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Mary Byrne, P.ENG. '93

Building for tomorrow

Mary Byrne’s fingerprints can be found across the city of Toronto, around Ontario, and even beyond.

The 1993 Civil Engineering and Management grad has left her mark on both the province’s natural gas distribution system and its electrical distribution system. And now, as director of the University of Toronto’s property management group, Byrne oversees the group responsible for maintaining the 150 downtown buildings that make up the school’s St. George campus.

“We provide a variety of maintenance and project management services to the buildings, through our staff and contractors,” she says. “We also work very closely with other departments to ensure accessibility, and sustainability for existing assets and new capital projects and buildings.”

After launching her career with Ford, Byrne spent more than two decades working for Ontario utilities, specializing in managing design and construction projects.

She was with Enbridge Gas Distribution for more than 12 years, then moved to Toronto Hydro for nearly a decade.

From pipelines to power lines, and now to historic buildings, Byrne says her career has allowed her to contribute to society in a meaningful and tangible way.

“I like knowing that there are physical assets that I have helped to build, that will outlive me,” she says.

And while physical assets have clear engineering challenges related to their construction and maintenance, there are always financial, social and environmental elements to be balanced.

“My team oversaw the replacement of the 150-year-old cast iron natural gas distribution system in Toronto,” recalls Byrne. “Working in a congested urban environment is not easy, and we had the added challenge of never being able to shut down streets or interrupt service to our customers.”

 “When you work in public infrastructure, your job is to ensure a safe, reliable product and service delivery. The good memories are the blue-sky days when your construction project is ahead of schedule. But the great memories are when your team has been there, in the cold and dark, to successfully test and tie in the final section of a pipeline in late December, or to get the electricity back on after a record-breaking freezing rain weather event.

“Those successes are the result of a team of skilled professionals working together for a common goal.  For me, this is the joy of the ‘application of theory’,” she says.

My advice to students is to start with taking the grittiest job you can, as a student, as a new grad. Volunteer for the impossible projects. Get to know the skilled trades people in your organization. When someone tells you an issue can’t be solved, listen carefully, then ask them to help you. Always buy more than your share of the coffee and donuts. Never be afraid to make a decision. And keep a clean shirt and jacket in the office, just in case.”