Before becoming lead engineer for the world’s most recognizable rideshare company, Conrad Whelan was just a kid growing up in Calgary who loved visiting the library.
After making his fortune at Uber, he left the company in 2016 and has been looking to begin his “philanthropy journey,” deciding the best place to start is his old hometown by donating $5 million to the Calgary Public Library Foundation.
In return, the foundation has christened the new Central Library’s concert venue the Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall, named after Whelan’s mother who died last year.
“She always got us reading a lot,” Whelan said while reflecting on childhood memories of going to the library with his late mother.
“Reading is still a big part of my life. I love books so, for me, libraries hold such a special place in my heart.”
He said the timing of the new library’s opening was the perfect opportunity to honour his mother’s memory while giving back to the community he grew up in.
“When this came up, it seemed like it would be an opportunity; an all around great thing that fits in with everything I’ve been raised to know and love in this life,” he said.
A private event with Whelan’s family, friends and colleagues from the Calgary business community served as a dedication ceremony for the Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall on Friday at the new Central Library.
Whelan said he prepared for the event by taking in the new library and working on a speech in the Great Reading Room.
“It’s just such a beautiful space,” he said. “That to me is just the most exciting thing — just to be there and to see … people coming in, and what an opportunity it is for the city to have such a beautiful hub and create a good, vibrant energy in that part of the downtown core.”
Ellen Humphrey, president and CEO of the library foundation, said in a statement that Whelan’s contribution will help with future expansions and enhancements of programs and services.
“This is a shift to the way we think about libraries, learning and literature,” she said. “Libraries are no longer just buildings with books. They have evolved to be critical pieces of social and cultural infrastructure to support a wide array of learners.”
Whelan, 40, graduated from the University of Calgary with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.
Even though he lives in Whistler, B.C., Whelan said he still feels a strong connection to Calgary. He’s even invested in a few technology-focused local businesses since leaving Uber, including concert and event production company PK Sound.
Whelan said he’s looking forward to using his successes in the tech industry to “make people’s lives better.”
“I’m not living in Calgary anymore so I’m not necessarily going to be full-time looking for things here, but if there is somewhere where it seems appropriate for me to help and it aligns with my values and my brand I’m totally interested in doing that.”
The Calgary Public Library Foundation was founded in 1999 “to provide an opportunity for individuals, businesses and foundations to participate in building a library system for today and future generations,” the library said.
Learn more about the Calgary Public Library Foundation by visiting www.addin.ca.
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