March 20, 2024

Donors’ enduring vision shapes the future while honouring the past

Latest gift makes Taylor Family UCalgary’s largest individual donor — and will take the university’s already world-class kinesiology research to new heights
Two people stand side by side outside in the snow
Don and Ruth Taylor Marnie Jazwicki, University of Calgary

Don Taylor’s story is one of humble beginnings, coming to Calgary at age two after his family lost their farm to drought and facing financial and health challenges as a young man. Now one of Calgary’s most accomplished business leaders, he remains humble today, even as he recently became the University of Calgary’s largest individual donor.

“Hopefully, that’s short-lived,” says Taylor, Hon. LLD’07. “I hope somebody else will step forward and come up with an even larger gift.”

It won’t be easy to top. Don and his family, who founded the philanthropic Taylor Family Foundation, have been giving to UCalgary for more than 40 years, their support now exceeding $100 million. Their latest gift of $20 million to establish a state-of-the-art kinesiology research facility is set to revolutionize the study of human performance, movement and sport science — building on the Faculty of Kinesiology’s already-strong foundation as a leader in North America to elevate it even more on the international stage.

The move is right in line with the Foundation’s goals to advance health, education, history and the arts.

“I always made it a point in my life, as soon as I had some degree of success, that I'd give some of it to support various charities,” says Taylor. “I’ve always believed in supporting the university and Calgary. Post-secondary institutions are one of the most important anchors to have in any community.”

A name seen across campus

A glass building on a stone walkway

The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

That support has transformed UCalgary, with the Taylor name found across the university — from physical spaces, such as the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning and Taylor Family Digital Library, to research initiatives like the Katthy Taylor Chair in Vascular Dementia and Taylor Family Foundation Clinical Fellowship Program in Brain and Mental Health.

That’s on top of initiatives that don’t bear the Taylor name, like the Glenbow Western Research Centre, which houses a premiere collection documenting the history of Western Canada; the Engineered Air Chair in Cancer Research; and the Benno Nigg Chair in Biomechanics, Mobility and Longevity.

The Taylor Family Kinesiology Building will soon be added to that list. And, when Taylor learned the facility would be named in his honour, he had a request.

“He really wanted the name to honour his entire family,” says Andrea Morris, UCalgary’s associate vice-president and chief development officer. “It was important to have the word ‘family’ in there.”

The naming also serves as a testament to the power of philanthropy — and as an inspiration for others. “Hopefully, it encourages other families to be generous, as well,” says Taylor. 

Morris, who has known Don and his wife, Ruth, for 20 years, can attest to that sense of altruism.

A man and a woman stands in front of a glass building

Don and Ruth Taylor outside the Taylor Family Digital Library.

Marnie Jazwicki, University of Calgary

“There’s real sincerity and purpose behind their giving,” she says. “It’s not solely about what their contributions can do now, but also that ripple effect that comes from philanthropy — creating more opportunities for the next generation, elevating the city and province, motivating others to give.

“Don means it when he says he hopes his status as UCalgary’s top donor doesn’t last long.” 

Indeed, the impact of the Taylors’ generosity, and its ripple effect, is undeniable.

“The Taylors have a remarkable vision for this university and city. You don’t need to look far to appreciate the impact and evolution of their philanthropy, especially in the Faculty of Kinesiology,” says UCalgary President and Vice-Chancellor Ed McCauley. “Their early support of research at the Human Performance Lab helped make our Faculty of Kinesiology a trusted leader in sport science. And this new gift will take us even further, increasing our capacity for research that will touch countless lives around the world — from right here in Calgary.”

Longtime friendship inspires investment in kinesiology research

Two men stand side by side

Benno Nigg, right, and Don Taylor.

Marnie Jazwicki, University of Calgary

Dr. Benno Nigg, DSc, a professor emeritus with the faculty and founder of the Human Performance Lab (HPL), benefited from that early support. Nigg’s work in biomechanics, and his ambition to make UCalgary a global leader in kinesiology, inspired Taylor’s investment in the faculty — as well as a close friendship between the two, still going strong more than 20 years later.

“Don is a very special person,” says Nigg. “He puts a lot of thought into his actions, and that’s very rare. But he also has a very warm personality.”

Taylor’s funding of the Benno Nigg Chair in Biomechanics, Mobility and Longevity in 1997 gave the professor the resources to attract the best of the best to Calgary and help grow the HPL into a premier multidisciplinary research centre, where work isn’t siloed by faculty or concentration.

“Having that (support) made all the difference,” Nigg says. “That is one of the reasons that we are leading in North America, because we are able to tackle questions that are much more relevant and substantial than these little silos.”

Ever humble, Taylor adds: “It’s Benno’s vision. I just endorse his work.”

That endorsement helped make the Faculty of Kinesiology what it is today, and the Taylors are committed to seeing it reach even greater heights, with an eye to the future while honouring the past. When the faculty moves into its new space, the existing HPL will be revitalized and named the Benno Nigg Legacy Laboratory — an appropriate companion to the Taylor Family Kinesiology Building.

“What we’ve built here is something that’s very significant, not only at this university, but nationwide and internationally,” says Taylor. “And that's something that we should be very proud of.”

Learn more about the new Taylor Family Kinesiology Building and the impact of the Taylor Family's philanthropy at UCalgary.

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