at UVIC – that we would be doing this.
Karen: You didn’t have any lady cadets when you were here – is that right?
William: We were close to having them so in 1983 we were told that the following year there was going to be the first induction of third year and first year lady cadets but it never occurred – I think it was due to budget issues – they couldn’t get the refit done on Nixon Block and Grant Block in order for washrooms and facilities and so forth and so it was delayed by a full year and so we were the last class that we had no lady cadets on parade, we had no UTPM – University Training Plan for Men – on parade. We were all scarlet, all male – it was very unique and it was the last one. Now I’m not going to start pumping my fist about that – I ended up marrying a lady cadet about two years later – but at the time we were pretty pumped about that (laughs).
Karen: I was going to ask you what was the reaction when the cadets heard that…
William: Well our job, because in third year, we were brought in at the time the chief operating officer of the college brought us in. He said, “Gentlemen, let’s have a serious conversation here. We all know you know the scuttlebutt about lady cadets and this and that” he said “but you guys have to carry the torch here – they’re going to be here next year – you’re in charge and you’re going to have to make sure this is a successful project and you have to sell it to the second years and the first years – starting now – because they’re going to be the third and fourth or third and second years respectively the following year so you have to sell it, you have to change your attitude now. And you can privately mutter if you wish but publicly you have to be leaders.” So that was interesting, that was a really interesting thing to throw out there to guys who were 19, 20, 21, and say “You know okay we need to have a public face and you know even though our private feelings are different.” And that’s a real maturation when you’re faced with that and it’s like this is real. So we were fully prepared, we were prepared mentally and emotionally and spiritually for it to happen, it was just that the college wasn’t prepared physically until the following year. And you know I think there was disappointment when it didn’t happen. It was “Here we are ready to go” and then there was relief because we said, this is going to be easy and in fact our fourth year was really easy because there were no challenges of any sort that we had to deal with. It was all same old, same old status quo. And so we enjoyed it.
Karen: And what were some of the concerns?
William: It’s funny asking me that 25 years later because it just seems so silly now. I think that it was, we’re eroding tradition and you know things will be different and so forth and oh the standards will slip – and on and on and on and on. And so it’s very hard for me to go there, simply because I’m married to a lady cadet (chuckles) and I look back on it and all the silly stuff that was going around then. If anything maybe it was jealousy. The ladies had the limelight then and you know they were the story and we weren’t. And we knew that certainly when they came to Royal Roads that they would be the story – again – and we wouldn’t be in the limelight you know even though we were the fourth years and so forth. I think there was a whole lot of that going on. But again I look back on it now and think, ah it would have been better! (laughs heartily) Yeah you know it would have been more fun but I don’t know…I think that mostly it was this kind of notion of jealousy if I was to nail it in one word.
Karen: How did your experience of coming to Royal Roads impact your life?
William: I think it caused me to grow up very quickly. I graduated at 20, the day before my birthday I graduated. I think that going straight through university from high school and then right into a job waiting for you pushed me along quickly into a career that I look now at kids in their twenties and many of them are lost and are meandering about. And sometimes it’s interesting when a choice is made for you and you live with it – as opposed to having too many choices. So the fact that I made my one decision which was to join military college – and there were a few minor decisions along the way – what classification you know, communications, do I do aerospace engineering – so that decision – then it’s army or air force – that decision. But these are minor decisions because then you know you get out, you’re a commissioned officer, you suddenly are thrust into having a job, you have responsibilities, and you’re moving. So that I think is an impact that was pretty strong on me. What else? This is where I grew up – I mean let’s face it – you get out of high school and you think you’re a grownup and that is absolutely not true. University is where you grow up and so military college made me grow up and did it in such a way that it was not just the maturation that comes from going between 17 and 21 but also all these responsibilities, having to manage your time, having to deliver your deliverables and having to work within a group and lead a group and so on.
Karen: So what does it feel like to come back?
William: It always feels like coming home. I think it’s fantastic the way the new residents of Royal Roads have not changed the essential character. For me it just feels always that I’m back. I still know my way around here better than many people. It certainly was a no-brainer when I said “Well I’m going to go get my MBA at Royal Roads”. When I looked at various options I said this is the new program, but I want to come home.
Karen: And did you enjoy the program?
William: Oh yeah – it was neat hanging out with old people. I hit the median right there. I was 40 so it was great. People from all different walks of life, all different life experiences. I was the only member of my group that had graduated from Royal Roads. There was a fellow who had graduated from RMC, went through the four years – he was fantastic – but very different. That was neat.
Karen: Do you think it’s important for RR U to preserve its military heritage?
William: I think so for a couple of reasons. Just from purely practical reasons there is you know from 1940, there is this group of alumni that the university can draw on for political, financial, spiritual support – people that believe in the place and I think that that’s absolutely critical. I think that anytime you have history you should be preserving it and not you know, oh well that was then, this is now. Why is new always better? I think that having the ability just to tap in to some of the knowledge that people have about this place, its history and so forth, make sure that some of the changes that are going to be occurring won’t be done in a way that will spoil the heritage that has been set up.
Karen: Great. Any final thoughts?
William: This is the choice that my father helped me make, which is to say he guided me to say military college and hey RR is right down the road. I’d never heard of it while I was growing up and I’m just really happy that this has been part of my life – and continues to be part of my life and I expect to be back here again for my 30th, probably sooner, I mean there’s great golf courses in Victoria and I’m trying desperately to convince my wife to retire here and so maybe you guys can give me a job in a few years as some sort of professor emeritus! Project management – that’s what I do. So there’s my pitch! (laughs) No, seriously that’s I think the message is that – and I think you probably hear it echoed by other alumni – is that I’m really happy that this place is part of my life and continues to be and I’m really happy that there are members of the staff that focus on maintaining that connection. xxxxxxxx