True Santamarians

By Renée Hartleib | fall 2017

It was 1997 and a bitterly cold January night. Tara McKinney had just flown in from the Bahamas and was seeing Saint Mary’s—her home for the next four years—for the first time. She was in an idling cab where an insistent cab driver was pointing to the McNally Main building and saying that was Vanier Residence. “I knew he wasn’t right. I’d brought the campus map with me, I’d already studied it, and knew it like the back of my hand. I wasn’t getting out of the car at the wrong building, with two large hockey bags full of belongings. It was way too cold!” She laughs. “I made him take us around the block, to Gorsebrook Avenue.”

Although she could have no way of knowing it at the time, Saint Mary’s would end up becoming a second home for much longer than four years. Tara didn’t just get a degree and head back to the Bahamas. She graduated with a B’Comm in 2001 and then almost immediately began working at the Office of the Registrar. She was fortunate to have dual citizenship, plus a father who encouraged her to have the experience of living and working in another country. Two years later, she was promoted to Secretary of the Registrar, and then again to a Functional Systems Analyst in 2004.

Early in her career, Tara proved that she wasn’t the sort of employee who just did her job and went home. She has become known as “the planner,” skills developed during her time as an RA. Happy hour, office parties, birthdays, going away parties, movie nights: you name it and Tara organizes it. One of her largest contributions has been to the annual Alumni Golf Tournament. Warm, gregarious, fun, and a golfer herself, Tara uses her star organizational skills to incite enthusiasm and raise money toward student bursaries.

Giving back to the Saint Mary’s community that has provided her with a second home, a meaningful career, and a circle of lifelong friends, is always paramount in Tara’s mind. That’s why when her brother passed away in 2013, Tara sent the wheels in motion to establish a scholarship in his name.

Andre McKinney was Tara’s younger brother, a member of the United States Army who had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. At the end of his 2nd deployment, the family got a phone call that he was coming home. “We were so relieved,” says Tara. “And then a few weeks later we got another phone call and this time it wasn’t happy news.”

Andre was killed on his motorcycle near his home in Texas less than two weeks after he returned from war and a week after his 33rd birthday. It was a hit and run accident - the other driver did an illegal U-turn at an intersection that Andre was driving through.

“It was really important to my whole family that we do something in memory of my brother,” says Tara. The result is the Sergeant E. Andre McKinney Memorial Award, a bursary for a Bahamian student. The money, donated by Tara’s family, will go to someone who needs financial help to attend university in Canada. “It can be hard for non-Canadian students to find bursaries or awards. We’re proud we can offer this to help students from our own country.”

While Tara has been a big boost to student bursaries and all things golf, she is perhaps even better known around campus for her photography. Although she insists it’s just a hobby, Tara is a repeat winner of the Faculty of Science photography contest and was recently asked by Honda Canada if they could use her photos of the Cabot Trail.

You can check her out on Instagram at 902BWphotography, or if you’re near McNally North—the same place that mistaken cab driver tried to leave her 20 years ago—you can pop in and say hi!

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