June/July 2009

A force of nature

A conversation with CIM past president René Dufour, winner of the Vale Inco Medal

By R. Pillo

 

Left to right: Parviz Farsangi, executive vice president and COO, Vale Inco Ltd.; René Dufour; and Jim Gowans, CIM past president


In recognition of a lifetime of contribution to the resources industry, CIM past president René Dufour was recently honoured with the Vale Inco Medal, one of CIM’s most prestigious awards. His eloquent acceptance speech reflected his commitment to the industry and its development. Dufour’s passion for knowledge-sharing and professional development has driven his many achievements. At 78, he is an indomitable force, still pushing the industry to achieving ever higher levels of distinction. Dufour, whose legacy is a source of inspiration for future generations, spoke to CIM of his life and times. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

CIM: How did you feel about winning the Vale Inco Medal?

Dufour: I could not believe it! It is awarded to very industrious people and I am honoured to be considered one of them. This medal holds additional significance for me. I was invited twice by the Ouro Preto School of Mines of Brazil to conduct a two-week intensive course on open-pit mining for the school’s professors and students. The course was repeated for practicing engineers, many who were from Vale Inco.

CIM: How did you get involved with mining?

Dufour: I am the second child in a family of 17 from the Saguenay region of Quebec. My family did not have money and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife offered a $750 bursary — an enormous amount at that time — to those who opted for mining engineering. It was an easy decision to make.

CIM: What is your greatest professional achievement?

Dufour: In 1988, I was head of the Mining Engineering Department at École Polytechnique de Montréal and CIM president. The department learned that both the Polytechnique and McGill University, the only two universities offering mining engineering in Montreal in French and English, respectively, might have their mining programs suspended. Something had to be done. A joint Polytechnique-McGill bilingual co-op program was created, which allowed students from one university to spend a semester at the other and benefit from learning a new culture and language. As part of the program, students were employed for three work terms, gaining a head-start in meeting the needs of the industry. We also worked hard to raise $1.2 million to support two professors’ salaries at each institution.

In addition, in 1970 I received the CIM Past Presidents’ Memorial Medal. It is awarded to a person, under 45 years of age, who sets an outstanding example to students. Students are this industry’s future. I believe we need to provide the opportunities for them to succeed.

CIM: You have done so much for mining industry and the community? What keeps you going?

Dufour: I really appreciate the work I have done with CIM. I have met so many fantastic and talented people. It’s in my nature to want to do more, to know more. Even though I am retired, I still spend most of my evenings looking over files and reading up on the latest news — not just about the mining industry — I am never tired of learning something new.

CIM: In 1972, you and four other members founded the Canadian Mining and Metallurgical Foundation (CMMF), over which you presided from 1991-97. What is its role today?

Dufour: CMMF supports education, innovation and training to promote and sustain a thriving industry through knowledge-sharing and professional development. It invests in initiatives that reverse the current trend of disaffection towards our industry.

CIM: You are a pretty busy man. How do you do it all?

Dufour: My wife Cécile has been my greatest supporter. She has been right there with me, helping out wherever she could. I could not have done it alone. Cécile is the queen and the soul of our family. She has raised our four wonderful children, three of whom are now engineers and the fourth obtained a PhD in philosophy at the Université Paris-Sorbonne in France.

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