Shirley Dysart, former trailblazing Liberal politician, dies

Former New Brunswick politician and educator Shirley Dysart died in Saint John on Wednesday morning, CBC News has confirmed.

Former New Brunswick MLA set record for many firsts in the province

Shirley Dysart was first elected to the New Brunswick Legislature in 1974, became the first woman to hold the Speaker's chair, in 1991, and was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. (CBC)

Former New Brunswick politician and educator Shirley Dysart died in Saint John on Wednesday morning, CBC News has confirmed. She was 88.

The mother of one was the province's first female leader of the Opposition, when she served as the interim Liberal leader in 1985, between Raymond Frenette and Frank McKenna.

Dysart, a former teacher, was also the province's first female education minister in 1987, and the first woman to be the Speaker of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly in 1991.

She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. The governor general's website described her as a "caring, committed and dynamic citizen," and "tireless volunteer."

Shirley Dysart, pictured here in 2015, set many records in her political career in New Brunswick. (Twitter/Roger Melanson)
Her son, Britt, says that when he teased her about her success, she said that didn't matter.

"She'd look at me and say, 'That's not what it's about. It's about what you do with the opportunities you have.'"

Dysart was first elected in 1974 as the Liberal MLA for what was then the Saint John North riding, making her the second woman in the province's history to win a seat in the legislature.

She was re-elected in 1978, 1982, 1987 and 1991 but did not run again in the 1995 provincial election.

'Mentor and guide'

Aldea Landry, who was elected in 1987 and served as a minister and MLA in the McKenna government, remembers Dysart fondly for her "kindness" and willingness to help.

"She was much more experienced politically than I was," said Landry. "I always looked up to her. So I would go to her for advice."

The seven Liberal women elected that year "were a close-knit group," Landry said.

"Shirley was our mentor and our guide."

Dysart was also actively involved in community affairs, serving as president of the Catholic Women's League Council, president of the University of New Brunswick Alumni Council, and a member of the board of governors of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, among other roles.

She was born in Boston, Mass., but attended school in Saint John and graduated from the New Brunswick Teachers' College and the University of New Brunswick.
New Brunswick political trailblazer Shirley Dysart passed away Wednesday at the age of 88. 0:32

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Shirley Dysart was the interim leader between Doug Young and Raymond Frenette. She was the interim leader between Raymond Frenette and Frank McKenna.
    Dec 15, 2016 10:01 AM AT

With files from Jacques Poitras