Gordon Willey: The man who helped start it all

You’ve probably heard the name before or seen the giant lettering on the front of the main building of Durham College but many people don’t know who Gordon Willey is.

Dr. Gordon E. Willey was appointed as the first president of Durham College in 1966, just before it was opened in 1967.
Willey was also a key member of the board of governors responsible for starting the college. The college quickly grew from a group of 14 portables into what was called the pre-engineered building, now known as the Simcoe Building. In 1969, the college began construction on the main building of the campus and by September 20, 1971 construction was complete. The main building was named after Gordon Willey when it was opened.
Willey held a doctorate in metallurgy, and worked as an engineer for Algoma Steel and Union Carbide before he started his work with the college.
He made Durham one of the only colleges in Canada to enforce a dress code including ties for men and dresses or skirts for women.
Brenda Jackson, who works in the archives for the college, has worked here since 1969.
“I never had too many personal dealings with him but I always heard from others that he was a great man and ahead of his time,” she said.
Many people considered Willey to be revolutionary. In several of his speeches he made special mention of his passion for having his students not only learn the basic knowledge of their program but to learn how to use it to make a successful career. He cared about his student’s success and was known to roam the halls and make sure students were attending class.
In 1981 he retired and Mel Garland became president of the college.
He had a wife, Doris and three children: his daughter, Barbara, and two sons, Robert and Ronald.
In August 1999, Willey left behind his legacy after his death in Port Perry following a long lasting illness. He died at the age of 85.