Gerald Rimer and sons’ donation to McGill will create a new Indigenous research institute; Leacock name to disappear from the Montreal campus

Gerald Rimer, second from right, attends the announcement of his family’s donation to McGill University with sons, from left, Neil, David, Danny and Richard and wife Marie-Françoise Wiegert. (Credit: Owen Egan photo)

The Stephen Leacock Building, a landmark on the McGill University campus for more than a half-century memorializing the famous Canadian humorist and academic, is to be renamed for a Jewish family in recognition of their major donation.

Pioneering venture capitalist Gerald Rimer, who graduated from McGill in 1956 with a bachelor of commerce degree, and his sons are giving $13 million to the university, which will go toward updating Leacock and the creation of an Indigenous research institute.

Rimer is the retired co-founder and head of Index Ventures, a leading global VC firm based in Geneva, now headed by his eldest son, Neil.

Ten million dollars is earmarked for the renovation of the building, projected to be completed in 2027 with additional private funding, and the remainder for the establishment of the Institute for Indigenous Research and Knowledges.

“Together, these donations will help transform one of the most well known buildings on our downtown campus and will strengthen McGill’s role in support of Indigenous languages and revitalization efforts,” said principal Suzanne Fortier at the official announcement.

Rimer stated, “I am pleased to support the university and my family is proud to play a role in bringing students together, inspiring academic achievement and enhancing support for McGill’s Indigenous community. It is an honour for the Rimer family name to be synonymous with this building and these important initiatives.”

His late wife Judie née Reich was also an alumna, graduating in 1962.

Rimer, who grew up in the Notre Dame de Grâce district and has lived for many years in Switzerland, founded Index Securities, the forerunner of Index Ventures, in 1976 and built it into a prosperous bond brokerage business.

In 1992, the elder Rimer and Neil made their first foray into technology investing. Over the past 25 years, the firm has raised US $12 billion to support entrepreneurs, mainly in Europe and Israel, from “seed to IPO.” Among its early successes was Skype, the internet communications company, which it sold in 2005 to eBay and was later bought by Microsoft.

Among the more than 20 Israeli startups the Rimers have invested in since 2003 are Wiz, Adallom, and MyHeritage.

Neil Rimer, who has been cited by Forbes and The New York Times as one of the top venture capitalists in the world today, emphasized how important going to McGill was for his parents.

“Anchored in our minds is the deep love, nostalgia and reverence our parents had for this place,” said the younger Rimer, who is also co-chair of the Human Rights Watch board of directors.

“Both attended McGill and were the first in their families to attend university. For both it was a sacred experience that they drew on for the rest of their lives… It is an enormous source of joy and satisfaction that we witness this act of love by my father to contribute to the institution that gave him so much.”

He and his brothers were particularly keen on adding a gift for the advancement of Indigenous studies.

Opened in 1965, the 10-storey Leacock building has been controversial from the start for its dour modernist architectural style. Today it houses mainly lecture halls and offices of the Faculty of Arts.

Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was a professor in McGill’s economics and political science department from 1903 to 1936, chairing it for much of that time. He is better known for his prolific humorous writing and was designated a National Historic Person of Canada in 1968. The annual Leacock medal remains the leading citation for humorous literature in the country.

However, in recent years there has been a reappraisal of his legacy, with some critics casting Leacock, a conservative even in his own time, as misogynist, imperialist and even racist. It’s a past McGill, as an institution, is coming to terms with as well.

McGill notes that Leacock will continue to be remembered, as he has for the past 52 years, through the lecture named for him.