Acadia’s Former Chancellor leads by example
Libby Burnham (’60)
Libby Burnham (’60) is a woman of firsts. 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, serving from 2011 to 2018.
“I came from a three-room school, where I had one teacher for four grades of high school, so arriving at Acadia with the different teachers, people who are really interested in helping you and encourage you, it was a totally different world for me,” she says. “Acadia informed me, it educated me, it helped prepare me for my life’s career and my life. I wanted to go into law, which was not a common profession for women in that day, and the professors here were remarkable in trying to help me and encourage me.”
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.
“Acadia laid the foundation for my success and has been doing so in similar fashion for thousands of graduates ever since.”
A mother of three, all of whom attended Acadia, Burnham has been recognized many times 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.
“When I marched up the hill to receive my degree in 1960, it would never have crossed my mind that I might someday be back here, and be back here in that capacity of the Chancellor,” she says.
“I wish to see Acadia continue, and I wish to see it grow and meet the needs of the students of Canada tomorrow – and also to welcome students, as it has from the beginning, to this campus from around the world. I hope we’re able to preserve the spirit and tradition of Acadia,” she adds. “Acadia has always been with me. The spirit and traditions of Acadia have always been part of my life.”