E3161 Victoria Edwards in conversation with 7943 Major (ret) J. William K. Lye (CMR RMC 1969), who served as President of the RMC Club 2004 – 05.
e-Veritas: What extracurricular activities were you involved with at Military College e.g. varsity teams, band, clubs? Did you hold leadership position(s)?
William Lye: I joined the Canadian Army and entered Collège militaire royal de St. Jean in 1964, and was accepted into the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers in 1965. I spent three years at CMR, graduating in 1967 as Deputy Cadet Wing Commander. I spent the next two years at RMC, graduating as a Civil Engineer in 1969. In my fourth year I was Cadet Squadron Leader of 4 Squadron, which was at the Right of the Line as I graduated. While at CMR I debated internationally with my debating partner 7990 Nick Amarica (CMR RMC 1969) and at both CMR and RMC. I was on the varsity Fencing and Sailing teams, and was an active alpine skier. I continued blue water sailing later in England, and I continue to be an avid skier and a Certified Ski Instructor.
e-Veritas: Outline your career progression.
William Lye: After graduating from RMC, I was awarded an Athlone Fellowship for two years of post-graduate studies, completing my M.Sc. (Management) in London, England in 1971. I spent the next 7 years serving: as a Troop Commander and Deputy Commanding Officer of 4 Field Squadron, (the Combat Engineer unit in Canada’s NATO Brigade in Lahr Germany): as a student, at the Canadian Army Staff College; and, after promotion to Major in 1975, as a senior operations officer on the staff of the Director General Military Plans and Operations at National Defence Headquarters.
I transferred to the Reserves in 1979, and started my career as a consultant specializing in the planning, financing and implementation of major capital works and infrastructure projects, and the governance and management of public real estate. In this role, 1n 1984-85, I was a member of the Deputy Prime Minister’s Task Force on Program Review, responsible for recommending reforms in the organization and delivery of the federal government’s massive real property portfolio. Subsequently, in 1988, I joined the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to implement the reforms recommended by the Task Force.
In 1997, I joined Colliers International Realty Advisors as Vice President of Government Consulting. At the same time I became a Senior Fellow in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s University, Kingston, where I taught in its graduate program. In 1998, I was the founding Convenor of the Queen’s Land Forum, a non-profit institute dedicated to improved management of public real estate. In 2003, I became Managing Partner of a new company, jointly owned by me and another company whose then President was my classmate, 7988 Gordon Hamilton (CMR RMC 1969). I retired from active consulting in 2011. Gordon and I continue to ski together with our three sons.
I remain a Professional Engineer, a Certified Management Consultant, and a Certified Ski Instructor and am pleased to teach in Canada’s two languages anywhere there is good snow. In 2005 I received the President’s Award of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Ontario for my public policy and finance consultancy and, in 2012, was elected a fellow of that institute (FCMC).
e-Veritas: How did you get involved with RMC Club business? How did you end up as RMC Club president?
William Lye: 2435 BGen Bob Bennet (RMC 1935), then newly retired and later to be the Old Brigade Adjutant, who was President of the Ottawa Branch in about 1976, asked me to become Branch Treasurer at the time when the Branch was virtually bankrupt. With the help of people like 3625 Col Art Wade (RRMC RMC 1956) who joined the Branch Executive about the same time as he became my boss at NDHQ, we were able to turn the Branch around and by the early 1980’s the Branch had both significant operational surpluses every year, and a growing investment nest egg. When I left the Army I became less active in the Branch as my new career got established, but I again joined the Branch Executive in about 1990, becoming a member of the Parent Club General Council in about 1995 and Branch President in 1997. I joined the Parent Club Executive Committee in 1998, and subsequently succeeded my good friend and fellow Sapper, 7775 Col. Chris Lythgo (RRMC RMC 1968) as Club President in 2004.
e-Veritas: What were the biggest issues when you were president of the Ottawa Branch of the RMC Club and later were National President?
William Lye: In the decade from 1995, to when I became President in 2005, there were several major issues facing the Club and the College, and all members of the National Executive Committee and a succession of Presidents. Among these were:
• the rapid expansion of the RMC student body and graduating alumni from being primarily “Red Coats”, to embracing literally thousands of students in the UTPNCM, Extension Programs, the Technical Staff Course and Graduate Programs;
• the closure of Royal Roads and CMR in 1995 and the amalgamation of the CMR and RMC Clubs;
• the acceptance of gay and lesbian CF members and RMC Officer Cadets; and
• the dire financial situation of the Club.
• Formalizing the RMC Club’s relationship with the College and the CF
These presented all of us in that era with significant challenges that no one President in one year could ever fully address.
One of the most divisive issues in the Club’s history was that of expanding full (“Ordinary”) Club membership status beyond the ROTP/RETP Cadets to the new alumni from the other programs noted above. This came to a head when I was a member of General Council as Ottawa Branch President, and was very capably handled by the then Club Presidents 3550 Colonel (Ret) Murray Johnston (RMC 1956) and the late 8813 LCol John Gibson (RMC 1971) . I was very pleased that I was able to bring the full support of the largest RMC Club Branch to the “Inclusive” side of the issue which was finally adopted after much heated and often very rancorous debate. Some time later, during my time as Club President, S146 General Ray Henault, (then CDS, and at the time of this debate a member of the Armed Forces Council observing the debate), confirmed to me that the CDS and the other senior CF leadership were watching this debate, and that there was only one “correct outcome”: had the Club not become more inclusive in this regard, it would likely have lost all Canadian Forces support and would not have been permitted to continue its physical presence on the College grounds. I note with pleasure that M0058 LCol (Ret) Marc Drolet (CMR 1981), became the first UTPNCM Club President in 2012.
We were also very fortunate to have the assistance of many RMC-CMR Club members among whom were 12046 Pierre Ducharme (CMR 1979), 8765 Claude Tassé (CMR RMC 1971), 4413 André Lecavalier (CMR 1959), and 12944 André Durand (CMR 1982) to assist the two clubs achieve a successful rapprochement in the first part of the new century.
I also recall a very difficult meeting between me as Club 1st VP and members of my father, 2530 BGen (Ret) William Lye’s Class of 1936 at one of their reunions in 2005. Their class was about evenly split on the admission of gay and lesbian officer cadets, and some very senior folks, including a retired VCDS told me point blank that the Club had better get this changed “or else”. I was very pleased that my father and several of his classmates including 2510 BGen (Ret) Ned Amy (RMC 1936) disagreed with this reactionary position, and clearly backed the new policy as being entirely reasonable and the right thing to do. Nevertheless it was not a fun meeting, and similar views and attitudes were shared by many classes and Club members of that era.
My predecessor as Club President, 7776 Col. Chris Lythgo (RRMC 1968), has ably summarized the Club’s financial challenges of that time in his previous interview.
It had become evident to me and my predecessors that the Club could become vulnerable should its status and relationship with the College and the CF not be defined and formally agreed at senior levels. After my tenure as President, I was asked to negotiate a formal agreement with the College and the Canadian Forces related to our tenure of premises and other administrative support and financial arrangements. After about three years and with much support by three Commandants, our Club Executive Director, S150 LCol (Ret’d) Peter Dawe and 9423 Bob Smith (RRMC 1972) of the CF Personnel Support Agency, this agreement was signed by 6776 Col (Ret’d) Tim Sparling (CMR 1966), then Club President and 12141 RAdm Bryn Weadon, then ADM Finance and Corporate Services, on behalf of the CDS.
e-Veritas: Your family has a long history at RMC. How did you and your father come to sponsor the RMC Club Foundation Legacy Dinner?
William Lye: The first member of our family to attend RMC was a cousin of my grandfather, 506 Lieutenant Alfred Edwin Hilton Lye (RMC entry 1899). He later served with the Fort Garry Horse and died of wounds in France in early1918. His photo is one of the earlier ones on the Memorial Staircase. Since that time my father attended RMC and latterly became its 27th Commandant, and several of his and my cousins have gone through the Arch. At this time, my step-grandson OCdt Sebastien Hoffman-Monker is a Gunner in 1st year at RMC Saint.-Jean.
With the exception of one year, when the event sold out early, my father and I jointly sponsored, and, after Dad’s death in 2009, I have sponsored a table of OCdts at all the Legacy Dinners. Quite simply we thoroughly enjoyed and I continue to enjoy the opportunity to mix with these Cadets, to share their contemporary and our historical war stories, and to keep up to date with their perspectives on College life.
e-Veritas: You previously noted the issue of gay and lesbian Officer Cadets at the College. Can you elaborate?
William Lye: From my perspective, the College properly reflects the changes in contemporary society relating to sexual orientation and more particularly to same sex marriage.
When I graduated in 1969, homophobia was alive and well in the Canadian Forces, and specifically at RMC. While I was in England as an Athlone Fellow, I dated a ballerina and became friends with many straight and gay members of the Royal Ballet and other dance companies. I quickly got over some of then Western society’s negative stereotypes, for example of male ballet dancers as weak and effeminate. I would challenge any person to match their strength, coordination and sheer athleticism.
Later in the early 1970’s when I was serving in Germany, my wife, a civilian doctor employed by Canadian Forces Europe, treated soldiers who had been hounded, harassed and released for being suspected of homosexuality. These are not fond memories.
Fast forward to 2003, when Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to recognize same-sex marriage. Later, a vocal minority of Club members sought to have me, as President of the RMC Club, intervene with the Commandant to stop a same sex wedding of a cadet and his partner. Needless to say, I politely, but somewhat frostily, refused this request.
e-Veritas: As a member of the Board of Governors of RMC, what do you know of the Club business today? What are the Club’s/College(s) biggest challenges?
William Lye: After ending more than 15 years on General Council in one capacity or another, I am now quite happy to let the current Club leadership continue their excellent stewardship without my intervention.
I was nominated by the RMC Club for appointment to the Board of Governors. However, my appointment by the Minister defines my role to be the same as that of all other Board members. And I am certainly not the only Ex-Cadet on the Board. Both the Commandant and the Commander of CDA as well as senior military officers representing the Navy, Army and Air Force are ex Officio Board Members and many of these are graduates of one or more of the Military Colleges. Obviously, I bring to the Board a perspective shaped in no small measure by my RMC Club experience.
I am just ending my first year of a four year appointment. During that year the Board of Governors has been focused on how to maintain the teaching and research excellence at RMC while implementing significant financial reductions. For obvious reasons I cannot go into details. However, I can say that the Commandant and the Principal have developed proposals, supported by the Board, which ensure that RMC will remain an outstanding and greatly respected national institution.
e-Veritas: What are you most proud of?
William Lye: Pride is not the operative word. Really, I am incredibly grateful for having had the opportunity at and after CMR and RMC to know and work with such a diverse and talented group of people who share CMR, RRMC and RMC as their alma mater. And yes, I am very proud to be part of that group.
e-Veritas: Would you advise cadets/Ex cadets and former students to get involved with the College extracurriculars/RMC Club? If yes, Why? If not, why not?
William Lye: Absolutely yes. In simple terms it is the best way to be part of the evolution of the Colleges, and to share with current Cadets and students their contemporary experience. It is also a little humbling. I am not the first or only Ex-Cadet who has noted that the workload of the current Cadets greatly exceeds that which we “endured” and that current selection standards might have precluded our acceptance had they been in force at the time.
e-Veritas: What are you up to these days?
William Lye: After three unsuccessful attempts, I am finally retired and restrict my “professional” activities to ski instruction, rounding out and restoring my collection of 19th century Canadian furniture, and advising a few individuals on financial and investment matters. I spend time at my homes in both Ottawa and Mont-Tremblant where I have recently finished building a long held dream, a large garage/workshop to support my “used furniture” habit.
e-Veritas: Any other thing you want to talk about.
William Lye: Congratulations and best wishes to 14835 BGen Eric Tremblay (CMR- RMC ’85) as he leaves the College, but not the Peninsula, on promotion to Command the Canadian Defence Academy (CDA).
Previous Interviews with Former Presidents