'Wit and wisdom': Gretta Chambers, former CBC host and chancellor of McGill, dead at 90
Chambers was Order of Canada companion, Order of Montreal Commander, Ordre national du Québec member
Gretta Chambers, a prominent Montrealer and influential figure in Quebec politics, public affairs and higher education, has died.
In the past two decades, Chambers, a former journalist at CBC and the Montreal Gazette, and later chancellor at McGill University, received honours from all levels of government.
She became a member of the Order of Canada in 1994 and later, a companion — the Order of Canada's highest rank, denoting national preeminence.
She also held the highest rank in the Order of Montreal, commander, and was a member of the Ordre national du Québec.
Gretta brought insight, wit and wisdom to the various roles she played. We will deeply miss her presence on campus but she will forever remain in our hearts.- McGill University principal Suzanne Fortier
Chambers had been her normal, energetic self through the summer then fell last week and had to be hospitalized.
The hospital noticed she had underlying health problems when they were monitoring her after the fall and warned the family, her son Geoffrey Chambers said.
She died Saturday morning at St. Mary's Hospital at the age of 90.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was among those to offer his condolences.
Very sad to hear of the passing of Gretta Chambers. She was a great Quebecer. My sympathies to her family and friends.—@phcouillard
On Sunday, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the flag at City Hall would be at half-mast for the day out of respect for Chambers.
A force in education
Chambers became the first female chancellor of McGill in 1991.
The university's current principal and vice-chancellor, Suzanne Fortier, issued a statement Saturday night, saying Chambers will be deeply missed.
"She has made an immense contribution to our university and to the society in which she lived," Fortier said.
Chambers was a passionate education advocate, telling CBC in a 2012 interview that, "You can take everything away from someone, but you can't take what they know away."
While serving as chancellor, she also chaired a task force on English education in Quebec, at a time when the anglophone community was becoming increasingly isolated.
Her lifetime of overlapping professional commitments — which also included being chair of the board of directors of the McGill University Research Institute and the Montreal Children's Hospital — did not stop her from from having a family of five children and later, eight grandchildren.
Always time for family
Her son Geoffrey said that while he was growing up she appeared to juggle the demands of family and work with ease.
"I didn't think there was anything funny about a mother having a desk and an office in the house, and being actively working on serious projects, and you walking in and saying, 'I think I need some help with my football equipment,'" he said.
He added that she instilled in all her children the value of education, tact and kindness.
While being a leader in the field of education, Chambers was also a journalist who contributed to CBC Newsworld and hosted the CBC radio show The Province in Print for 14 years. She also wrote for the Montreal Gazette from 1977 until 2002.
She was born in Montreal in 1927 and graduated from McGill University with a bachelor's degree in political science in 1947. Her late husband, Egan Chambers, was a Canadian MP.
Chambers leaves behind her brother, philosopher Charles Taylor, five children and eight grandchildren.