He made history as one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s noted politicians, and now, as the province’s lieutenant-governor, he’s making history again.
Forty years after he started his last year of law school, Edward Roberts sat down in a Memorial University classroom in September 2003 to begin work on a master of arts degree in history. On May 24, during the university’s spring convocation ceremonies, he will receive his MA. This is the first time a lieutenant-governor of Newfoundland and Labrador has earned a degree while in office.
He may not have been following a syllabus in the decades between his courses of study, but he says he fed his passion for history – particularly the history of this province – by reading voraciously. Mr. Roberts estimates his personal library holds about 3,500 books and documents about Newfoundland.
When he moved to Government House in 2002, he was determined to manage the work of completing a master’s degree, a goal he’d long considered, around the obligations of his vice-regal office.
Of going back to school, he says, “I enjoyed it immensely for a whole bundle of reasons,” citing interaction with classmates and faculty as among the pleasures. “The professors know an impressive amount of Newfoundland history, and were always prepared to argue and discuss.”
After a long career in private and public roles, Mr. Roberts had a great deal to add to the discussion himself. “It was a bit of fun, to be able to say ‘I was there, and I can tell you that’s not quite how it happened’ or ‘There’s another way to look at this.’”
Mr. Roberts also served as the chair of the university’s Board of Regents from 1997-2002 and is well known to Memorial’s president who sees the achievement in a wider context. “I think that Mr. Roberts is a fine example of the idea that learning is a lifelong pursuit, one that does not end when one begins working after graduation,” said Dr. Axel Meisen. “Each stage in life provides unique learning opportunities and special rewards. The lieutenant-governor has extensive experience in politics which complemented not only his own graduate studies at Memorial University but those of the other students in his courses. At Memorial University, we encourage and welcome students with widely different experiences.”
For his final project, Mr. Roberts completed a 40,000 word examination of the fishing regulations imposed by Sir William Coaker, founder of the Fishermen's Protective Union and later a member of the Liberal-FPU Coalition government led by Richard Squires. “Coaker had a highly ambitious plan to reform the salt fishery when he acquired power in 1919. He implemented a scheme, but it fell apart very quickly,” he explained. “Many of the issues he addressed and the problems he tried to resolve are still with us today.”
The Newfoundland and Labrador lieutenant-governor also holds the ceremonial title of University Visitor, and the protocols for his attendance at a convocation ceremony are well known. However, having him attend the ceremonies and receive a degree presented a slight challenge for the organizers of the convocation. “He will sit on the stage with the other dignitaries as is the usual case,” said Victoria Collins, director of Marketing and Communications at Memorial. “But for the session at which he comes forward to receive his MA hood, the lieutenant-governor will wear the black robe traditionally worn by graduands instead of the crimson robe that is associated with his honorary degree.” Mr. Roberts received an honorary doctor of laws in 2003 from Memorial University in recognition of his contributions to public life and to the university.