They say in Scotland that they know you’re a Calvinist if you go in May to North Uist instead of Varadero or Umbria; if you cling to black and white over all colour schemes except black and black; if you choose others’ sins as the focus of your life’s work, and delight in nurturing a grudge, which you take for an art form. But if you were such a person, Scot or not, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, the Memorial Senate might not prefer you for a degree.
Moyra Buchan, the Scot we celebrate tonight, has brought with her nothing righteous, dour or dreich. Thirty years ago, she chose St. John’s over black granite Aberdeen. Tonight her red gown signals both her status in our eyes, and her joyful commitment to lifting spirits and hopes in this province: of children in poverty, people isolated by age or disability, communities facing dispossession by moratorium, and all who live under the shadow of mental illness, whose cause she articulates with passion, challenging disrespect and bringing the injury of stigma home to us all. In a career of activism, she has brought people together to imagine social cohesion and reshape social policy with a compassionate vision. She has ignited the energies of health consumers and professionals, volunteer groups and premiers’ committees. And she has turned public education on mental illness into comic theatre: So you thought disease, divorce, the house-fire, your message from the Bank of Montreal were all bad? She brings you Andy Jones and life-changes as cosmic G-spot moments. But despite Moyra’s smart mentoring, not all the lights go on at once: that other Andy, at a City Hall near you, still awaits his first wild epiphany. She’s saving that project for retirement, should it ever happen.
Thus far Moyra’s career is a play of insight in action:
Act I. As a student, she performs in satiric drama, loves Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, takes two degrees in English, and lectures in literature at UVic and Smith. But when teaching in a psychiatric unit in Scotland, and hearing students respond to drama and stories with their stories, she recognizes that it is the students’ voices and feelings that matter most to her and that she wants to dedicate herself to mental health.
II. She takes a master’s degree in social work, and in serving for a decade as a social worker in this province, she acts to make justice, health services, and home care more responsive. This time it is the consumers and colleagues and committees who have the realization: Moyra’s understanding of people, her agility in critical analysis, writing, speaking and collaborating to create community, single her out for the leading role: executive director in this province of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
III. Moyra now discovers another discipline, as vital to her as literature and social work: that of meditation. It takes her to Nepal to study, and she is a valued and beloved member of a St. John’s group devoted to learning awareness, calm, and kindness through stillness. What better course of study for the consulting and listening in which she excels? What better way to nourish the eloquence which speaks truth to power, and defends the needy against the greedy?
As she does. During her 15-year term at CMHA, the organization becomes a vibrant influence across the province through an epic catalogue of outreach: Speaking for Ourselves; Working It Out; Building Helping Skills; Stop Stigma; What’s Happening with Youth? Anxious Times; Coping With Stress; Roots of Resilience; Citizens’ Alliance for Better Solutions; Everyone Counts; Changing Minds. These few titles of many speak of Moyra’s ready engagement with individuals struggling against injustice, and communities grieving over loss, but also of her belief that they will take over the action, and they do: counting themselves in, coping, building skills, speaking out, changing minds.
IV. For her loving leadership in education for dignity and recovery, Moyra is recognized by national awards in Social Work and Mental Health.
For her powerful advocacy, she is invited, as CMHA’s expert witness, to attend the Luther Inquiry into the deaths of Norman Reid and Darryl Power, both men living with mental illness, both shot by police. Moyra persuades by her integrity; and by her empathy both for those who have shot and those who have died. And the clarity and humanity of her vision are written into our new Mental Health Care and Treatment Act.
V. Coming off this series of critical and popular successes at CMHA, she steps into a new role as a coordinator at Stella’s Circle, an innovation by which people with special needs leave the shadows, take their places in supported housing, earn real pay for real work and join in real change.
From Aberdeen to Rawlins Cross, wherever Moyra has played a part, The quality of mercy is not strained. And we are all blessed. Mr. Vice-Chancellor, while the Calvinist in us may believe that “it’s far better to bide still than to rise and fall,” our courageous graduand bides still only when meditating, and by her generous mindfulness has risen to the summit of her profession and earned the soaring regard of all who know her. Please confer the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on Moyra Buchan.