Thank you so much for that introduction.
And thank you all so much for allowing me to speak to you at this wonderful event.
Good evening Chancellor, Michael Meaghan; President, Bill Barker, Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I can’t even begin to express the depth of my gratitude for this special honour, and especially for the privilege of receiving it in the company of the likes of Jeffrey Simpson, Karl McLean and John Casken. I can only assume that the Honorary Degree Selection Committee did not bother to obtain a copy of my university academic transcript – because if they had, it would have given a whole new meaning to the term “borderline”.
My academic career (and I use the term loosely) began at Mount Allison University, where my most memorable achievement was my agility in climbing the fire escape of the closely-guarded women’s residence, undetected, long after the rigidly-enforced 9:00 p.m. curfew – following a hot date with one of several football players!
In those days, universities considered it a sacred duty to guard the chastity of their female students – and it was assumed that the curfew would achieve that objective.
After three years at Mount A., my mother agreed to send me to Queen’s University to study Physical Education. In Sydney, I embarked for Montreal, where I was due to change trains for Kingston. At the Montreal train station I was met by a former Mount A. classmate, who persuaded me that I would be much better off to register for Phys.Ed. at McGill!
Miraculously, I was accepted.
But when I phoned my mother that night – and she asked me how I liked Queens – I had to confess that her plan had been changed. She lost her first term deposit at Queens – but two years later she forgave me, when I arrived home with a young McGill Med student who would become my husband. The fact that he was of the same religion was an unexpected bonus!
Each one of us keeps a short-list of people whose examples have shaped our lives … and I want to mention only two, without whom I could never have achieved much of anything – and in whose names I humbly and gratefully accept this honour today.
First and foremost, my late mother, Rose Schwartz of New Waterford, Cape Breton.
She arrived in Nova Scotia with her parents at age 13. They had left Tsarist Russia to escape persecution that came in many forms. In her case, despite having led her class in grade school, she was denied entry to high school for the sole reason that she was Jewish.
As celebrated this year by the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame, she was a woman of limitless energy, integrity, vision and courage.
When she was just 35 years of age, with 5 small children and pregnant with her sixth, my father at age 35, died suddenly and unexpectedly.
She had no choice but to take over the management of his small store. And she did so with absolutely no business experience, but went on to develop it into an extremely successful department store which branched out into other Maritime communities.
In doing so, she put all six of us through university, and trained three of my brothers and one sister – each of whom went on to become remarkably successful themselves. She taught each of us the importance of passion for what we do – and of unfailing respect for the people we serve.
She was also a philanthropist in the best sense of the word, helping innumerable Cape Breton families through tough times. And in the best Jewish tradition of philanthropy, her help was always given anonymously – with no expectation of reward or recognition.
A more recent hero and role model was a man named Vernon Malone … a fisherman in Shelburne County on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.
I first learned his name in 1987 – when early one morning 187 men and one 18-year old woman swam or waded ashore his property.
The unexpected visitors were Sikhs who had left India to escape religious persecution. They were put ashore from the 59-metre Chilean ship “Amelie”.
Despite their strange language and appearance, Vernon Malone welcomed the newcomers and rounded up his fellow citizens to help.
One of them, Rosalie Stoddard, took them to the church hall, and assuming they were vegetarians, fed them peanut butter and jam sandwiches, koolaid and tea.
To this day she is remembered by the Sikhs as “The Peanut Butter Lady”.
Those Sikhs have become successful and grateful Canadians.
After Vernon Malone welcomed these strange people to Charlesville, he was asked by a reporter to explain his kindness. Malone cited Hebrews 13, Verse 3, which says:
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
People like my late mother and Vernon Malone have taught me indelible lessons about having a passion for what we do – about generosity – and about the debt of service each of us owes each other. My gratitude for receiving an Honorary Degree from Kings is due to them as much as it is to anything I’ve accomplished.
The truth is that I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the years.
And, I am at this moment reminded of a bit of unconscious irony that took the form of a notice, written in pencil, and pinned up on the public bulletin board of the local grocery market in New Waterford many years ago —–
Brown and white dog; part of left ear missing;
Left hind leg broken, badly reset; tail bitten off;
Recently castrated …..
Answers to the name of “Lucky”.
I can identify with that pooch. But gatherings like this – and the opportunity to interact with such superb young people who are making a difference in our community remind me that there is no one more fortunate than I am.
I hope the graduates today find their passion – and go forth into the world – and do good!