To see things differently. To challenge what’s always been done. But lucky for the University of Alberta, resolute commitment won out.
The 2023 recipients of the Alumni Association’s highest honour, the Distinguished Alumni Award, broke free of the status quo to create far-reaching transformation. With a little more bold thinking and risk taking, these University of Alberta graduates have gone all-in — and shaped our world in the process.
Robert G. Bertram, ’71 MBA
Senior executive, governance advocate, business mentor
When Robert Bertram became chief investment officer for the new Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) in 1990, he embarked on a journey to redefine pension fund management. With no staff, $19 billion in assets and a mission to secure the financial futures of 300,000 teachers, Bertram fearlessly rewrote the rulebook for institutional investing. Eighteen years later, the OTPP’s valuation reached a staggering $108 billion, transformed as a premier investment fund. Dubbed “the Canadian Model,” Bertram’s vision became the new standard adopted by institutional investors worldwide.
Equally passionate about governance reform, Bertram was a founding force behind the Canadian Public Accountability Board and the Canadian Foundation for Governance Research. Throughout his career, including 18 years at Telus, Bertram mentored young professionals. OTPP colleagues recognized the impact of Bertram’s mentorship, establishing a student scholarship in his honour.
Like so many who go into medicine, Hinshaw always hoped to make a difference — and that she did. In the bleakness of the COVID-19 storm, Deena Hinshaw emerged as a calming force. For 245 days, Albertans tuned into her every word from their living rooms and phones. Collected and steady, Hinshaw delivered reassurance and critical information as she urged us to do the right thing. Her evidence-based wisdom helped thousands navigate everything from masking and handwashing to closures and vaccinations.
As chief medical officer of health, Hinshaw led the team credited with saving lives and avoiding a collapse of overtaxed hospitals and the workers within. Criticism and threats endured, but she stood strong. Hinshaw balanced public health and politics, tackling other crises like opioid deaths and rising syphilis cases. With clinical professorship roles at Alberta’s two largest universities, her leadership continues, inspiring composure, empathy and decisiveness in healthcare.
Bruce Ritchie, ’76 BMedSc, ’78 MD
Hematologist, researcher, patient advocate and academic
For three decades, Bruce Ritchie has helped hundreds of Canadians grappling with rare blood disorders. His research and clinical trials uncovered treatments where none previously existed, including Canada’s largest program for angioedema (swelling of deeper skin layers) and immunodeficiency — allowing patients to treat themselves at home rather than in hospitals. This alone saves Alberta’s health system $3 million every year!
Ritchie also developed Canada’s largest red-cell exchange program and supervised the first Canadian adult stem cell transplant for sickle cell disease in 2017. Patient care is a special focus for Ritchie, and he has played a pivotal national role in safeguarding blood supplies, co-founding the Network of Rare Blood Disorder Organizations and establishing the Canadian BioSample Repository. Supervising over 80 research students, Ritchie continues to advance knowledge, improve patient care and change lives.
Gordon H. Wilkes, ’73 BSc(Med), ’75 MD
Doctor, surgeon and innovator
Gordon Wilkes has dedicated his career to changing the faces — and transforming the lives — of people with facial disfigurements caused by trauma, cancer, infection or congenital factors. Beginning in 1982, he specialized in cleft lip and palate repairs. But it’s Wilkes’ work in the area of microtia — reconstructing underdeveloped or missing ears — that garnered him international respect. He is one of very few surgeons skilled in using a patient’s rib cartilage to construct a new ear, and he pioneered bone-anchored titanium implants for prosthetic eyes, ears and noses.
Outside of the operating room, Wilkes co-founded the Craniofacial Osseointegration and Maxillofacial Prosthetic Rehabilitation Unit (COMPRU), renamed the Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine (iRSM), which leads digital surgical planning globally. Nearing 30 years as a U of A professor, Wilkes has mentored many, teaching surgical principles and the importance of patient quality of life as he reshaped the field of plastic surgery.