A lifetime of thoughtful giving: Bob Ewen (BA, ’71)

Monday, March 18, 2024

When Bob Ewen passed away last November, Waterloo lost one of its greatest and kindest champions. The philosophy grad who made his name as a high-level banker leaves a long legacy of thoughtful giving, personal involvement with students, and enduring love for Waterloo.

Bob came to Waterloo in the late 1960s to study Engineering. But he soon realized his true calling lay elsewhere. Wanting to develop top-notch critical-thinking skills, he made a dramatic change, and transferred from Engineering to Philosophy. Afterwards, he went on to do an MBA at the University of Toronto, and then to a long and successful career in Canada’s banking and securities sector.

Bob remained grateful all his life for his Waterloo education. But he never forgot how tough it had sometimes been to make ends meet during his student years.

In 2005, finding himself with the means to help, he decided to launch a series of gifts to help a new generation of scholars thrive. So began what would become almost two decades of steady giving to Waterloo’s Department of Philosophy. This generosity allowed the department to create a suite of annual student awards. These awards have funded everything from class, essay and citizenship prizes to needs-based awards and travel funds. They have helped dozens of students over the years.

Bob Ewen

Bob Ewen 1947 – 2023 (BA ’71, Philosophy and 2017 Alumni Achievement Award recipient)

I was a student in the best philosophy department in Canada. Ultimately, my Waterloo experience helped me understand people, and I’m in the people business.

Bob Ewen (BA ’71)

And Bob didn’t stop with simply supplying funds. He was profoundly interested in the students themselves. Dr. Mathieu Doucet, current chair of Philosophy, noted “Bob attended our student awards ceremony every year, and made a point of asking the winners about their work. I was consistently impressed by his genuine curiosity about both Philosophy and the world at large.”

Bob also held a deep admiration for Gerald Hagey, co-founder and first president of the University of Waterloo, and made a generous gift to the 2017 renovation of Hagey Hall to create the Hub. And, in a final act of generosity, he left a gift in his will that ensures his legacy will live on. This significant gift will continue to support the Department of Philosophy, along with the Faculty of Arts and the Department of Athletics.

No man steps in the same river twice

Before he passed, Bob told us several wonderful stories about his Waterloo experience. One of his favourites was about an affirmation from his third-year Philosophy professor.

“It was Professor Paul Seligman, and he told me I had a very deep understanding of Heraclitus,” Bob had said. “That was a major revelation. It was like Einstein saying you have a deep understanding of physics. He really changed my life.”

Indeed, it was Heraclitus who famously said “No man steps in the same river twice. For it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.”

Bob Ewen stepped in and changed infinite rivers during the course of his life. Every student supported by one of his awards has since gone on to impact dozens of lives. Every budding philosopher who found inspiration and new knowledge in Hagey Hall represents yet another river changed. And Bob himself renewed his own heart with every one of these acts of kindness and generosity.

“Bob will be sorely missed,” says Doucet. “But his legacy will live on for all time in the excellent student work that his generosity helps us support and recognize.”