A match made at U of A: Faces of Philanthropy - Marlene Reynolds

Marlene Reynolds met her husband Chris Thomson at UAlberta. Now, she's honouring his memory and encouraging future discoveries by making a planned gift to establish a scholarship in his name.

Andrew Lyle - 01 December 2018

One of the great aspects of the University of Alberta is its ability to bring people together. Across the student body and faculty and through its research, the university is a meeting place where different perspectives come together to foster a sense of discovery and encourage new ways of thinking. For UAlberta science alumna and Faculty of Science donor Marlene Reynolds ('88 BSc), the university was where she met her late husband Chris Thomson, in whose name she has made a planned gift to establish the Chris Thomson Dreamer Award scholarship.

"I grew up in a family that was very traditional, and so university was like going from black-and-white TV to colour. "I really enjoyed my time at the University of Alberta. I learned so much, and I met many people with very different ideas and backgrounds."

For both Marlene and Chris, the university represented an opportunity to expand horizons and explore new ideas. In their case, the University of Alberta also played a role as matchmaker.

"One of my physics TAs was a friend of Chris'. He invited me one night to meet some friends in from Saskatoon, so we went to the pizza place and there was Chris," recalls Marlene.

"I gave him my phone number, and a couple weeks later, he called and asked if I wanted to go to the department Christmas party."

A legacy of innovation

Chris received his Bachelor of Science in mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan. But his primary interest-and the field of his research and career achievements-was computing science. Chris came to the University of Alberta to pursue the subject in his graduate studies to study under Barry J. Mailloux, one of the leaders in computing science at the time helping to develop new programming languages.

"Chris wanted to develop computers that could do anything," said Marlene. "As in the Douglas Adams book, he wanted to build the machine that could find the answer to 'life, the universe, and everything.'"

Now, Marlene is honouring Chris's memory and his spirit of innovation by making a planned gift-designating a portion of her estate-to establish the Chris Thomson Dreamer Award scholarship. For Marlene, it's a way to remember Chris while encouraging today's students to continue to push the boundaries of what we know.

"When I lost Chris, I was feeling very isolated. But I thought the best way of honouring him would be to bequeath a gift to the university in order to create an award in his name," reflected Marlene. "He had the intelligence and the drive, and the university gave him the grounding and direction to do the things he wanted in life. And I wanted to honour that too, because that was the best part of him."

The Chris Thomson Dreamer Award will be a scholarship awarded to graduate students in the Departments of Physics or Mathematical and Statistical Sciences who demonstrate innovation and achievement in research, recognizing students for thinking outside the box.

"For Chris, I don't think 'the box' really existed," said Marlene. "Except as a place that you could fly onward from."

"A community based in the future"

In her estate, Marlene has also made a gift to the SCI Fund, an endowment fund used to undertake initiatives and fund research in a responsive way to new and emerging opportunities.

"This is an endowment fund for unique research that nobody else is paying attention to. It's easy to put money in when you see the pig fly, but getting the pig off the ground takes money too," said Marlene. "The SCI Fund invests in the necessary research, which I think is very important."

For Marlene, choosing to give to the university is a personal decision; one that helps preserve Chris's legacy, while also looking toward the future.

"In my case, being a donor means that Chris Thomson's name will live on. If there's someone whose name you'd like to live on forever, this is a great place to do that-a place that's looking to the future," said Marlene. "A university isn't just a tick-mark on a resume; it's a community of people who are based in the future, with a strong grasp on the past. It's a community where you'll be exposed to ideas you never thought of; where you're able to discover things that you never imagined."