The Honourable Joyce Fairbairn, P.C.

Honourable senators, I just couldn’t let this day go by without saying a few words about our former colleague, Joyce Fairbairn. Joyce, the woman in red who sat in the front row for so many years, right over there. She was always in the front row, on the front lines of Parliament Hill. That’s just the way it was.

Joyce, the woman who was the first among equals in so many roles; Joyce, the woman who through action led the way for others to follow; Joyce the partisan, a Liberal to the core.

Honourable senators, the reason I couldn’t let this day go by without mentioning her name is that this is the day Joyce was born 75 years ago, the year 1939.

In this chamber that she loved, she would be giving her retirement speech today. Today, I would like to be your voice or voices in reflecting on the Joyce Fairbairn that we all know and love.

In her beloved hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta, today she is being loved and she is being cared for. But it’s here where I would like us to reflect on what the good senator did for her country. She served and she inspired. It’s as simple as that.

When I speak about firsts, she loved to talk about her reporting days on the Hill. In the1960s, there were only a handful of women reporters. She was among the first. Joyce always liked to say she was Canada’s first female newsman.

Honourable senators, this wasn’t the only first. She was the first woman to serve as the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Imagine that, in 1993, the first in the history of this country, followed by Senators LeBreton and Carstairs — Joyce Fairbairn, whom Marjory LeBreton described as the Albertan trailblazer and Senator Jim Cowan described as a remarkable parliamentarian.

Along the way, she initiated a number of firsts: an honorary Blood chief, an honorary colonel, scholarships in her name. There would be no Paralympics movement in this country without Joyce Fairbairn. It’s as simple as that. She badgered her boss, the Prime Minister. She made things happen. She got things done.

I recall being at the Paralympic Games in Vancouver and we were at the Thunderbird Arena. The national anthem played. The sledge hockey team was there. The team turned, right after the anthem, went back to the blue line, and in front of Joyce raised their sticks. We all cried. It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

So many firsts and so many good things. A champion for literacy — her accomplishments were many. Joyce Fairbairn, the leader, gave her strong voice to those who couldn’t read or write. As Leader of the Government in the Senate, she was Minister with special responsibility for Literacy. Imagine, a minister dedicated to literacy.

Honourable senators, we have five statues outside today, the Famous Five. Maybe one day it will be the famous six.

In closing, a personal reflection: Two years ago she invited me to Lethbridge, her beloved hometown, a place where it is said everyone knows her name. I was asked by the exhibition folks to ride in an open convertible in the annual Whoop-Up Days parade with Joyce. Nobody knew who I was, but everybody knew Joyce, and Joyce knew everybody.

The parade seemed to go on forever. I finally asked Joyce, “How long is this parade going to take?” Without hesitation, she said, “Jim, never mind how long the parade is, just keep on smiling.” “Just keep on smiling.” I think today that should be our philosophy — just keep on smiling with hope, empathy and gratitude. Joyce Fairbairn is 75 today.