Retired Rear Admiral John Alexander Charles is an accomplished military officer, a revered leader, and a long-time supporter of Royal Roads University, its predecessor institutions, and Hatley Park National Historic Site.
Admiral Charles began his military service in 1937 as a cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada. In his second year he joined the Royal Canadian Navy and sailed to England to train as a naval officer.
During the Second World War he served in ships of the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy. He was awarded a Mention in Dispatches “For good services during the landing of Allied Forces at Anzio, Italy.” He remained in the navy after the war and continued to serve Canada with distinction for 37 years. He retired in 1974 as Deputy Chief of Defence Staff.
For three years from September 1954 John Charles was Commandant of Canadian Services College, Royal Roads. His work during this posting illustrates the qualities of leadership that shaped his success throughout his life and which epitomize the leadership principles Royal Roads University seeks to nurture in each of our graduates.
The military cadets who came to Royal Roads were mostly young, inexperienced and away from home for the first time. Their college program was both physically and mentally rigorous – but it was rigorous with the intention of building them, not breaking them. It was the philosophy of Commandant Charles that “you never had anybody coming in last.” He sought to instill in his cadets an understanding of the value of teamwork and a sense of responsibility for each other’s success. These are principles this university continues to espouse.
Cadets from that time recall Commandant Charles as a father figure, someone who knew each of their names, cared about them as individuals, and treated them with fairness, honesty and understanding.
John Charles’ official tenure at Royal Roads was relatively short, however he has been dedicated to the well-being of this campus and this institution since his first days here. During the 1980s, when the future of what was by then Royal Roads Military College was in question, Rear Admiral Charles founded the Friends of Hatley Park Society. This group of volunteers worked to protect the grounds from development. As president of the society, Rear Admiral Charles was instrumental in the federal government declaring the grounds Hatley Park National Historic Site in 1995. The society continues to support the preservation of the heritage property.
John Charles continues to show his support for the people and the place that make up Royal Roads. He attends every Remembrance Day ceremony on campus and is a regular participant in convocation and other university events.
This year, as we mark the 100th anniversary of Hatley Castle and honour the history of this illustrious site, it is fitting that we pay tribute to a man who has not only done the same but who has been an important part of that history: a man who exemplifies the tradition of leadership that distinguishes each of the institutions that have borne the name “Royal Roads.”
Mr. Chancellor, it is indeed an honour to present retired Rear Admiral John Alexander Charles for the degree, Doctorate of Laws, honoris causa.