Brenda Robertson, who made New Brunswick history when she became the first woman elected to the legislature and to serve in cabinet, has died. She was 91.
Robertson died Wednesday at her home in Monarch Hall in Riverview, surrounded by family and staff.
Robertson was elected a Progressive Conservative member of the legislature for the riding of Albert in October 1967 and sat in opposition for three years during the final term of Liberal premier Louis Robichaud.
After the PCs came to power in 1970 under Richard Hatfield, Robertson became the first woman to be appointed a provincial cabinet minister. She held a number of portfolios, most notably health.
As health minister, Robertson developed and implemented the extramural program, which was described as a hospital without walls and drew praise from across the country as an important innovation in health care.
In 1984, she was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and remained in that role until her retirement in 2004.
Robertson was also named to the Order of New Brunswick in 2001. In 2008, she was described as a "trailblazer and role model for women in politics," when she was named a member of the Order of Canada.
Loving and caring mother
Doug Robertson said his mother was more than just a politician. She will be remembered as a loving and caring mother, who loved to cook, he said.
But she took her political career seriously.
"If you were going to take her on in the House, or in the Senate, you'd better be prepared, because she was always so well-prepared and well-researched," he said.
Robertson said his mother had to blaze many trails. When she was first elected to the legislature, there wasn't a women's washroom in the members' lounge.
Robertson said his mother had to go out to the lobby and line up with the public to go to the bathroom.
He said his mother would want to be remembered for what she accomplished.
"She would want to be remembered as someone who did good work, someone who could stand up in any chamber as an equal to her colleagues, her opponents, and whatnot," he said.
"She wanted to be recognized as a politician, a person, not as a woman."
Tracy Langley, one of Brenda Robertson's daughters, said her mother knocked on every door during elections and listened carefully to people's concerns.
The implementation of the extramural program was one of Robertson's proudest accomplishments, Langley said.
"So many of the other policies you put in place as a politician, a new government comes in and they want to change it just because they should change it, you know they want to leave their own mark." Langley said.
"But the extramural, everybody, Liberal, Conservative, NDP, everybody realized what an important part of the health-care system it was."
Langley said she's proud of everything her mother was able to accomplish.
"As a female, to have that role model, to know that growing up, going forward, you could do and be whatever you wanted to be — there was never a question."
Always willing to share her knowledge
Former New Brunswick Progressive Conservative premier Bernard Lord said he met Robertson in 1995 when he ran for the first time, and she was always willing to share her knowledge, expertise and wisdom.
"Sometimes we loosely use words like trailblazers in public life," Lord said. "She is a trailblazer. She was a trailblazer. She really made a significant difference in this province and she opened up doors for so many other people.
"Beyond just being the first woman elected MLA or being appointed to cabinet is her intelligence and her commitment to the province of New Brunswick that was extraordinary."
'I'm not here to make cookies'
Duncan Matheson remembers Robertson as an influential government minister who knew her files and represented her constituents very well.
He was a rookie reporter at the legislature when he met her.
"What stands out to me is what a lovely person she was in the sense that here I was a rookie — didn't know anything— and she would have so much patience and she would always make herself available, explain anything, answer any questions. She was just a sweetheart that way."
Matheson said she was a pioneer when it came to promoting women as legislators.
"She never gave up that fight — she always seemed to have a whole lot of energy and a whole lot of drive."
He recalls Robertson telling him that when she joined the Progressive Conservative Party, the job of women was to make the coffee and to set up the chairs, not to sit around the table where strategy decisions were being made.
"She was one of the first ones to break through into that environment and said, 'No, I'm not here to make cookies,'" Matheson said.
"That paved the way,so now when women get involved in the party, it's not to make the cookies, and I think many of them have at least her partly to thank for that."
The family said Brenda Robertson's life will be celebrated at a later date.