Tamar Mamourian is a powerhouse of knowledge in designing and implementing policy to benefit the University of Toronto community. She recently retired as Chief Administrative Officer of Cell & Systems Biology (CSB), but her legacy spreads well beyond this Department.

Tamar’s fondest memory of her time at UofT is the respect and support she received from her colleagues. “If there was anything that I needed assistance with I would extend a [request] for one person. Word will go around I will get not one but five people to help me.” Tamar is grateful for the support she received from a range of Chairs and Deans within the Faculty of Arts & Science. This appreciation grew out of Tamar’s fierce advocacy for making the right thing happen.

In any office, the right thing is hard to plan and execute, but Tamar had an insightful mind and deep experience. A path through the financial systems of the University was the source of Tamar’s effectiveness. As the complexity of expenditures she handled increased from invoicing through reimbursement and operations to CAO, she sought out and applied the reason behind each expenditure policy.

A consistent, reasonable resolution that could be clearly explained to all concerned parties is her hardest-won skill: “The most difficult thing to manage was reconciling the nitty-gritty of science grant funding, so that when you applied a charge to a grant, the reason was clear. Going from financial management to supporting a science department was my greatest professional challenge. I didn’t think I had it in me, but shame on me if I had given up!”

When the University decentralized financial systems (including grants) to the departments, Tamar became actively involved in designing clear policies and procedures. She made the Botany Department a model for the University when she led the pilot to bring all Botany accounting in-house. As the expert on developing and implementing systems for in-house accounting, she was trusted to train staff throughout the Faculty. Botany eventually merged with Zoology and CSB came out of that merger.

CSB Professor Daphne Goring says “I was very grateful that Tamar was my CAO as Chair (2006-2009) for the newly formed CSB Department. Not only were we carrying out all the regular duties of our positions, but Tamar and I were also working closely together to set up the foundations of the new department. I truly appreciated Tamar’s depth of University knowledge and frequent wise advice to help guide me through this process.”

Tamar trains and manages people by sharing her expertise and adds a caring approach. Prof Goring found that “Tamar is a wonderful and kind person, always with a smile on her face, and a real pleasure to work with.”

Tamar says the best part of her job was to make a difference in someone’s life; “I thrive on making a difference; by reaching out, by listening, understanding where they were coming from and making it so they wanted to come to work every day.” This creates an environment of support staff at CSB’s office who love what they are doing.

The Ramsay Wright Building where CSB has its office is a cranky construction that conceals many dormant defects. As building manager, Tamar dealt with frequent flooding, expiring elevators and numerous other crises. She resolved these dilemmas by sourcing the correct person with the necessary skills. Tamar replaced all three malfunctioning elevators and was driven to resolve the flooding problem by replacing the entire roof. She provided support to other divisions housed in Ramsay Wright, such as the Biological Sciences and Imaging Facilities.

This role took on menacing aspects in March 2020 as we were all told to stay home. With courage and honour, Tamar stubbornly took it upon herself to be the only one in Ramsay Wright every day. She felt she had to be there for perishable scientific samples still arriving through delayed supply chains, and to support care for the plants, animals, and stored samples in the building. As hospitals in Toronto became desperate for masks, gloves, and bleach, she coordinated building access so CSB could donate our stocks to the hospitals.

Despite being destined for retirement, Tamar stayed on throughout the pandemic, even training new staff as services gradually resumed. She leaves a happy and thriving department to Benjamin Eldridge, her successor as CAO. As she retires, we will all miss her and take to heart her last message to the Department: “Sign Up! Show Up! Never Give Up!”