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Remembering the legacy of Charlie Fischer

charlie fischer

You often hear the expression, “they were head and shoulders above their peers,” and it is never truer than when talking about SAIT’s 2007 honorary degree recipient, Charlie Fischer. A tall man in stature, it was not just his height that put him head and shoulders above his peers; it was his love of the energy industry, his community and his country.

Fischer passed away on June 17, 2020 at the age of 70, leaving behind a legacy that came from being generous with his time, his energy, his talents, and his resources. SAIT and its students were the lucky beneficiaries of all four for more than three decades.

Fischer acted as an industry advisor on the Promising Futures Campaign Cabinet from 2007 to 2011, and he and his wife, Joanne Cuthbertson, donated to the campaign that raised more than $116.7 million to build SAIT’s Trades and Technology Complex. In honour of their support, a lab in the Aldred Centre was named the Charlie Fischer & Joanne Cuthbertson Lab.

At that time Fischer said, “We are proud of our relationship with SAIT that provides life-changing educational programs, and look forward to continued opportunities to strengthen our ties.”

Fischer earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1971 and a Masters of Business Administration in 1982 – both from the University of Calgary. He started his career at Dome Petroleum, then moved to various companies, before taking the job as president and CEO of Nexen Inc. in 2001.

During Fischer’s leadership, Nexen contributed more than $8 million to SAIT, including sponsoring a lab in SAIT’s new Business Technology Centre and the development of a scholarship supporting international students from Yemen. The program provided Yemeni youth with a full scholarship so they could make a positive impact on the development of their country. With Nexen’s support, approximately 30 students graduated from SAIT with the last one crossing the stage in 2016.

portrait of charlie fischer

“One thing that sticks out in my mind is how grateful the students were for the opportunity to study in Canada,” says Stacey Barefoot, Associate Director of SAIT’s International Centre. “Most of them began their careers with Nexen and either stayed with that company or moved on.”

Nexen also supported curriculum development for the distance delivery of SAIT’s Bachelor of Applied Petroleum Technology program and programs at SAIT’s Chinook Lodge Aboriginal Resource Centre.

For all of their generosity and support, SAIT awarded Nexen with the President’s Partnership Award in 2005.

Fischer retired from Nexen in 2008, but his community work had only begun. He chaired or co-chaired a number of industry associations and served as vice-chair of the Canada West Foundation. He sat on the University of Calgary’s board of governors, and Faculty of Medicine Dean's Advisory Council, and chaired the Hull Child and Family Foundation. He was also a member the board of the C.D. Howe Institute and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation where he co-chaired the capital campaign that raised more than $50 million to build the new Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.

The list of Fischer’s many awards and accolades is long and impressive and reflects his willingness to give back to the community. Most recently, in 2019, Fischer and Cuthbertson, were invested as members of the Order of Canada.

Fischer will be missed for his big heart, but his legacy will live on in the community and industry.

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