Lakehead University Alumni Magazine

Jim & Shirley Symington

Tenacious and Talented

Published July 16, 2013
Jim & Shirley Symington siting on a deck with a black poodle

Jim and Shirley Symington believe in the ability of people to become exceptional citizens. It's something they've done themselves.

Their transformation from humble beginnings – into a successful chartered accountant and a nursing educator and public health nurse – was accomplished through hard work and the power of a university education. The retired Thunder Bay couple are now championing life-changing opportunities for Lakehead students.

Their generosity has established the James and Elizabeth Symington Bursary for Lakehead University Education students (named in honour of Jim's parents) and the James and Shirley Symington Bursary for Northern Ontario School of Medicine students.

"Giving somebody a hand up," explains Shirley, "can change their future and make our society more resilient."

The Symingtons are also contributors to Lakehead's Team Achieve, an initiative to help children in our community overcome barriers to postsecondary education.

School Days

Both Shirley and Jim had their own challenges to face when it came to getting ahead in the world.

Shirley was a teenager in London, Ontario, during the 1950s. "In those days, if you were a woman, you went to work in an office, you were a nurse, or you were a teacher."

She herself trained as a nurse but took the unconventional step of earning a Bachelor of Nursing Science from Western University with the help of a Victorian Order of Nurses bursary. "I wanted more options. I wanted more doors open."

Her decision gave her the freedom to take greater control of her career path.

Jim grew up in the tiny village of Hurkett in Northwestern Ontario where his family owned the general store. After high school, he spent a year at the Lakehead College of Arts, Science and Technology (which later became Lakehead University). Although his parents had always encouraged him to get an education, they didn't have money for postsecondary studies. Fortunately, Jim was able to secure bursaries.

"Financial aid was very helpful to both myself and Shirley in getting our education."

Jim earned a Bachelor of Commerce from Queen's University and went on to prove his mettle in Toronto as the financial controller of a large Bay Street investment company.

In 1976 Shirley and Jim, along with their two children, moved to Thunder Bay believing that a smaller northern community would be a better place to raise a family. They've been a vital part of the community ever since.

The Next Generation

The Symington's conviction that postsecondary education brings success prompted them to support Lakehead University.

"We deliberately focused our donations on bursaries rather than scholarships," Jim says "because there are many bright and capable people who are in need of money but may not qualify for scholarships." The couple gave to Lakehead through gifts of stocks, an option that brings excellent financial advantages to donors.

"Transferring these stocks to Lakehead saved us significant capital gains taxes," Jim says, "and we also got a charitable donation receipt for their current market value."

Offering young people the tools to construct their own destiny has made Jim and Shirley Symington an integral part of the Lakehead University family. Thank you for making us stronger.

Help a student become a proud Lakehead alum and give yourself a tax break. Learn more about gifts of stock by contacting Lee-Anne Camlin with Lakehead University's External Relations department at or (807) 346-7792.

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