Family man, engineer, executive, lifelong student, role model. Born June 21, 1927, in Lougheed, Alta. Died Aug. 9, 2011, in Toronto of heart failure, aged 84.
George Pon was a student all his life. Despite failing Grade 1, he earned four degrees and six postgraduate engineering scholarships from the University of Toronto and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He obtained 16 university credits in mechanical and aeronautical engineering without attending a single lecture while working full-time for Orenda Engines.
One of five children, George grew up in Lougheed, Alta., and moved to Toronto when he was 16. After obtaining his PhD in May, 1956, he married the love of his life, Wynne, the next day. Two children, Craig and Kerri, and three grandsons, Brendan, Andrew and Jason, would follow.
George spent 32 years in nuclear power development with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., ascending to the position of corporate vice-president of engineering. He travelled the globe and spent time with many foreign dignitaries.
Among his awards was the Government of Canada Centennial Medal. He was a member of Sigma Xi, a society whose membership includes more than 200 Nobel Prize recipients, and was a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.
Perhaps his greatest strength was his generosity. He opened his home to foreign dignitaries, grilled chicken wings for his guests and served them Canadian wine. Once, he chartered a bus to deliver 30 Japanese businessmen to his house in a quiet residential neighbourhood.
Another time he opened his home overnight to about 25 science students from the University of Waterloo. Along with free accommodation he fed them dinner and helped unroll their sleeping bags, then arranged to transport them to the offices of Atomic Energy of Canada to meet other scientists and show models of nuclear power plants.
George was a champion of and inspiration for youth. He started a scholarship at the University of Toronto for promising students in science and engineering. He welcomed young folks into his home for weeks at a time, including a student from France and a young graduate from Poland. If George believed in a person, he offered support and expected nothing in return. His reward came in seeing people succeed through hard work.
Above all, George was a family man. He taught his children how to ski on the hill behind their house and demonstrated much patience threading worms on hooks while his grandsons caught sunfish at the cottage near Bracebridge, Ont. In his spare time, he enjoyed woodworking and built a boat and furniture. George’s modest beginnings spurred him to learn on his own, work hard and be kind to others. He was a proud product of the Canadian dream. Let him be a role model to all of us.
Kerri Whyte is George’s daughter.