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Canadian radio pioneer Fessenden commemorated with $1.25 million gift


McGill alum Dr. John Blachford honours his great-uncle, inventor of audio radio

Dr. John Blachford, BEng’59, PhD’63, president of the custom manufacturing firm H. L. Blachford Ltd., has donated $1.25 million to McGill University to create the Fessenden Professorship in Science Innovation. The Professorship will encourage the commercialization of research by allowing world-class scholars in the Faculty of Science to develop the commercial viability of their ideas.

The Professorship honours Dr. Blachford’s great-uncle, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden, a Quebec-born trailblazer in the field of radio technology, who in his early career worked with Thomas Edison. Dr. Fessenden was the first to transmit speech wirelessly, in 1900, one year before Gugliemo Marconi’s famous transatlantic broadcast of Morse code dots and dashes. On Christmas Eve 1906, Fessenden surprised ship radio operators in the Atlantic with the first-ever public broadcast of speech and music. Only a few days before, he had sent the world’s first two-way transatlantic radio transmission.

“The Fessenden Professorship in Science Innovation is the first of its type in North America,” said Professor Martin Grant, Dean of the Faculty of Science. “John Blachford’s extremely generous decision to make this gift to McGill and the Faculty not only honours his great-uncle. His visionary thinking also helps us ensure that McGill can produce the Fessendens of the future.”

Dr. Blachford’s gift, together with an earlier $750,000 donation from a fellow alumnus, will form a $2-million endowment for the Fessenden Professorship. Dr. Blachford, who received two degrees from McGill, a Bachelor of Engineering in 1959 and a PhD in 1963, has maintained a close relationship with his alma mater, including serving on the Graduate Studies’ Faculty Advisory Board and on the Chancellor’s Committee.

The gift was officially presented to the university on February 18 at Applause 2008, a gala celebrating major awards won by groundbreaking McGill researchers, held at le Centre des Sciences de Montréal.


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