The late Roger J. Bishop — local scholar, avid book collector and lifetime supporter of the arts, humanities and library at UVic —believed so strongly in the power of a liberal arts education and the importance of reference archives that he frequently shipped boxes of rare books to campus from his travels overseas.

But Bishop’s dedication to teaching liberal arts was not limited to his love of English and literature. Bishop also helped create UVic’s Theatre department out of his eagerness to provide students with the opportunity to participate in live drama and production, directing many of the first plays on campus. That leadership led to one of the Phoenix’s three theatres being named in his honour: the Roger Bishop Theatre at UVic, a 208-seat proscenium theatre.

Now, UVic is celebrating a $1.6-million donation from Bishop’s estate.

“Roger Bishop has always had a presence in our department, because one of our theatres is named for him,” says Theatre chair Anthony Vickery. “But his generosity, as represented by this gift, will directly and positively contribute to the success of our students and continue the great legacy of excellence in the Theatre department which he helped to found.”

UVic alumnus Brian D. Young, estate executor and close family friend of the Bishops, with UVic Music student Emily Markwart, one of the first recipients of the new Roger and Ailsa Bishop Travel Award in Music, outside the Bishop Theatre (UVic Photo Services)

New endowments in Writing & Music

While the overall donation is $1.6 million, over $300,000 of the estate gift goes specifically to the Faculty of Fine Arts for the creation of three new endowments: the Ailsa and Roger Bishop Entrance Scholarship in Theatre, the Roger J. Bishop Writing Prize, and the Ailsa and Roger Bishop Travel Award in Music — and supports an existing bursary in the English department.

“Roger Bishop’s legacy lives on in so many at UVic,” says Writing chair Maureen Bradley. “This gift creates a new opportunity to nurture the next generation of innovative creative writers.”

Current Music student Emily Markwart was one of the 2019 recipients of the travel award in music. “Music can be a challenging career choice but knowing there are people who believe and want to invest in our education is encouraging,” Emily says. “There are no words to thank the Bishops for their generosity properly.” Current Writing MFA candidate Troy Sebastian nupquʔ ak·ǂam̓ is the inaugural recipient of the Bishop Writing Prize.

Both students appeared at a private luncheon celebrating the bequest at the University Club on Nov 1, with Markwart performing and Sebastian reading, as well as a short musical interlude by the Vocal Jazz Ensemble.

A further bequest to Special Collections

This silver mirrored box was presented to Bishop by the Players’ Club of Victoria College in the late 1940s. The club comprised of students and faculty staged plays and Bishop, as head of the fledgling English department, directed a number of them.

A further bequest directed a number of gifts-in-kind to Special Collections including Indigenous woven artworks and contemporary artifacts. A fourth bequest allowed Special Collections to establish an endowment to purchase new materials for research in English language and literature.

“Roger’s commitment to education and passion for learning will live on through these gifts,” says Carmen Charette, UVic’s vice-president of external relations. “The creation of these new student awards, the existing bursary in English and his enduring support of UVic Libraries all stand as a remarkable tribute to Roger’s lifetime of support to the university and also as an example of the extraordinary impact that estate giving can have on the experiences of our students.”

A storied history since 1941

Born in Vancouver, Roger Bishop began teaching at Victoria College in 1941 and joined UVic at its inception in 1963. Bishop was head of the English department from 1945 to 1967, before retiring in 1971.

“We are honoured to be a recipient of Professor Bishop’s generosity and passion for collecting,” says director of Special Collections and university archivist Lara Wilson. “Victoria College’s — and subsequently UVic Libraries’ — rare and unique collections grew under his vision and dedication.”

But, as was noted in this Times Colonist article about the bequest, it was UVic’s study of English, theatre, poetry, art and language — subjects that could be preserved, appreciated and explored endlessly — that was an enduring love.

Donations to UVic play a vital role in enriching the academic experience and offering even more opportunities for our students, researchers and campus community to help build better futures for people and the planet.

As Wilson said of Bishop in the Times Colonist article, “the gift from his estate is the ultimate expression of his belief in our academic mission”.