Dame Cicely Saunders, Governor General Roméo LeBlanc and Marie-Claire Kirkland Strover

Convocation honorees

DIANA GRIER AYTON | This fall's honorary degree recipients include Dame Cicely Saunders, who pioneered palliative care. Dean of Medicine Abraham Fuks says "Cicely Saunders belongs to that small but illustrious band of physicians who have left a permanent imprint on the history of their times."

Training as a nurse, a social worker, and finally as a physician, Saunders determined early that a new kind of care was needed to help dying patients and their families. Long before the medical profession understood mind/body connections, Saunders had coined the term "total pain," describing how in life-threatening illness, a patient's suffering is affected by physical, psychological, interpersonal, financial and spiritual factors.

In 1967, Saunders opened St. Christopher's Hospice in London, the first "home for the dying," which combined patient/family care with research and teaching.

Says Fuks, "McGill holds a special relationship with Dr. Saunders becauseÉof its pioneering role in introducing hospice care into university teaching hospitals. From the earliest days of the Royal Victoria's Palliative Care Service, Dame Cicely was a frequent visitor, creative critic and source of continual support. "

Nominated for an honorary degree by the Alumni Association, Marie-Claire Kirkland-Strover graduated from McGill in 1947 with a BA and in 1950 with a BCL. She was admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1952 and was the first woman to plead before the Private Bills Committee of the legislative assembly of Quebec. In 1961 she was elected to the legislative assembly from the riding of Jacques Cartier.

During her 12 years in politics, Kirkland-Strover held portfolios in State, Transport and Communications, Tourism, Fish and Game, and Cultural Affairs. In 1972, she became the first woman to be formally appointed acting premier of a province. When she left politics, she was named a judge of the provincial court  yet another first for a woman.

Alumni Association president James Robb says, "Many consider her greatest contribution to be her work on Bill 16 dealing with the rights of married women. While it may be difficult to believe todayÉin 1964, women could not sign contracts without their husband's consent. After many hours of parliamentary debate led by Marie-Claire Kirkland, on July 1, 1964, Bill 16 became law, giving married women of Quebec full dignity and human rights."

Kirkland-Strover has garnered many awards, contributed actively to civic and cultural organizations, and created the provincial Advisory Committee on the Status of Women. She is being recognized by McGill, Robb says, for serving "so ably for so many years as a leader and as an example."

McGill's Visitor and Canada's Governor General Roméo LeBlanc has had several careers. The New Brunswick native worked in the 1950s as a teacher, switching to journalism in the '60s. He worked for Radio-Canada in Ottawa, Britain and the U.S., and in 1967, became press secretary to Prime Minister Lester Pearson and then to Pierre Trudeau.

Elected to the House of Commons in 1972, LeBlanc held the portfolios of Minister of State (Fisheries), Minister of Fisheries and the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, and Public Works. He helped win Canada's 200-mile fishing limit and to shape the international Law of the Sea on fisheries. He also served on a number of Cabinet committees and was named a Senator in 1984. There he served on or chaired a number of committees, including Budgets and Administration, Security and National Defence, and Foreign Affairs, becoming Speaker of Senate in 1993. In 1995, he was named Governor General of Canada.

Robert Lepage, whom one critic has called "a sorcerer of the stage," is an internationally renowned actor, solo stage performer, playwright, designer and theatre, film and opera director. His work has been presented at major arts festivals around the world and he is now one of the most sought-after artists in theatre.

Beginning his career in Quebec City, he became director of French theatre at the National Arts Centre in 1990. Since leaving there in 1992, he has mounted a number of productions of Shakespeare's plays in different languages, cultures and styles. Most recently, he has toured internationally with a brilliantly inventive, solo performance tour de force entitled Elsinore, combining a personal treatment of Hamlet and a commentary on what the death of his own father has meant to his life as a human being and an artist.