“Dawn Russell exemplifies what makes STU special” - Former President Russell Honoured with Portrait Unveiling and Naming of Student Lounge 

The St. Thomas University community recently celebrated the career and retirement of Dawn Russell, STU’s first female President and Vice-Chancellor, with the unveiling of her portrait and the renaming of the student lounge in Sir James Dunn Hall in her honour. 


Russell gathered with her family for the unveiling of her portrait, painted by her husband, artist Bill Johnson. The portrait will hang in the Great Hall alongside other presidential portraits. 


“In our household, my mother speaks about St. Thomas and student achievements just as she would her children. In many ways, the students at STU have been her children over the past 12 years,” said Russell’s daughter, Anna Johnson, BA’14. 


Russell showed an unwavering commitment to the university, the students, and the community, and to honour her, the student lounge in Sir James Dunn Hall has been renamed the Dawn Russell Student Lounge. 


“Dawn was motivated by the chance to give back to STU, so her service to the university was the ultimate gift from an alumna,” said Dr. Kim Fenwick, Vice-President (Academic and Research). “She wanted to create the most positive experience possible for students, faculty, and staff alike, and in that, she succeeded.” 


Dr. Marilyn Dupre, Director of the School of Social Work, former STUSU President and Tom McCann Award winner Brianna Workman, and alumna Margaret Tracy also spoke about Russell. The unveiling and celebration was attended by more than 140 faculty, staff, and alumni, along with Russell’s family. 


A photo gallery from the special event is available here


Russell served two terms as president of STU, which followed her career as an associate lawyer with Stewart McKelvey Stirling Scales and law professor and Dean of the Dalhousie Law School.  


During her time as President, Russell is credited with inclusive approaches to leadership, modernizing the academic structure, improving transparency and accountability, and creating conditions that allow others to thrive. 


“Dawn’s interest in the work and achievements of others helped to promote a welcoming and inclusive campus life as the envy of larger universities,” said Dr. Marilyn Dupre, Director of the School of Social Work. 


“I remember Dawn’s belief in the importance of education and her deeply held conviction that the values and mission of STU can make a difference in the world around us,” said Margaret Tracy, a classmate of Russell’s in the 1970s. 


“I had the opportunity to witness the courageous, authentic, and bold leadership that has characterized President Russell’s time at STU,” said Brianna Workman. “Dawn Russell embodies and exemplifies the personal, close-knit, and vibrant community that makes STU so special.” 


Recently, Irving Oil and the Arthur L. Irving Family Foundation gifted $2 million to STU for the establishment of new entrance scholarships in recognition of the dedicated leadership of Russell.