Dal Med classes rise to the challenge

Bruce Walmsley and the MD Class of 1978 make history with inspirational class giving.

The spirit of giving—and competition—is alive and well among Dalhousie Medical School alumni. Inspired by the exceptional contributions of the class of 1978, classes continue to show generosity to their alma mater.

When Dr. Bruce Walmsley (MD’78) committed to matching donations for his graduating class, it set them on a path to having the largest class gift in Dalhousie University history. Now, nearly $410,000 later, they have surpassed the previous leaders — the MD class of 1983, which reached $200,000 in 2018; and the Schulich School of Law’s class of 1974, which reached $200,000 in 2019 — and will be tough to catch.

A native of Summerside, P.E.I., Walmsley has spent his career working in emergency medicine in the United States. Following his graduation from the Dalhousie Medical School, he accepted a job in Wheeling, W.V.

Bruce Walmsley with a friend he met in Antarctica. (Submitted photo)

“Emergency medicine was a new specialty, only truly recognized in 1975,” he recalls. “It was clear things were moving rapidly because it was new and sort of the cutting edge of medicine, with lots of people interested in emergencies and trauma. I just realized that all the action was happening in the United States.”

Walmsley began his career as a generalist. “I noticed the broadness of my education in all specialties,” he says. “I could hold my own in discussions with people who had specialty training, so I felt very, very proud that I was recognized early on in our community as a very good physician — and it was because of my training.”

Inspiration to give back

It didn’t take long for Walmsley to also recognize the pride his American colleagues demonstrated in philanthropic giving back to their alma mater. To them, giving back was expected, which inspired his career-long generosity to the Dalhousie Medical School. 

A member of the Legacy Society at Dalhousie, recognizing donors who have made the generous decision to include Dalhousie in their estate plans, Walmsley was presented with a plaque and invited to give remarks at his 2013 reunion on P.E.I. He was shocked to learn he was the only member of the class who was a member of the Legacy Society, and made a plea for his classmates to consider giving back as well.

Five years later, Walmsley returned to Canada for another reunion. Working closely with the Faculty of Medicine’s Advancement staff, he strategized how to encourage more giving amongst his class. With previous Dalhousie Medical Alumni Association success found through a matching funds program, he committed to match any gifts up to $100,000. That number has since been raised twice — first to $150,000 and more recently, to the bold and generous statement of any value, in the hope his class will become Dalhousie’s first to reach one million dollars in class contributions.

Walmsley was joined by his classmates Dr. Pamela Forsythe (MD’78) and Dr. Rob Burris (MD’78) in propelling the class giving project forward.

Bruce Walmsley with Bernie Hipson. (Submitted photo)

“There was something special about the 40-year reunion,” says Burris. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what happened there, but there was a lot of discussion about our mentors and the contributions they had made. There was a spark and a fire that was created as a result of this, and it just took off.”

Burris says his classmates have been inspired by Walmsley’s tremendous contribution, but also thinks they have gained some perspective with age.

“In their 20s and 30s, one tends to think everything they’re doing is a result of their own efforts,” he says. “When we get a little older, we recognize that was not the case and that most of what we do is the result of the efforts of others, and it becomes very important to recognize those people. That's what it's all about. We pay it forward and pave the way for the next generation to follow us.”

And follow them, they have…

Inspired by the remarkable contributions of the class of 1978, several other Dalhousie Medical School classes have made generous commitments to giving back to their alma mater. The class of 1983 — the first class to reach $100,000 in class giving — has raised more than $200,000; while the class of 1991 recently reached the $100,000 mark.

Motivated by those who came before them, the class of 2020 has become the youngest class ever to establish a class project, with a goal of raising $25,000 before their 10-year reunion. They have since challenged the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2021 to try to match them.

Funds raised through class projects typically support bursaries, but each class makes the decision as to where their money goes. For the class of 1978, a bursary was created and is awarded each year to a deserving fourth-year medical student to help alleviate financial burden while they prepare to embark on their careers.

The inaugural recipient, Dr. Alysha Roberts (MD’21), used the funds to cover expenses during her training. She says it was one less thing she had to worry about while completing medical school during a global pandemic.

“I am profoundly grateful to the class of 1978 for the extra support in getting through this last leg of medical school in a challenging and unprecedented, pandemic year,” says Roberts. “It’s been a particular challenge and I’m really grateful for a little less stress thanks to the class of 1978.”

Whether it is a sense of obligation, a competitive nature, or simply wanting to pay it forward, our medical alumni can take heart in knowing their donations are helping those following in their footsteps.

— Kate Rogers

To learn more about Dalhousie medical alumni class projects, please contact Jessica Farrell at (902) 220-8717. For those who are considering a gift to the Medical School in your will, please contact Nadine Woon at (902) 719-9775.