“He’s that kind of awesome!” A few days ago, I used these words to describe Reni Barlow, who recently retired from his position as Executive Director of Youth Science Canada. I had the great privilege of working with Reni for many years, and I want to take some time to honour all the work that he has done and tell a few stories about him.
It was quite a challenge for Reni when he was originally hired as Executive Director for Youth Science Canada in 2002. The organization was virtually run by volunteers and was in a difficult place financially. Reni had spent 14 years in the classroom, and 5 years as a principal. When he started with Youth Science Canada, he found himself providing leadership for an organization that was small and amateurish. From the start, he worked very hard on bringing the organization up to a more professional standard.
For the first two years, Reni worked by himself from an office in his home, running everything from there. In 2004, the organization was in a place where another person could be hired, so Lori Murray was brought on as a part-time administrative assistant. Her office was in the basement of Reni’s house, and there were two flights of stairs she needed to climb to get to Reni’s office. At the time, the ongoing joke was that Lori was participating in a fitness program at the same time that she was doing her work!
By 2008, Reni had brought the organization to a place where it was finally able to move into the office space in Pickering, Ontario that Youth Science Canada currently resides in. As you might have guessed, Lori no longer had to go up and down two flights of stairs in this new space.
Reni spent much time and effort making sure that the website for the organization was an outstanding one. In fact, he was the one who originally designed the website! In 2010, Reni initiated a process that resulted in the website being completely revised. The end result was an award-winning website that convinces most people that Youth Science Canada is a much bigger organization than it is.
He also put hours of effort into making sure that the Canada Wide Science Fair was as successful as possible. His expertise on this event was so detailed that he could look at a potential space and immediately know if it would work or not. He made sure that everything that was associated with Youth Science Canada was as high quality as possible, even if that meant that he had to do it himself.
Reni is a very hard worker and a perfectionist – he has always done way more than his job description says that he does. He pays close attention to every detail and makes sure that nothing is forgotten. He took on every single aspect of the job, including: graphic design, shipping and receiving, financial oversight, marketing, building the database front end for the organization, communicating with the public – and he put his whole heart and soul into it. When students wrote to the organization, Reni was the one who answered. When it was time to load backboards on a truck, Reni was the one hefting them on and off of it. In fact, we once gave Lori quite the scare when the tailgate on the truck broke from having nearly 2,000 lbs of backboards loaded on it!
Another time, Reni was filling one of his many roles for Youth Science Canada – this time, as chauffeur – and he was driving a van around Winnipeg with Lori, Liette Phillipe (our Canada-Wide Science Fair coordinator), and Andre (our photographer). All three were wondering why they felt like they had been in the van forever without ever arriving at their destination. Finally, Andre said that he had seen the same building three times. At this point, everyone had a good laugh, because they realized that Reni had accidentally been driving in circles around Winnipeg.
All of us who know him have our own Reni stories. Here is one of mine. Each time I have hosted the awards ceremony for the Canada Wide Science Fair, people comment on how well I do in pronouncing all the names. The truth is, I haven’t done this on my own. Reni is the one who has coached me time after time with any names I wasn’t sure how to pronounce. So, he really is the one who deserves credit for that.
By the way, his French pronunciation is outstanding. He was born and raised in Ontario and is a pure Anglophone. But he worked and worked on pronouncing French words correctly so that he could read his speeches in French. In fact, his pronunciation is so good, that French speakers come up and start speaking French to him after his speeches!
Those of us connected with Youth Science Canada aren’t the only ones to recognize what an amazing individual he is. Did you hear the story of what happened last year at the MILSET (International Movement for Leisure Activities in Science and Technology) gathering in Abu Dhabi? Reni went along as a chaperone for some of the youth attending from Canada. The night of the awards ceremony, the Master of Ceremonies became sick. Guess who they asked to fill in? Reni, of course. He filled in without any preparation, and did a fabulous job.
Reni’s resourcefulness and vision in these past years have brought Youth Science Canada into the place that it is today. He has made sure that every aspect of what we do is professional and outstanding. He has come to be known as “Mr. Science Fair”! Reni deserves all the credit that he gets, and we are so grateful for all that he has done for us. There is no doubt in my mind when I say, “He’s that kind of awesome!” because he truly is.
Dominic P. Tremblay