Faces of Philanthropy: From one generation to the next with Randy and Audrey Lomnes

Hear from Randy and Audrey Lomnes on their legacy of philanthropy, the importance of supporting education, and helping the next generation of physicists to flourish.

Andrew Lyle - 6 October 2020

A family’s multigenerational legacy at the University of Alberta has sparked new support for early career physics researchers thanks to the generosity of Randy (’64 BSc(Hons), ’65 MSc, ’71 PhD) and Audrey Lomnes.

Randy and Audrey Lomnes share how a legacy of attendance at the University of Alberta that began with Randy’s parents nearly 90 years ago laid the foundation for their legacy of philanthropy, and the importance they place on education and passing their support on to the next generation. 

Hear from Randy Lomnes.

The University of Alberta has had an influence on my life in many ways. Both my mother and father attended the University of Alberta in the 1930’s. In fact, they met there and started a relationship that lasted more than 60 years. My parents were both school teachers, so education became a significant part of the home life that my sister and I grew up in. When we finished high school, it was assumed that we would go to university. Since our parents went to UAlberta, my sister and I both ended up going there as well.

I attended the university from 1960 to 1965 earning a bachelor and master’s degree in physics. During this time I became convinced that my long-term goal was to get into my own business. But having no background in business, I had no idea how to pursue such a goal. After finishing my master’s degree, I found an opportunity to move to Toronto and work for General Electric as part of a program that they referred to as their management training program. 

This program offered me a chance to get some experience in how businesses worked, as well as providing me with an opportunity to attend a series of evening courses in finance, accounting, business, and management. It was quite a departure from the science that I had studied at university. However, after two years of living in Toronto, my wife was getting homesick and wanted to move back to Edmonton so we decided to leave Toronto. I decided to return to the University of Alberta and work on a PhD program.

Near the end of my PhD studies I became aware of a group of people at Simon Fraser University that were planning to start a company to make use of some research that had been done at the university—and I wanted to be part of it. I arranged to get a postdoctoral position at Simon Fraser and after a year I became one of the founders of this company. I was part of that company for about five years, after which I moved on to start another company. I have worked my whole life in companies where I have been part of the ownership. Starting a business and making it successful is not easy and during my career, I have had a number of failures. About thirty years ago I founded a company with a partner that evolved into a fairly successful computer software company. After a merger, this company now operates under the name Faronics with its main operations in Vancouver, British Columbia, and international offices in Singapore, California, and the United Kingdom. Although I am no longer part of this organization, the company provided me with the financial resources to realize most of my goals in life. 

Around the time that the computer software company was formed, I met my current wife Audrey. Since this was a second relationship for both of us, I now was part of a blended family that consisted of Audrey’s four children plus my own two children. Our family has since expanded to include 10 grandchildren.

We have been fortunate to be able to live a very rewarding life and have been able to travel extensively throughout the world. We have been on all of the world’s seven continents and have visited about one hundred different countries. Even in Canada we have travelled extensively and have effectively circumnavigated the entire country. In 2014 we travelled by ship from the east part of Canada, through the NorthWest Passage and on to the west coast. In 2016 we travelled by land in our RV from the west coast to the maritime provinces and the easternmost point of Canada in Newfoundland. 

Over the years, we have participated in a number of tours organized by the University of Alberta Alumni Travel program. These tours included places like Antarctica, Galapagos, Machu Picchu, China, and more. The last University of Alberta tour we joined was a trip across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railroad. This was in September of 2019, and it was quite an eye-opening experience.

I have always wanted, at some point in my life, to be able to make some contribution that will help others. With the exit from my business affairs, my wife and I found ourselves in a position where we could pursue our philanthropic interests. We have both felt very strongly that education is one of the most valuable components in life. An education can be a huge benefit to an individual and in so doing can make a contribution to the betterment of our country. We decided that our philanthropic activities would be used to enhance education.

We have experienced situations with some of our grandchildren where bullying and learning disabilities made it impossible for them to flourish in the public school system. By sending them to private schools that specialized in their problems we have seen huge payoffs in their development. With that experience to guide us, we set up a fund at the Vancouver Foundation which will provide an annual award to three specialty schools in the Vancouver area that are dedicated to helping children that have learning problems. 

My father was a school teacher in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, who dedicated the last half of his teaching career to music education. To honour our father, after he passed away, my sister and I set up a fund with the Calgary Foundation to provide an annual scholarship to a student from Wetaskiwin to help them attend higher education in music. Audrey and I have recently enhanced that fund so that it will provide two larger scholarships.

I felt that I would like to do something to benefit the Department of Physics at my alma mater. My first inclination was to set up a student scholarship, but after talking with Samantha Pearson, assistant dean of advancement in the Faculty of Science, we discussed the idea of setting up an award to help a starting professor in physics—and that idea had an appeal to me. As a result, we were proud to set up the Randy and Audrey Lomnes Early Career Award Endowment in Physics.

In our philanthropic work we have tried to do our part to encourage education from the elementary school level to the university level. My own life experiences have been very much influenced and enriched by the time I spent at the University of Alberta and specifically from my studies in physics. Although I did not build my career in physics, I feel that the knowledge that I obtained in that field has helped me in many ways. 

The discipline of science helps one with strategies to help solve problems. The knowledge that science offers helps one to better understand the world. You find yourself in a position to make better decisions based on facts and not simply on whims and emotions. 

- Randy Lomnes, August 2020

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