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Oration honouring Linda Louella Inkpen

Tuesday, May 26, 3 p.m.

Mr. Chancellor,­ it takes a remarkable society to make a remarkable woman – and a remarkable woman to remake society.

Dr. Linda Inkpen, described by her youthful peers at Prince of Wales as the girl who “knows whatever’s to be known” has given her shining intelligence, breadth of knowledge and empathetic understanding to the diverse, and in this society, the closely interconnected worlds of medicine, education, government, law and business.

Coming of age in the late 1960s, Linda, like many here today, was living in times that in Bob Dylan’s words were, indeed, “a-changin’.” Linda’s confident and optimistic embrace of change was anchored in the enduring values of hard work, self-discipline, integrity and generosity inherited from her parents, Beulah Case from Bonavista and Roland Inkpen from Shalloway Island, Placentia Bay.

Graduating with a science degree, Linda took up the opportunities offered by Memorial’s new medical school, and excelled. Yet, Mr. Chancellor, though the times were a-changin’, there were still strong vested interests in church and state that thought nice girls didn’t study science and that educating young women for the professions was a waste of public money.

In Europe in the 1960s, the theoreticians were still inscribing ideas about gender, class, race and religion, while Linda and her generation in Newfoundland and Labrador were taking action to remake their society. They were strengthened by Ted Russell’s words in his play, The Holdin’ Ground

How weak are the things that try to pull us apart – colours, creeds and opinions.

In 1974, she and Nizar Ladha married and set up medical practice in St. John’s and for the next three decades Linda was firmly committed to her family, her work, and her community. Her strong leadership qualities and sound judgement were soon recognized outside the medical sphere. She was appointed to the Board of Governors of what was then a predominantly all-male institution, Cabot College. Soon after, she became its president and for the next five years set up new courses to reflect the changing times, and the changing ways of “taking care of business.” Her scientific study had educated her well. Consistently fair-minded, she examined the evidence, searched for solutions, and with grace and empathy helped people adjust to the changing realities. The government of the day appointed her to public commissions and inquiries into employment and unemployment, labour relations and youth detention centres and then asked her to be chair of Newfoundland Power.

Equally at home in academic, government and corporate board rooms, as well as in her medical practice and volunteer work for the Planned Parenthood Association, Linda changed the culture of many of these powerful agencies by being disarmingly straightforward in her approach to controversial issues, preferring civility to coercion, applying the traditional values of rationality, respect and common sense to break down hierarchical and exclusive barriers to communication.
As she said,

When you strip away the jargon about the issue of the day, 80 per cent of the time it comes down to people and personal interactions.

Her contribution to public service was so remarkable that Premier Tobin said she got more press than he did. More recently, in her role as a director of Fortis, chairing both the Nominating and Governance Committee and Fortis Properties, she has influenced the direction of this multi-billion dollar company, headquartered in Newfoun­dland and Labrador which, even in these stormy times, has increased its profits. Not bad for a PWC girl who thought her probable fate in life would be merely “planning a family budget.”

Mr. Chancellor, has this remarkable woman, our Alumna of the Year, our very own Lerner and Loewe, My Fair Lady, no flaws, no weaknesses?
Well, St. John’s might think it is far more sophisticated than Ted Russell’s Pigeon Inlet, but you know there is no place to hide in this town.

My sources tell me, Mr. Chancellor, that Linda, the honourable holder of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee Medal, the distinguished member of the Order of Canada, the much loved family doctor, once paraded down Elizabeth Avenue wearing fancy dress and waving her crown as Memorial’s Snow Queen. She has confessed to her recurrent dreams about “lots of chocolate” that she can eat and to her desires for a closet full of expensive handbags.

As a proud Memorial graduate, Linda has been true to our Latin motto Provehito in Altum. She has confidently launched into new and profoundly significant ventures. And she has even coined her own Latin motto,

Brevis est vita; primo este mensam secundam.
which freely translated means
Life is unpredictable, eat dessert first.

In unpredictable times, Mr. Chancellor, we need remarkable women to make our society a healthier, stronger and more valuable place to live, so I present to you, with affection and regard, Dr. Linda Louella Inkpen for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, a woman who changed the face of medicine, who inspired a whole generation to engage in public service and who has made our lives richer in every way.

Dr. Annette Staveley
Deputy public orator