Tribute to the Honourable Joyce Fairbairn, P.C.

Honourable senators, this is emotional. I have learned so much from Senator Joyce Fairbairn and the contributions she has made to this country throughout her more than 40-year career on Parliament Hill. She is a special human being whose actions and decisions are rooted in and inseparable from who she is at heart: hard working, determined, strategic and strong. Joyce owns these qualities and, evidently, always has.

She was just a young woman when she decided to become a journalist. That was in the 1950s when women journalists were almost unheard of, but this did not discourage her. Whatever challenges she encountered while following her dream, they were no match for her. After graduating from journalism at Carleton University in 1961, she worked for the Ottawa Journal. In 1968, she moved on to United Press International to report on parliamentary affairs.

Joyce likes to say that she was Canada’s first female newsman. She always liked to say that. It is a treat to hear her talk about all of those wonderful days in the tiny cramped office she worked out of right here in the Centre Block and her escapades with Vancouver Sun political reporter Marjorie Nichols. Who of my generation can forget Marjorie? Together, they were the “two musketeers.”

It was a long time ago, but we can easily imagine the kind of experiences Joyce had covering events on the Hill during a decade when Canadians went to the polls four times — historical times with intense emotions.

What she gained and what she demonstrated to some of the decision makers she covered— with Prime Minister Trudeau being one — formed the bridge that eventually brought her to this place.

In a 1993 interview with the Calgary Herald, she said:

I’ve always had a real affinity for Parliament. I love Parliament. It always distresses me a great deal when I see it downgraded or in some way disregarded by the public or journalists. It is a very important part of our national life.

Honourable senators, those are wise words, which we need today.

Like all those people and places she believes in and cares about, we too have benefited from her compassion, her sense of duty and her ability to make necessary social changes. I recall just two years ago at the Paralympics in Vancouver/Whistler, at the games at the Thunderbird Arena with the sledge hockey team. There would not be Paralympics without Joyce Fairbairn. There they were with the national anthem. The national anthem finished, and then they turned on their sledges, came over and with sticks raised saluted Joyce Fairbairn. It was a moment when we all cried.

Although Joyce spent many years in Ottawa, she never lost her connection with her roots. I believe she has done more to represent the people and interests of southern Alberta than any elected parliamentarian ever could.

Ever since 1984, when she was appointed to the Senate, Joyce rides in the Lethbridge Exhibition Whoop-Up Days Parade. Last summer she asked me to join her. I do not know why, but I got to join her. I also got to sit in an open convertible, waving to thousands of people who came out to celebrate, and nobody knew me. Everyone seemed to recognize her and waved back like they were greeting a dear friend.

It was an emotional experience for me, seeing Joyce so happy. I watched her enjoy that whole afternoon in Lethbridge and the thousands there, and she did. Joyce was truly in her element.

We had been on the parade route for about an hour when I asked, “Joyce, how long does this parade take?” She looked at me with that familiar certainty and just said, “Never mind how long the parade is, Jim, just keep smiling.”

I think what we all have to do in times of controversial circumstances is to use those words and to just keep on smiling. Joyce, you could not be more right. You have accomplished so much and have given so much. I am grateful to call you a friend.