British Columbia

Trailblazer and oldest practising B.C. lawyer Constance Isherwood dead at 101

Constance Isherwood graduated top of her UBC law class in 1951 and worked until her death.

Victoria resident graduated top of her law class in 1951 and worked until her death

Constance Isherwood was the first woman to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Law Society of B.C. and practiced law for seven decades. (Bruce Hogarth)

Constance 'Connie' Isherwood was just starting to consider retirement last January while celebrating her 100th birthday. Up until that point, her answer had always been the same: "Maybe next year."

Now, almost a year to the date, Isherwood, the province's oldest practising lawyer and a trailblazer from the get-go, died Wednesday, just days after turning 101 on Jan. 19. 

Isherwood never did retire, spending seven decades clocking billable hours since passing the bar in the 1950s. Passionate about her profession, she also paved the way for generations of female lawyers by leaving her mark in a field that, at one time, was dominated primarily by men.

A graduate of the University of British Columbia in 1951 and one of only eight women in her law class of 200, Isherwood practised general civil law, which she told CBC in 2020 "means a bit of everything," including real estate, family law and corporate law. 

Connie Isherwood was a groundbreaking lawyer who still saw clients in her Victoria law office when her age hit triple digits. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

In 2015, at age 95, she still had a roster of over 100 clients she saw on and off at her office in downtown Victoria when UBC presented her with an honorary doctorate.

A year later, the Law Society of B.C. recognized her with a lifetime achievement award — the first ever given to a woman.

An outpouring of condolences appeared on social media Thursday night, lamenting the loss of a woman loved and admired by so many.

Her nephew Robert Holmes, of Holmes and King Law in Vancouver, told CBC in 2015 his 'Auntie Con' was a huge inspiration in his life.

"She can walk into a room of strangers, and within a short period of time, she would have found something important about each of them. She makes people feel good, and she builds people up."

He also credited her with mentoring many other women in the legal profession in the 60s and 70s.

Constance Isherwood and her husband Foster, with their nephews Ken and Robert, on a fishing trip. (Submitted by Holmes family)

When Isherwood was interviewed last year on CBC's As It Happens, she credited her intrigue with the law for her longevity.

"So that keeps you interested, and of course, going to work keeps your body active and mind active, which is a good thing at any age," Isherwood told As It Happens host Carol Off.

To stay vital and young, she advised people to take care of themselves and to keep working — and to smile and be optimistic.

"The person who wrote, When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You), he knew what he was talking about," said Isherwood.

In her last years of practice, Isherwood was also optimistic for the future of a profession she blazed a trail through for so many other women.

"Now, the number of female students in law either equals or exceeds men," she says. "I'm amazed."

Listen to Constance Isherwood speak with Carol Off, host of As It Happens in January 2020:

It takes a lot to slow down Constance Isherwood, British Columbia's oldest practising lawyer. She took only a few days off work after the city of Victoria was hit with a snowstorm last week that forced schools and businesses to close. 6:06

With files from As It Happens, Elaine Chau


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