UWinnipeg's Patty Hawkins

Faculty of Arts

The Faculty of Arts is planning a series of features as part of UWinnipeg’s celebration of its 50th anniversary. As the second in this series, we profile UWinnipeg staff member and alumna, Patty Hawkins.

Patty Hawkins

(Photo credit: Naniece Ibrahim)

“Did I ever tell you how I came to come here as a student?” asks Patty Hawkins, UWinnipeg Arts alumna and Office Manager/Student Advisor in the Department of Theatre and Film. I’ve just approached her to see if I can interview her as part of our Faculty of Arts celebration of UWinnipeg’s 50th anniversary this year.

Earlier this Spring, Hawkins was recognized for her thirty years of service at the University of Winnipeg. Hawkins had agreed to the interview, but just days before we met, she announced her retirement. Tim Babcock has worked closely with Patty Hawkins throughout her time working at UWinnipeg. On hearing about her upcoming retirement, he shared some of his thoughts about her and what she has meant to him and to the faculty, staff and students of the Department of Theatre and Film.

Patty Hawkins came to us 30 years ago and has been a mainstay to the department throughout a series of major shifts in program, space and scope of operations. Once she managed to just get used to we ‘theatre types’ her role has had to evolve significantly as a result of these changes and she has taken on each new challenge with aplomb and a dedication to support students, faculty and the University that has been extraordinary. Click here to read Tim Babcock's full message.

Interview with Patty Hawkins

I start by congratulating her on her retirement and then ask her about her position.

“Most recently, I’ve worked with Tim Babcock, Department Chair; and over the past year with Christopher Brauer, Acting Chair; Allison Loat, Production Coordinator; and with Chris Coyne, who is the Assistant to the Production Coordinator. Together we work as a team. My position has changed a lot over the years,” she explains, “as I’ve had lots of opportunities to challenge myself and move up in the ranks. That’s something that’s been really important to me.” She pauses and then adds, “One thing I would like to say is that I always felt the support of my colleagues.”

What was your major and how was your experience as a student?

“It was very positive”, she says. “At that time, most students at UWinnipeg were from Winnipeg high schools. The out-of-town students (including Hawkins who, like me, is from Dauphin, Manitoba) stayed in residence: Sparling Hall was the women’s residence and Graham Hall the men’s.  I was nervous moving to the City but residence life offered lots of support. I majored in History.”

Do you remember certain professors and/or courses as being favourites?

“Dr. Robert (Bob) Young, Professor Emeritus and Fellow of United College, mentored me in lots of ways. For example, he organized a Friday night gathering called the ‘European Studies Group.’ I was in a class with his wife, Katherine Young, so I got to know her as well. Bob and Katherine would take me home for dinner with them - which I really appreciated since I lived in residence! I’m still close to them both. And Jane Cahill, who is also retiring this year, was a terrific prof and her courses were so interesting. I discovered Classics in my final year - Jane gave me my first A+s!”

How did you come to work at the University?

“I had worked in a law office for six years but kept in touch with the university and was on the Alumni Council. I heard that Johan Dick was retiring from her position as Secretary of the English Department. I basically nagged Barry Scott in the Employment Office until she arranged for me to be interviewed, and I was delighted when I was hired. At that time, Xerox Memory Writers were in use. These were precursors to computers - electric typewriters that were “correctable” in that you could view up to 30 characters at a time and either make corrections or hit “enter” to print what you’d typed. I had worked on this type of machine so I knew how to use it. Later, in 2000 when English and Theatre were separated into two individual departments, I chose to go with Theatre. Doug Arrell was the Department Chair of Theatre and Drama at that time.”

Patty Hawkins and Nelson Tome
Hamming it up with alum, Nelson Tome (1990's).

How has the Department of Theatre and Film changed over the years?

“Significantly we added Film to our name and offerings. The department’s really grown and more than ever our students are going on to become working professionals in their fields. For example, we have former students who perform and work in every aspect of theatre all over Canada and the US, and our filmmakers are getting lots of work. One alum has even exhibited a film at Cannes.”

“Managing the building ourselves,” she says, “has allowed us to draw in the local theatre and film community. This spring we had five professional companies renting space. Bringing the community in this way is good for our students. They get the opportunity to work with professionals, who in turn hire them. Shakespeare in the Ruins’ production of “Romeo and Juliet” was rehearsing here and both Romeo (Kristian Jordan) and Juliet (Heather Russell) are former students; in fact, there were thirteen UWinnipeg grads in the cast and crew of that show.”

What do you see as the department’s biggest strength now?

“The program is very hands-on and the students get lots of practical experience. The backstage program is strong here. It’s small and very personal and students walk out into the jobs they want. The practical experience all of our students get - it’s a skills-based program - is something that sets the program apart from others. Students can apply their learning right away in every aspect and concentration.

The program also brings in professionals to teach on contract and these connections are important for the students. For example, Kayla Gordon, Artistic Director at Winnipeg Studio Theatre and one of our professors who teaches on contract (I’ve known Kayla since she was a student here!) organizes tours to NYC and takes interested students along. This summer, the students will participate in workshops with actors and directors on Broadway. They’ll see Broadway shows and even go backstage.”

Just days ago I found out you are retiring this summer, so I have to ask about your plans during retirement.

“As of August 1, I’ll be the President of the Winnipeg Embroiderers’ Guild. (Hawkins had three pieces of her work displayed in the recent ‘Faculty, Staff and Student Exhibition: What We Make II’ in Gallery 1C03 from May 25 to June 23.) I plan to continue with the yoga I started through UWinnipeg’s Recreation Services and at the newly expanded Dakota Community Centre and I am going to walk regularly for exercise and energy. I want to continue to be involved with theatre, so I’ll volunteer with some of the smaller companies in Winnipeg, such as Shakespeare in the Ruins and Saravasti Productions. I would also like to volunteer with an animal charity.  I plan to keep in touch with people at UWinnipeg, and will continue as a member of the University Club and the Retirees’ Association.”

Hawkins smiles and adds: “There are two things I know that won’t do in retirement: (i) I am NEVER setting my alarm for 6 AM again and (ii) I will NEVER slog to the bus at 7:00 AM in Winter when it’s pitch black and 40° below!”

So, going back now to how Hawkins came to UWinnipeg. . . As she explains, “I was registered at the U of M and Gerry Bedford (Registrar and English Prof) wrote to me offering me a $500 scholarship. (At that time, $500 covered tuition for five full courses, including books!) I told him that if he could find me a spot in residence, I’d come. He did, and I did, and that changed the course of my life!  That personal connection with Dr. Bedford made all the difference. Who knows how it would have worked out if I’d gone to the University of Manitoba? My closest friends to this day are in the ones I met in Sparling Hall and, of course, I’ve had a very rewarding career working here.”

I close by asking Patty what she’ll miss the most.

She doesn’t hesitate. “I’ll miss the people,” she says. “The faculty, staff, and the students.” She adds “The students are the best part of my job. The kids. My kids.”

I know faculty, staff, and students will miss Patty – a lot.

Lisa McLean
Faculty of Arts