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 Who Am I?


Vern Hall
I was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 1944 of United Empire Loyalist stock on both my Father and Mother’s sides. The first 8 years of my life were spent in New Brunswick.  My Mother was a teacher before she and Dad married.  She was from a farm family with 9 children so I had lots of cousins and extended family events were important to us.  This has resulted in me having an extreme fondness for New Brunswick to this day.


I should mention up front that my Dad was with Mutual Life of Canada as was his father – my grandfather and Dad’s brother -  my uncle.  When I retired in 2006 from Sunlife, which had acquired Mutual Life or latterly Clarica there had been a Hall working for the company since 1925!


In 1952 Dad was transferred to Nelson B.C. to open a Mutual Life office.  In those days this was a significant move.  When Newfoundland joined confederation, Dad had been asked to go to St. John’s and open an office.  He declined saying he preferred to go west.  He was young and naïve and west to him meant moving to Ontario.  He’d already declined one move and felt he couldn’t decline another so off Mum and Dad went with my 2 younger sisters and me to the other side of this great country.


Nelson was a great place to be a boy in grade school.  The population was about 10,000.  I was there when I was in grade 3 to 6 and I’d travel all over town on the bus. I’d go swimming with friends in the lake or trout fishing in the mountain streams.  It was almost an idealic life.  In Nelson I had a wonderful music teacher who I have often said, other than my parents, had more influence on me than any other person when I was growing up.  Mrs. Ferguson was the wife of a United Church minister and had developed wonderful skills influencing boys and young men during the depression.


In the summer after I finished grade 6 Dad was transferred to Winnipeg.  I thought this was the most wonderful opportunity, as when we knew we were moving, I read all I could find about Winnipeg.  From my perspective Winnipeg had a lot to offer being significantly larger than Nelson.  It had a symphony, a football team, a museum and a university among other attractions.  It’s interesting, although Winnipeg did have a lot to offer, it is not the place I think about when I think of my youth.  We were in Winnipeg for 9 years – for me that meant grade 7 through graduating with a B. Sc. in Math and Statistics from the University of Manitoba.  If any of you are doing the math, I was able to do this because at that time in Manitoba you could go to university after grade 11.  I’ve always looked young for my age so off I went to university looking like I’d just got out of grade school.

When I was in grade 9 Dad and I built a cottage in Whiteshell Provincial Park on Star Lake near the Ontario border.  Having this cottage resulted in all of my summer jobs while I lived in Manitoba.  While in high school I was the dishwasher at the golf course restaurant at Falcon Lake.  This was where I started to learn to cook.  In those days restaurants cooked their own roasts and turkeys for sandwiches and other things.  Because I was in the kitchen the task fell to me.  I still cook things the way I learned to cook them then.  In my summers at university I worked in the office at the campground at Falcon Lake. 


When I was in my final year at the University of Manitoba, I didn’t have any idea what I




wanted to do so Dad arranged for me to see a vocational counselor.  I took several tests and his conclusion was that I would do well as a mortician.  That did not have a lot of appeal to a 20 year old!  The second career choice was as a CA or some other business field.  That did appeal to me so I began investigating options.  I learned about the MBA programs that at the time were only offered at 3 universities in Canada: Queen’s, UBC and Western.  I wrote the GMAT and applied to all of them as well as some of the US schools.  To be honest I didn’t think I’d get in anywhere as I was no shining star as an undergraduate.  I was one of those kids who never had problems getting decent marks in high school without much work.  The result was I didn’t have good study habits when I hit university.  I did however get accepted at all 3 Canadian universities.  I chose to attend Western, now the Ivey Business School, and these 2 years were among the best years of my life.  When I first got there, the Dean called me into his office and said he wanted me to know that I was not there because of my undergrad marks but because I had scored one of the highest masks on the GMAT they had seen.  There’s an expression for how I felt but I’ll just say I was scared to death.  That first fall I really did learn how to study and I thrived in the environment at the business school.


I graduated with my MBA in the spring of 1967.  I took a job with IBM as a System’s Analyst in Vancouver but before starting work I bought my first car, spent a week at Expo ’67, the first week it was open, and went to New Brunswick to visit family.  I had 3 months in a training program in Vancouver with IBM. At the end of it they said they had too many people for Vancouver and would some of us go to Toronto.  So I did.


As a System’s Analyst I soon became aware that the sales people I was working with were making more money so after 2 years I moved into sales.  Just before starting in sales I took a leave of absence and spent 8 weeks travelling in Europe.  I did that trip for under $1,000 and wasn’t really trying to do it on the cheap.


After I’d been in sales for a couple of years a Toronto Mutual Life manager became aware, through my father, that I was living there.  The long and short of it is that he recruited me into sales with Mutual Life something I said I’d never do – it was too much a part of our family!  Well I did it and when I retired 35 years later I had no regrets.

I moved from sales into a Management Training Program here in Waterloo in 1974 and then I was manager in Brandon, Manitoba in ‘76 and ’77.  I came back to Waterloo at the beginning of ’78 and have been here since.  I came to help start a Research and Product Development area – the company wanted someone with sales experience as part of it.  Quite a bit of my career was in Research and Product Development and I eventually was responsible for it.  It was during this time that I became very involved with 2 industry associations LIMRA (originally this stood for Life Insurance Marketing Research Association) and SIR (Society or Insurance Research).  I chaired various committees and over the years chaired and spoke at several conferences throughout North America.


Over my career with Mutual Life/Sunlife I worked in and had responsibility for most of the areas associated with supporting the sales force including among other things training, branch administration, conventions and conferences.  During this time I was also heavily involved in the branding of the company as “The Mutual Group” and then the name change to “Clarica”.  I also was very involved in the acquisition of Prudential of England and Metropoitan Life as well as the integration with Sunlife.


5 or 6 years before I retired I was approached to head up what was called Shared Business Services.  This was basically all the infrastructure areas for the company here in Waterloo and across Canada. Things like Facilities, Distribution and Mail, Purchasing, Printing, Translation and Security.  It was a big change

for me but one that I really enjoyed.  When I first went into the role I was asked to solve the space problem – staff were crammed to the rafters at 227 King St.  I chaired a team that looked for space in the

KW area and as far away as Mississauga.  In the end we recommended that the company purchase Westmount Place and convert the old Eaton’s store and indoor mall to office space.  I then had to see that the job got done.  Our original idea was to add a story to the indoor mall to make it all a 2 story structure.  When the architects started looking at the original blueprints we were told the indoor mall could not support a second story but that the Eaton’s store has been designed to eventually have 2 more stories – so that’s what we did.  In some respects this was one of the best projects I ever worked on, it was entirely out of my comfort zone and because of the space crunch we were under very tight deadlines.  We announced the company was buying the plaza on Valentine’s Day 2001 and we moved the first staff in that September even though the project was not entirely finished.


But enough about my work life, what about may family life.  I met my wife Lois in Toronto when I was working with IBM.  I actually met her in church but not the way most couples might meet through church.  I was between apartments over a weekend and invited myself to stay with friends of my parents in Etobicoke.  They asked me if I wanted to go to church with them, I did and Lois sat beside me!


We were married in 1972 and Lois worked as a Physiotherapist until the mid ‘90’s when she went on permanent disability because she has Post Polio Syndrome.  We have 2 sons, Geoff who wanted to take Forestry and went to Lakehead for that.  He stayed in Thunder Bay where he is now a general contractor.  He married Jodi who runs her own Forrestry Consulting Business and they have our only grandchild, Kiera who is 2.  Our other son Craig graduated as a Geotechinical Engineer from the University of Waterloo.  He works for an international consulting company out of their North Bay office.  He is out of the country a lot of the time.  He was married last Sept. to Una who is a Civil Engineer with the same company.


I’m the kind of person who needs to be busy – my wife says I’m either never home or I’m on the computer.  As I think you all know I edit Probuzz under the helpful guidance of Don Grant.  I do enjoy doing it and I can almost get it out without asking Don a question.


The arts are important to Lois and me. We have been supporters of both the KW Symphony and Stratford Shakespeare Festival since moving to Waterloo.  2 years ago I became a volunteer with the Friends of the Festival at Stratford – a volunteer role I really enjoy.  I’ve always loved theatre and this work has given me a whole new insight into it.  I just took on the secretarial role for the group.


The past couple of years I have been an Alumni judge for the Boston Consulting Group case competition at the Ivey Business School – I really enjoy this opportunity to give back to my alma mater. 


We have always been involved in our church and I have held most leadership positions over the years although I have been trying to cut back on this to get out of the politics that go on.  I am Vice-Chair of the Trustees at First United and I sing tenor in the choir.


I do stained glass work, although this hobby has been on the shelf for awhile and needs reactivating.  I did teach the craft for about 10 years for the Waterloo County Board of Education evening program.  I also play bridge and in the summer I try to bike as much as possible to stay in shape.  This year I have been working out at Columbia Lake Health Club to get in better shape.


Lois and I enjoy travelling and do as much as Lois is able to do.  A travel highlight is 3 trips we’ve had to England where I sang, with the Cathedral Singers of Ontario, for a week each at St. Paul’s, Yorkminster and last Jan. at Westminster Abbey.  One of our best trips was with Jim and Barb Bowman, the summer I retired, to Newfoundland.  You don’t have to leave Canada to have a really wonderful travel experience.


I could go on but I know I’m out of time.  I hope that gives a little better idea of Who I Am?