International Women’s Day: Libby Burnham (’60), Acadia’s First Female Chancellor

Libby Burnham (’60) has been called a woman of firsts on many occasions. She was the first woman to graduate from Acadia and pursue a law degree, the first female president of Dalhousie’s previously all-male debating club, New Brunswick’s first female barrister, and the first female Chancellor of Acadia University to name but a few.

A well-respected and nationally recognized legal, business, and political advisor, Burnham has had a long and distinguished law career in both New Brunswick and Ontario, where she advocated for political and legislative reforms in New Brunswick, Ontario, and across Canada. With a profound understanding of the corridors of power, Burnham used her personality, reputation, and influence to empower and encourage women to have a larger presence in corporate boardrooms, professional organizations, government, and public life. Burnham helped found Equal Voice, a national organization to help elect more women to public office in Canada.

“I was inspired by my grandmothers,” says Burnham. “One was a teacher who lost her job when she married and the other was widowed with four children under the age of four with no social network around her. Education and with it the ability to provide for oneself were goals that were instilled in me at a young age. I believe education and financial independence for women are the keys to breaking the bonds of power and achieving greater gender equality.”

A mother of three, all of whom attended Acadia, and a grandmother of two, Burnham has been recognized on several occasions for her leadership. She is a member of the Order of Canada and has received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee medals. She received the Dalhousie Law School Weldon Award for unselfish public service; the Metropolitan Toronto YWCA’s Woman of Distinction Award for Public Affairs, and she is an honorary life director of the Canadian Club of Toronto. Burnham has also been recognized numerous times in the Canadian Who’s Who, a publication of accomplishments and contributions of notable Canadians, as well as the Who’s Who of Canadian Women, and the Ivey Women in Management Newsletter Directory, Women in the Lead.

Burnham’s passion for politics and her concern for the betterment of society helped her achieve her tremendous track record of advocacy and community service. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark once described Burnham saying, “she is one of the most persistent people you will ever meet. Once she embraces a cause, she pursues it through thick and thin, and more often than not, succeeds.”

“Libby is a true force of nature, and Acadia has benefitted greatly by the drive and passion that she has brought to her role as Chancellor of our university,” says Acadia President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Peter Ricketts who joined Acadia in July of 2017. “I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to work with her during this past year, and she epitomizes everything that is good and special about Acadia.”

“I believe today is an important day to recognize the achievements of all women and pay tribute to those who have made things happen,” says Burnham. “Sadly, we have a long way to go to tear down the barriers cemented by money and power. #MeToo has exposed many cracks and demonstrated how power affects workplace dynamics, as has always been the case, and we need to press forward.”

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