To mark Canada’s 150th birthday, we are counting down to Canada Day with profiles of 150 noteworthy British Columbians.
Hedy Fry brags that she can still dance in eight-inch heels and looks decades younger than her 75 years. She’s been mocked as a flake, accused of self-aggrandizing hubris, and has elicited disapproval from social conservatives for her enthusiastic endorsement of Vancouver’s vibrant gay community. Few politicians spend their 65th birthday dressed as a dancehall queen on a Gay Pride Parade float surrounded by bare-chested cowboys riding a mechanical bull. One thing all acknowledge about this national symbol of inclusive, feminist and progressive politics, however, is that she’s formidable. She has won eight consecutive federal elections.
Fry is the longest-serving woman in parliament. She launched in 1993 as a giant-killer. She ran as a Liberal, defeating the sitting Tory prime minister, Kim Campbell, who had herself succeeded powerful Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Pat Carney. Since then, Fry has drubbed high-profile challengers from left, right and centre. “Underestimate Hedy Fry at your peril,” mused charismatic — and rueful — NDP candidate Svend Robinson after she handed him his political head on a platter and his first defeat in 25 years. “She is a very formidable foe.”
She knows how to read the electorate and plan a campaign with an acumen displayed by few other politicians. Perhaps it’s because behind the friendly smile and effervescent personality is the machinery of a towering intellect.
She refused a scholarship to Oxford University in English literature because after reading a book about the psychiatric profiles of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes she had become interested in medicine. Instead, she crammed the equivalent of the BSc she needed for medical school into one year and was accepted by Dublin’s prestigious Royal College of Surgeons, from which she graduated with honours.
Fry was born into a poor family in Trinidad and Tobago on Aug. 6, 1941. When she proved an accomplished scholar — she was class valedictorian — her parents used their life savings to pay for her medical studies. She came to Canada in 1970 and practised family medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital for 23 years. She was an activist. She has served as president of the Vancouver Medical Association and the B.C. Medical Association, fought for and won the first retirement plan for doctors in Canada, and campaigned fiercely and unapologetically for women’s, indigenous peoples and minority rights issues.
Her advice to those coming after her: “Leave the world knowing you made it a better place.”
Source: Vancouve Sun
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