On June 17, the University Club filled with Queen’s students and faculty alike to celebrate the retirement of Dr. Michael “Mike” Condra, and to say goodbye.
A prominent member of the Queen’s community for 23 years, Condra left Kingston General Hospital in 1992 to become the Director of the Health Counseling and Disability Services (HCDS) at Queen’s.
Condra’s retirement, effective July 1, was celebrated with speeches by coworkers and friends Mike has accumulated over his tenure at Queen’s.
Looking back at his time with the University, Condra said the move was the best work decision he’s ever made.
“I found the University to be an exciting and interesting place to work,” Condra said, “but I found it most enjoyable to work with students.”
“They are interested and dedicated, excited, energetic, very generous in their time, very generous in their desire to be of assistance, and of course very dedicated to learning. Not just classroom learning, either, but learning leadership, learning mentorship, and more recently learning about mental health.”
Stacey Kiefer, manager of Residence Life, said she’s personally witnessed Condra’s dedication to students. Having made several late-night phone calls to Condra about student crises, she said Condra was always willing to help.
“He has been to hospitals to visit students at all hours of the day or night, to help them and their families through times of despair, relapse or the onset of a potentially serious or long-term illness,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer said Condra’s presence guided Queen’s through some of its most difficult periods over the past two decades, including the death of 18 year-old Jack Windeler in 2010.
“Mike always brought a kind and empathetic smile, a light-hearted yet somehow always appropriate joke, or a knowing nod to help make people feel just a little more comforted,” she said.
Hagar Akua Prah, outreach counsellor and Student Life advisor, remembers her first interaction with Condra. At a public speaking event in the early 1990s, Prah, an audience member, said she was captivated by Condra’s ability to capture an audience.
“The room was packed, and I had to stand somewhere near the back door, yet, as a listener, he made me feel as if I was sitting in the front row of my village during storytelling time,” Prah said.
Years later, the two worked alongside each other at Queen’s for eight years.
Students, too, said they’ll miss Condra’s engagement with students.
Whether you were someone interested in mental health, a psychology student in his classes or someone experiencing a crisis, Sebastian Gorlewski, ArtSci ’15, said Condra always had time to talk.
“He was such a visible, positive and accessible mental health leader in the community,” Gorlewski said. “We need more leaders like him.”
Graham Banville, ArtSci ’13, was among the many students who went to Condra for guidance. Before his first year at Queen’s, Banville saw counsellors on and off to manage mental health issues.
He said he intentionally didn’t seek help from HCDS in his first semester, but after struggling in school, he eventually turned to Condra and his staff for support.
“I believe that Mike’s leadership [in the] Queen’s counselling services, and efforts to value individualised treatment for students, were a saving grace in my life,” Banville said.
“Without this,” Banville added, “I don’t think I could have continued my time at school as I did and definitely would not be where I am today.”
“Thank you, Mike. I can never repay what your services have given me.”
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