If you could have seen the late Dr. Bhagwan Dua in the 1940s it would have been nearly impossible to envision how his life would pan out.
Long before Bhagwan ever ventured to the unknown prairies of southern Alberta, he was a young man in New Delhi, a teenager who hadn’t completed high school, a street urchin of sorts who was repairing bicycles. Under cajoling from his older brother, Dua challenged his Grade 10 final exams and, to his surprise, passed. It was a spark that would change his life’s course and ignite an insatiable love for learning.
Prior to Dua’s arrival in Canada, he married Swarn Dua (BEd ’84) and their stories became entwined. Together, they left India and set out on a path that would eventually find Bhagwan at the University of Alberta where he completed his PhD. Following graduation in 1977, Bhagwan accepted a position as a professor at the University of Lethbridge. At that same time, Swarn enrolled as a student in the Faculty of Education.
“It was the first time we learned of Lethbridge when he got the job,” recalls Swarn. Right from the start, it was a natural fit. “I met amazing people along the way, had really good professors and really enjoyed it.”
Over time, as the Dua family grew to welcome two daughters, Manjula and Mini, their family matured alongside the University.
“There used to be that little tunnel that connected the buildings. The growth we saw over the years was amazing,” says Swarn.
Dua went on to chair the political science department, and in 1991, was appointed dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. Bhagwan led the Faculty through difficult years of budget cuts. Even through those challenging times, he never lost his focus.
“‘For the good of the University,’ that was his motto,” recalls Swarn fondly. “What can I say? The people in his office were very important to him, and he remembered that. He cared for people. He was passionate about education.”
Dua and his wife were very much a team, and even after Bhagwan’s formal retirement, the two remained advocates for education, working tirelessly in their longstanding efforts to further and grow the institution. Both of their daughters attended the U of L before going on to medical school.
“This is it, the University was our life,” says Swarn with a soft spoken yet resolute finality.
So, when Dua passed away suddenly in January of 2018, Swarn knew without hesitation how she wanted to honour his memory.
“Only days before Bhagwan died, we had talked about how we wanted to establish a scholarship at the U of L,” she says. “It was the natural thing to do. He would have loved to do this himself.”
This past fall, the Faculty of Arts & Science came together to celebrate the life of Dua, while raising support for students at the inaugural Wine & Dine Arts & Science Scholarship Dinner. Combined with the generous gift from the Dua family, countless others made contributions as a way to honour a friend, family member, community leader and colleague. At the end of the night, more than $80,000 was raised for the Dr. Bhagwan Dua Memorial Scholarship.
“I was shocked at how many people contributed. It was very humbling,” says Swarn.
“People come and go, but the University has honoured Bhagwan, and his legacy will live on — that’s extremely touching. Students will benefit from it.”
The endowed scholarship will be awarded yearly to one first-year student and one continuing student.
“It really is full circle. Being an immigrant, Bhagwan himself was fortunate to have received financial aid and understood how much of an impact scholarships can make for students. I know he’d be smiling to see this.”