When soon-to-be Governor General and former astronaut Julie Payette was training for her commercial pilot’s licence, Yves Bousquet, a STG client systems manager at IBM Corp., had the chance to sit in the passenger’s seat.
“To see her eyes when she was flying was amazing,” he recalls. “She loved it and she was really happy at that moment.”
Payette’s eyes also lit up at a press conference on Thursday after she was introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the next Governor General of Canada. She will be officially appointed by the Queen to her symbolic and constitutional role as the representative of Canada’s head of state later this Fall.
“I’m here to serve all Canadians, of all backgrounds, of all walks of life, either new or not so new,” she said. “I will be very open to what I think is our core values in this country – tolerance, openness, and working together.”
Best known to Canadians as a former Canadian Space Agency astronaut, having flown on two space shuttle missions with NASA, Payette was also formerly an employee at IBM. She applied her research in computer systems, natural language processing, and automatic speech recognition first as a summer student, and later as a visiting scientist at the Zurich research lab, and in Montreal as a research engineer.
Bousquet joined Payette as a summer intern at IBM in 1985, as part of a group of 12 students. He spoke with IT World Canada about his time working with Payette at IBM and his friendship with her in the years since. Payette is the “perfect” choice to be Governor General, he says, because of her open-minded approach and vision.
Payette impressed Bousquet right from his first impression of her as a colleague.
“She was bright. She was passionate,” he says. “You know the kind of team player that you need? She’s it. Always there to address issues and find out how to do better.”
Payette and Bousquet both worked in Montreal over the summers of 1985 and ’86. As interns they were tasked with conducting market research in the area, contacting engineers at post-secondary schools and at companies, and asking them what they needed from IBM. After the internship in 1986, both went on to an IBM training program in Toronto and graduated as certified IBM engineers. They went into a taskforce to service a new workstation at that time. But Payette had bigger ambitions.
She spoke often about her ambitions to be an astronaut, Bousquet recalls. Her family was a major inspiration. “Her family pushed her to do better things and go beyond the limits,” he says.
So in 1988 she moved to Toronto to do a Masters degree in science and then she moved to Zurich for a year to work with IBM there. Following that in 1992 she moved back to Montreal for a brief stint with Montreal, just before being accepted as one of the country’s four new astronauts out of 5,330 applicants.
“It was perfect timing when they were looking for a new candidate,” Bousquet says. “She didn’t think about it for five minutes.”
As an engineer, Payette will have the capability to identify the important problems that she needs to address in her new role, Bousquet says. Her passion for learning new languages and about other cultures around the world are also bound to help.
“She’s able to understand what’s going on and give the ability to others to understand what’s going on at a deeper level,” he says. “With an open mind, you can open any doors.”
When Bousquet was sitting in the seat next to Payette as she piloted an aircraft 2,000-feet above Montreal, he says he trusted her. “I was safe in her hands.”
Now the most senior diplomatic role in Canada is in those hands.