Don Fields (1945 – 2011)

[The following text was developed from reminiscences written by Peter Kepros and Rick McGaw:]


Dr. Don Fields in 2006 (photo supplied by Peter Kepros)

Don Fields grew up in Calgary, Alberta, as a member of a large extended family. He completed his BA in Psychology in 1966 at the University of Alberta at Calgary and the MEd in Educational Psychology and Statistics at the University of Calgary in 1969. Following further graduate studies at York University, Don earned a PhD in 1977 (Developmental Psychology). Prior to the completion of his PhD, Don accepted a position at the University of New Brunswick in 1974 where he remained until his retirement in 2006.

During his tenure at UNB, Don received a variety of research support including funds from UNB Research Grants, Employment and Immigration Canada, Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded (Fredericton Branch), Canada Challenge Grants, Tele-education New Brunswick, Transport Canada, and NSERC. His initial UNB Research Grants in collaboration with Dr. C. Hiew established a Sleep Laboratory that gave rise to several projects resulting in experimental reports and research publications related to memory storage in sleep and dream function.

Don was a curiosity-driven individual. He always sought a “better and more interesting way” to organize materials and methods associated with teaching. In his last decade at UNB, Don developed methods for automatic and self-paced instruction over the Internet. He also worked assiduously on course- and program- development. He was one of the developers of the BSc major in Psychology.

Apart from his teaching and research, Don served the University community in various ways, including a term as President of the AUNBT. Every AUNBT President in recent years has faced unexpected challenges. In Don’s case, it was serious funding problems for the academic pension plan. Don provided leadership on the first of two major revisions of the plan and worked to get the support of the membership. He was involved with another battle, against the proposal to abandon in-class student opinion surveys. As events unfolded, Don was right and in-class surveys returned. He also had considerable influence on the organization itself: AUNBT has been fortunate to have a number of long-serving Executive members but Don saw the demographic future and pushed hard for the Executive to take succession planning seriously.

Don was an avid sports participant. As a golfer, he enjoyed the signal accomplishment of being the first UNB faculty member of record to have gotten a hole-in-one (Gage Golf and Curling Club, 1999). He is also responsible for having inducted several colleagues into his “league of Gentlemen Golfers.” He absolutely loved to watch our enjoyment and enthusiasm for the game grow. Hockey also played a large role in Don’s extracurricular activities during the winters. He joined such senior “luminaries” as Dr. N. Whitney in playing senior hockey.

Don was unquestionably a person who liked people and thoroughly enjoyed the give-and-take of social situations. He was gregarious, warm, sincere, attentive and, above all, genuinely interested in people. He was well-liked by students and respected by his colleagues. All of our lives have been enriched by being either friends or acquaintances of Don Fields.

[Following is a reminiscence written by Jon Thompson:]

Dr. Don Fields in 2003 (photo supplied by Peter Kepros)

Dr. Don Fields in 2003 (photo supplied by Peter Kepros)

Don and I were UNB colleagues since the mid-1970s, and during the last decade or so before retirement we often worked together on faculty association projects. Much of this collaboration involved ongoing efforts between representatives of the association and the university administration to address pension plan funding issues. These arose from the sharp declines in investments returns following the turmoil in international financial markets that occurred twice in the decade 2000—2010, and adversely affected all pension funds. The impact of the first event was already well developed around the time Don was elected association president, and required ongoing efforts— political, technical, and administrative—during every year from 2002 onward. We also worked on several union/management disputes over rights of individuals.

I enjoyed working with Don because of his engaging personality, infectious sense of humour, political sophistication, and personal integrity. Even though we had somewhat different perspectives on wider issues, it was never difficult to reach practical common ground on an effective approach to any problem, large or small. Don had exceptional leadership skills: he quickly assessed situations and people—whether they were association members or senior administrators—and seemed instinctively to know how to blend diplomacy and firmness to achieve results, as well as when to change tactics in order to optimize the outcome of a process. Part of his success in these endeavours was his ability—which often appeared almost effortless—to persuade people, whether senior administrators or union members, to do the right thing, and feel good about it when they had done it!

Some of these activities were tension-filled because of high stakes for the individuals or groups involved, but not infrequently they had amusing aspects—occasionally even hilarious aspects—and it will be especially from a shared appreciation of these that I will remember Don.

Jon Thompson, June 22, 2011.